Larry Kolb was born into a house of spies.
His family moved constantly during the height of the Cold War,
as his father ran counter-intelligence operations all over Asia,
Europe and the Middle East. But Mr. Kolb chose business as a
career, eventually becoming the manager for several professional
athletes, including boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
After that successful career, Mr. Kolb
joined the 'family business,' and was soon involved in covert
operations in the Middle East, central Asia and Latin America.
He retired from the CIA a few years ago, and wrote a book about
Kolb tells his readers, though it might seem exciting to go
to bed every night in a different place
with a different identity, it's stressful and dangerous work. "Because
the penalty for espionage almost all over the world, for centuries,
now, has been death. So it keeps you interested and on your toes.
But beyond that, it's psychologically very difficult to befriending
another person- and it works when you genuinely befriend them-
then, betray them. That's what we're forced to do and that's
not easy," he says.
Kolb says he and his colleagues provided U.S. policy makers
with an important weapon during the cold war
era. America's intelligence services face different challenges
today, he says, the war against terrorism. "The CIA was built
to fight the Soviet Union and worldwide communism and it's still
structured the way it has been since early on, in the late 1940s
and early 1950s. I think we need a new agency that is set up
to tackle the Muslim insurgents who are the biggest threat to
us today. I don't think America's intelligence services have
many assets on the ground that really speak the language so well
that they can operate undetected in the target areas that we're
interested in," he says.
Kolb says operating successfully in the 'target area' takes
more than language skills. it requires
a broader understanding of the culture. I think as long as we
believe that the reason Muslims hate us is because of our freedom
and our democracy etc, we're going about it the wrong way. They
think they have a point of view that should be heard as well.
I think our approach is wrong from the perspective that we have
on the Middle East. We need to go about dealing with Muslim world
with more sensitivity. How they think vs. how we think. We're
not going to make all of the Gulf states democratic in a year
or two," he says.
CIA agent Peter Earnest - now director of The Spy Museum in
Washington DC - points to another challenge
in this new war: getting access to terrorist cells. "Terrorists
are often very small cells, often made up simply of family members.
It's very hard to penetrate such groups. A cell made up of two
brothers and a cousin, how can you penetrate that cell? That's
the difficulty. Whereas during the cold war in many cases we
knew who the other side's spies or intelligence officers were,
and we could gain access to them. That's a big, big difference
between the cold war and today," he says.
thing that hasn't changed, according to Mr. Earnest, is funding,
there's never enough. I do know for
many years that intelligence community didn't have the resources
it needed for a long time. After the end of the cold war, a number
of people said, 'well, we don't need intelligence anymore. Let's
just wind down, we don't need to put resources into it.' And
now, all of a sudden everybody says how come we don't have more
spies. Well, it's late in the game. As you know [former head
of the CIA] George Tenet testified before the 9/11 committee
that he thought it would take a good five years to develop a
new cadre of intelligence officers to conduct the kind of espionage
we need," he says.
Last week, after the election, President
Bush called on Congress to pass an effective intelligence reform
bill he can sign into law. The House and Senate have each approved
legislation that would create a new national counter-terrorism
center and a new national intelligence director who would coordinate
most of the nation's non-military spy agencies. But the two sides
have not been able to agree on how much authority to give the
Intelligence Director. Negotiators will try to reconcile the
two bills when Congress returns for a lame duck session later