March 2, 2005


What Became of the CIA: How is it that America's intelligence analysts don't recognize ham and think bin Laden is "gentle"? (GABRIEL SCHOENFELD, March 2, 2005, Opinion Journal)

My first personal encounter with the CIA came in 1989. I was living in Washington, editing a new publication about communist affairs under the auspices of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. There had been a spate of violence directed against the communist authorities in Russia; I was among the first to discuss and analyze these events, publishing my findings not only in my own research bulletin but also, to wider attention, in The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.

Shortly after my articles appeared I got a phone call from a second secretary of the Soviet Embassy. He was fascinated, he told me, by what I had written, and he wanted to talk. I understood at once that a Soviet diplomat with an interest in American views of political violence in his own country would in all likelihood be a KGB officer. When we met at my office a few days later, he turned out to be younger than I had expected, perhaps in his mid-30s, with a broad smile and heavily pockmarked skin. His English was heavily accented but fluent. We had a pleasant talk for an hour. I described my findings in somewhat greater detail, and together we speculated about the future. And that seemed to be that.

Several days later I received another call, this time from someone who, explaining that he was with the CIA, said he had heard through the grapevine that I had met with a Soviet diplomat. The agency was interested in obtaining further information about him. Would I agree to get together? Despite not having much to say, I readily assented.

At the suggestion of my new acquaintance, we met at Tiberio, a posh Italian restaurant on K Street. The agency man, who was perhaps the same age as my KGB contact, had a studied nondescript appearance. Before his present assignment, to a unit debriefing Americans who had had contact with foreigners of interest to the government, he had been stationed in Rome for two years; he could not, he told me, say anything more about what he had been doing there. After a few minutes of such talk, we opened our menus. As he perused the choices, a question sprang from his lips that, when its implications sank in, shocked me to the core: "What's prosciutto?"

On the other hand, once he tried some the operative liked it so much he had a crate of it air-dropped to the mujahadeen in Afghanistan in their next resupply.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 2, 2005 7:00 AM

I haven't taken the time to read the entire article, therefore I do not know what the "implications" of the question are. However, I take it that he never was stationed in Rome. Not for two years, not never.

Now, if he pronounced it "pros-kee-YOO-to," it means he was stationed in Ohio or Michigan or... well, somewhere away from the coasts. If he pronounced it "pro-SHOOT," he was stationed in one of the red states, but nowhere near the big cities, and he knows better than to mispronounce it. If he pronounced it "pro-ZHOOT," he watches the Sopranos and he pays attention... Or he grew up with Italian friends and he's pulling the leg of the author, just to see if he's paying attention.

Posted by: Brian McKim at March 2, 2005 12:05 PM

Or he grew up with Italian friends and he's pulling the leg of the author, just to see if he's paying attention.

Just being a ham, I guess.

Posted by: Mike Morley at March 2, 2005 2:16 PM

In French, it's called 'jambon de Parme' or 'Ham of Parma' maybe he just never got out that far.

The CIA has proved competent at only two things, smuggling Nazi war criminals out of Eastern Europe and smuggling drugs into the US. It's long past time for it to be disbanded and its functions performed by the military.

Posted by: Bart at March 2, 2005 3:08 PM