WASHINGTON (AP) — When John Maguire was a CIA officer in Beirut in the late 1980s during that country's bloody civil war, he spent weeks living in safe houses far from the U.S. Embassy, dodging militants who wanted to kidnap and kill Americans.
"We moved all over the city, and we would not sleep in the same place two nights in a row," Maguire said.
In Iraq in 2014, by contrast, CIA officers have been largely hunkered down in their heavily fortified Baghdad compound since U.S. troops left the country in 2011, current and former officials say, allowing a once-rich network of intelligence sources to wither. Maguire and other current and former U.S. officials say the intelligence pullback is a big reason the U.S. was caught flat-footed by the recent offensive by a Sunni-backed al-Qaida-inspired group that has seized a large swath of Iraq.
Iraq is emblematic, they say, of how a security-conscious CIA is finding it difficult to spy aggressively in dangerous environments without military protection. Intelligence blind spots have left the U.S. behind the curve on fast-moving world events, they say, whether it's disintegration in Iraq, Russia's move into Crimea or the collapse of several governments during the Arab Spring.
"This is a glaring example of the erosion of our street craft and our tradecraft and our capability to operate in a hard place," said Maguire, who helped run CIA operations in Iraq in 2004. "The U.S. taxpayer is not getting their money's worth."
Without directly addressing the CIA's posture in Iraq, agency spokesman Dean Boyd noted that 40 agency officers have died in the line of duty since September 2001. He called "offensive" any suggestion that "CIA officers are sitting behind desks, hiding out in green zones or otherwise taking it easy back at the embassy."