Monday, January 12, 2009

Viagra apparently NOT a silver bullet for intelligence agents

The headline in the Washington Post was sure to draw attention:

Little Blue Pills Among the Ways the CIA Wins Friends in Afghanistan*

The article reported that CIA field operatives in Afghanistan were distributing Viagra to select elders and chieftains in order to win their favor, and hopefully gain intelligence on insurgent activities and other critical knowledge of the Afghan leaders’ territory. You’ve heard of the effort to win hearts and minds. With this strategy, US intelligence seemed to be moving in a direction that would secure our nation the allegiance of other Afghan organs.

The story relies on unnamed intelligence officers to corroborate that Viagra is just one of many gifts that an intelligence operative might use to win over an aging yet still influential Afghan. The problem with the report, as several of my own reputable sources tell me, is that it simply isn’t true.

Of course the CIA itself won’t comment one way or the other on the story. That isn’t surprising, as the Agency’s policy is that it never comments openly on methods used in clandestine intelligence operations. So that fact the Langley says nothing means nothing.

The striking thing about the article itself, which troubled me when I first read it and assumed its veracity, were the internal inconsistencies. Those alone should have prompted my skepticism over the truthfulness of the story. The reporter quotes a “senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the Agency’s work in Afghanistan” as saying that operatives use tactics “consistent with the laws of [the US].” Viagra is still a prescription drug in the US, and I doubt if intelligence teams harboring any ideas of dispensing Viagra were prepared to drag a physician around Afghanistan with them; so the quote from this official, which was more extensive and supported the ingenuity of the operatives for thinking “out of the box” and doing “what’s necessary to get the job done” (apparently by stocking up on blue pills for field ops) was itself internally inconsistent.

This mysterious intelligence official seemed to want it both ways: To both assure compliance with US laws, and yet insure that CIA operatives were free to distribute pharmaceuticals without a license, and likely with little familiarity the drugs as well.

The official quoted also applauded intelligence agents who “take risks.” If the agents were in fact distributing Viagra to impotent and elderly and likely dehydrated Afghans, then they did enjoy risk, including the risk that the Viagra would suddenly drop the blood pressure of the intelligence source they were attempting to court and leave him on the ground dead due to drastically reduced cardiac output. In Afghanistan, like most other places, the people are more likely to admire you and cooperate with you if you assist them by improving and prolonging their lives instead of killing them. An intelligence operative likely would garner scant information from a village should he return the next day and discover that the local elder died shortly after munching the blue pill left by the American.

The article quotes a supposed retired operative as saying that the Viagra was not given until the prospective Afghan recipient’s health could be “established.” I am not sure what “established” means here, but I doubt it means the intelligence operative performed a full physical examination on the man and verified blood pressure and other vital signs in addition to reviewing current physical complaints and the Afghan’s past medical history. In other words, I doubt any intelligence agent would have the knowledge or inclination to complete the sort of medical evaluation necessary and expected in the United States before a physician would prescribe Viagra. I don’t know what this former operative is doing for retirement work. I can only hope he didn’t begin a second career in medicine.

I also hope he doesn’t provide any type of marriage counseling, as this same retired operative states that older Afghan men, often maxed out at four wives as is the Islamic custom in Afghanistan, consider Viagra a tool that can put them back into “an authoritative position” in their marriages. It is not uncommon for rural Afghan men to have wives of different ages. As an Afghan man ages, he often will marry successively younger wives. If a man is hovering around sixty, and sexually not the dynamo he was once when he had only one or two wives and a raging libido, he probably is pleasing his older wives by simply leaving them alone at night. And the younger of his betrothed, I would guess, are happy that a man who resembles their grandfathers is not cuddling next to them with an erection. It seems to me that, from an Afghan female perspective, the miracle of Viagra might be utilized by a husband to introduce not authority into his marriages, but instead punishment. Maybe US intelligence and counterintelligence efforts alike should consider focusing on the Afghan women a bit more, so we don’t lose the females to the insurgents as we ponder ways to (figuratively) stroke their men’s egos and sexual appendages.

One final thought for any intelligence operative considering the use of Viagra for currying favor with elderly Afghan men: The effects of the Viagra itself are fleeting, as will be the loyalty of any Afghan recipient. The Taliban can procure Viagra from the Kabul bazaars and distribute it around the countryside more easily and with greater effect, perhaps, than can US intelligence agents. The Taliban have a tougher time building roads, dams and electrical plants; and digging wells and instituting agricultural programs for poor rural Afghans. The Taliban’s expertise with such projects is their ability and willingness to destroy them at the expense of the livelihood of other Afghans. I think these initiatives, instituted for the greater good of the community, might be where any US operative wants to spend his time, energy and money. They are the endeavors that will promote peace and security and a favorable view of the US. We need to keep the focus on long-term investment instead of a short-term erection.

*Washington Post article, December 26, 2008

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ron,
Very glad to hear you're doing well after recent events. Need to catch up soon. I've been endorsing your blog to all I meet! Your witty prose is well received.
Allan

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