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The Human Factor: Inside the CIA's Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture Paperback – April 6, 2010

4.3 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

What's wrong with the CIA? A number of authors have tackled this question lately, and the pseudonymous Jones brings what could be a unique vantage point: a career operative, Jones claims he was "America's number one producer of intelligence reports on terrorism." Unfortunately, the book is more memoir than expose, privileging personal complaints (Jones is frequently underutilized and underappreciated) over actual accounts of the intelligence community's accomplishments and setbacks. Even as he hops the globe, Jones revels in woefully familiar aggravations: the Agency fails to reimburse his expenses in a timely fashion, wastes his time in team-building exercises, etc. He convincingly labels headquarters a haven for burnt-out, risk-averse pension-seekers, but he spends just as much time getting in digs at difficult landlords, surly cab drivers and airplane travel. Though Jones levels many serious charges against those running the CIA, he doesn't follow through and offers just a few pages of suggestions; his self-concern and attention to mundane details make this more suitable for those considering a career at the Agency than those wishing to understand it.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Excellent...a devastating and alarming picture."
National Review

“Scathing – and unauthorized.”
Congressional Quarterly

"Controversial, eye-opening account"
Foreword Magazine

“This book should be required reading for anyone who serves in our government or is served by it. But beware: Reading The Human Factor will make you very, very angry.”
Max Boot, Senior fellow in national security studies, The Council on Foreign Relations; author of The Savage Wars of Peace and War Made New

“Jones (the cover name the Agency gave him during his first training course), a Marine who joined the Agency’s clandestine service and became a case officer in the late ’80s, paints a devastating and alarming picture of a vast bureaucracy he calls ‘a corrupt, Soviet-style organization’.”
Michael Ledeen, National Review Online

“Mr. Jones obviously believes that the United States deserves the best intelligence organization in the world. He believes passionately that every American taxpayer is being cheated because we are paying scores of billions of dollars for a bloated, ineffective, risk-averse organization that cannot perform the mission for which it was created.”
John Weisman, The Washington Times

“Ishmael Jones represents an altogether uncommon breed of CIA officer, one willing to risk life and career in the pursuit of gathering better intelligence. If the CIA as a whole shared this one officer’s relentless pursuit of WMD sources, terrorists, and the rogue nations that support them, then we might find ourselves in a much safer world today. With his book The Human Factor, Jones relates the details of his extraordinary career with a notable lack of bravado and a tremendous amount of dry wit.”
Lindsay Moran, author of Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy

“The Human Factor is an enormously important book and a surprisingly accessible read. Hopefully, it will propel the reform debate beyond the usual tinkering…. Call him Ishmael, or not, but I call him a patriot.”
David Forsmark, Frontpage Magazine

Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Encounter Books (April 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159403382X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594033827
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #434,531 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on August 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a clean-sheet final review. I considered dropping it to a four because of false notes. However, after adding up all the substantial "bombs" in this book, bombs I will itemize below, I believe the book not only merits five stars, but should--if Congress were honest, which it is not--warrant a full Congressional investigation, and a wholesale purging of the light-weight risk-averse clowns now managing CIA's directorates.

The author was a Non-Official Cover (NOC) Officer, something he is not allowed to say, but he no doubt has infuriated the pretentious at CIA by making it clear that virtually all of CIA's case officers are under Department of State cover.

I will list the false notes first. While I have not been active in clandestine operations since 1988, the following troubled me:

1) Ability to work on own funds with pay and expense gaps of up to $200,000 at a time.

2) Excessive travel to HQS and entry into HQS. In my day NOCs did not come inside at all.

3) Implied knowledge of inside operations and actual sighting of final cables--in my day, NOCs were handled as prize agents, and never saw any official traffic.

4) Agents (the ones committing treason) complaining to HQS to get their NOC fired? This is way over the edge.

5) Uninformed view on JAWBREAKER and First In with respect to public story--however, it is now it is coming out that Bin Laden was believed killed by multiple air bursts over Tora Bora, and the "flight" to Jalabad might have been a CIA deception ordered by the White House, and the only good explanation for why General Franks refused to drop a Ranger battalion, knowing it was merely in support of a CIA fabrication.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First of all, I have purchased & read this book, and I recommend that everyone who is concerned about US security read it. Having been a former case officer myself doing exactly what Ishmael was doing, his story and analysis rings true with only a few insignificant exceptions. My time was twenty-five years before Ishmael's and the bureaucratic growth and risk-aversion trends were apparent then, but obviously they have become much worse.

Please allow me to make a few comments that might contribute to Robert Steele's excellent review.

Although the term "spy" is bandied about to sell books, for example, Valerie Plame's book, "Fair Game: My Life as a Spy...", case officers are not spies -- they handle, administer, and manage spies. As such Plame was not a spy, yet her career is typical: four years of training in the US, two years in an embassy overseas under diplomatic cover gathering tidbits at cocktail parties, four more years of training in the US, possibly a couple of months as a NOC (Non-Official Cover) case officer where she was not involved in any positive intelligence operations, (it takes years to become truly productive, if at all), and then ten more years in the US doing bureaucratic functions. I leave it to the reader to decide whether the taxpayer got his money's worth.

I do not mean to pick on Plame, but her story is typical. Very, very few case officers are effective, and when they are, it is in violation of policies and procedures from headquarters and only after taking extreme risks, both with regard to their physical safety and their career.
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Format: Hardcover
This is the ultimate adventure story of a deep-cover spy, operating throughout the Middle East, Asia, and Europe, tracking weapons scientists and terrorists. It is full of dry humor, and never slows down. But the real purpose appears to be to draw the reader's attention to the weakness in American national security caused by poor or false human intelligence. By not pontificating, the book is exciting and gets its point across. It's a book about intelligence reform disguised as a spy story.

Deep cover spy Ishmael recounts details about inept CIA training and torture courses, dodging co-workers trying to sabotage his work, falling prey to a dead-baby con scheme in Bombay, and the hilarious saga of his friend, the world's worst spy. I read an advance copy that should be the same as the final - and believe some of its revelations are explosive: the inability to place spies in foreign countries, the CIA's growth within the USA, disappearing money, work avoidance schemes, and great gaps in intelligence. A few paragraphs on the Plame incident are enlightening.

The Twins, a pair of CIA professors, pop up to intrude upon intelligence operations; a hunt for CIA pornography users decimates deep-cover spies overseas. CIA employees hire their spouses as managers in a confusion of nepotism. And bloody Iraq, a place of such absurd violence that ordinary CIA risk aversion is temporarily on hold.

The CIA's just a big couch potato, a failure at providing intelligence but an expert at feeding itself and growing ever larger. The consequences of this nonpartisan book could be far-reaching and CIA reform should be on the top of the Obama, (Hillary) or McCain agendas. CIA reform may well be the most important thing Americans can do as a nation to protect themselves. The author's decision to donate his book profits gives his case even greater strength.
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