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Posted at 11:18 AM ET, 07/20/2010

Backchannel chatter: Spy workers smart but bored

By Jeff Stein

Robert Baer, the CIA veteran whose Middle East counterterrorism experiences inspired the George Clooney thriller "Syriana," says today's intelligence workforce is smart, dedicated -- and bored.

"Recently I've been giving talks at government agencies working on counterterrorism," Baer wrote in his Time magazine column on Monday.

"With almost no exceptions, I've found my audiences, including contractors, better informed, more dedicated and better educated than the generation I served with in the CIA," Baer added. He said he might have a hard time landing an agency job today.

But when the CIA's own director, Leon Panetta, declares that al-Qaea has been reduced to "only a couple hundred al-Qaeda dead-enders in the mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan ... hiding in caves," Baer says, the thousands of people working on counterterrorism tend to wonder what they're all doing.

"The problem is that I came away from these talks with the impression that the post-9/11 workforce is bored and even adrift — at least in the sense that there are too many people chasing too little hard intelligence," Baer said.

"It would be considerably different if we could put this new workforce in the field — for instance, in Afghanistan, a country that demands years and years of on-the-ground experience for a young American intelligence officer to understand it. But our bases there are already overflowing with combat forces, and anyhow, it's too dangerous for Americans to get outside the wire to meet Afghans."

"Not unlike in Washington," he said, "they're stuck behind desks and forced to look at the country from a distance."

By Jeff Stein  | July 20, 2010; 11:18 AM ET
Categories:  Financial/business, Intelligence, Media  
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