So the CIA was planning to assassinate Qaeda leaders, as we have learned in The New York Times (and in The Wall Street Journal, too). It was an ambitious program, and it seems to confirm the spirit, if not the actual findings, of a new book called Guidance on the Ruling of the Muslim Spy, written by an Al Qaeda field commander in Afghanistan and described on Secrecy News. Somehow, though, both accounts – the CIA’s own plans to carry out the assassinations of Al Qaeda leaders and the notion that Western intelligence officers are everywhere, recruiting Muslims like mad -- seem far-fetched. This is Hollywood stuff, and it is also great propaganda for Afghanistan-based terrorists.

Meanwhile, in “the real world of espionage,” things were less glamorous, as T.J. Waters suggests in Class 11, his book about the first class of CIA officers trained after 9/11. During an exercise in Alexandria, Virginia, for example, one of the CIA students walked through the Torpedo Factory on the Old Town waterfront, straight into the midst of two other secret-surveillance operations, one run by the Defense Department and another by the Secret Service, both of them with “a wire sticking out of their ears”:

“Who the hell are you?” one guy shouted.

“Who the hell are you?” the other man replied.

This is the real-life world of the CIA: earnest, well-meaning, a bit chaotic, and a far cry from the sleek operations that one sees in the movies or reads about in Al Qaeda recruiting manuals.

In another example, the military-intelligence officers at a detention facility in Iraq in 2003 used to crank up The White Stripes’ "Seven Nation Army" while they were talking about sensitive issues – I mean, this is the level of sophistication that a lot of the people who actually do the black operations have been at. Aside from any legal issues regarding the assassination program, it is not unreasonable to wonder how they would actually have pulled it off.

--Tara McKelvey