Monday, June 15, 2009

Spy Hard

News from two-thirds of the former Axis of Evil raises questions about whether US intelligence services are doing their jobs. How much do they really know about what's going on in Iran and North Korea?

The meaning of election results from Tehran and insight into Kim Jong-il's successor are as opaque as they would have been in a world without air travel, computers, satellites and huge budgets for undercover agents.

As they defend themselves over torturing prisoners who may or may not have known anything worth knowing, how skilled can our spy services be if what we find out about the new dictator of a nuclear-armed North Korea comes from a photo of him at age 11 and the 2003 memoirs of a sushi chef who met him when he was 7?

In a New Yorker interview, the new CIA director Leon Panetta stresses the need for the agency to increase its foreign-language skills and recruit officers of more diverse backgrounds who can infiltrate hostile parts of the world, but he seems to be hamstrung by dealing with the fallout from the torture debate. How long will it take to clean that up and start concentrating on today's global threats?

The unrest in Iran is outwardly murky, but how much do our government insiders know about what's happening under the radar?

Vice-President Joe Biden says on Meet the Press that "there’s some real doubt” about the election result, but “the decision has been made to talk” about Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The White House may know more about whom we will be talking to and under what circumstances than they are telling us. But given the state of our spying after eight years of Bush-Cheney law-breaking and bungling, what are the odds?

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