SUMMARY OF FINDINGS
The Ed Commission was chartered to investigate a practice frequently undertaken by U.S. intelligence and enforcement organizations: recruiting civilian contractors for use in short-term roles during covert operations.
The principal focus of the Commission's investigation was to determine to what extent the use of specially-selected civilian contractors in covert operations has contributed to the success of those operations. Specifically, the Commission focused its investigations on how the use of civilian contractors in covert operations has affected those operations' cost, security, efficiency, and success in meeting stated objectives.
The Commission was chartered neither to investigate the legality of this practice, nor to probe the ethical implications of it. It is the opinion of the Commission, however, that these areas of investigation are worthy of further study.
While other individuals and commissions may be asked to assess how the practice of recruiting civilians has been applied broadly, this Commission was chartered specifically to look into this issue in the utmost depth. Cross-agency statistics and high-level awareness of the overall ineffectiveness of this practice already exist, making a wide-ranging report less useful than a highly-focused investigation that reveals how this practice is actually applied. So, to bring awareness of the difficulties inherent in civilian recruitment to the top levels, the Commission has taken a somewhat unusual approach.
The Commission has selected and focused exclusively on one particular case, one of the most troublesome cases in which a civilian was recruited to aid in a covert operation. This is the matter of Ed Fluegel and his temporary employment by CIA in early 1999 in Operation Shift Lock. (The Commission is referred to in documents as the Ed Commission because it is chaired by James Ed. This has nothing to do with the civilian Ed Fluegel.) Although problems related to the recruitment of other civilians are evident in this report, the focus is on Ed Fluegel, perhaps the most notorious civilian employed as a contractor by U.S. intelligence organizations in the last five years.
This case was selected as one that (although it is more far problematic than most) represents the typical problems arising from the short-term use of civilian contractors. It is hoped that, through this report, the important details of the Ed Fluegel case will bring into sharper relief many specific problems that this practice entails, problems that have previously been considered only abstractly by top-level officials.
Based upon the details contained in the narrative of this report, the Ed Commission recommends that the practice of recruiting civilians for short-term use be discontinued by CIA, DEA, FBI, NSA, other U.S. intelligence and enforcement organizations, and other U.S. organizations with intelligence or enforcement roles.
The Commission believes that the following findings, seen in the specific matter of Ed Fluegel, are broadly applicable to the practice as carried out by U.S. organizations:
As practiced, the use of civilian contractors is frequently non-essential. In many cases, a reorganization the government agency's existing staff would be sufficient. This might involve a more thorough appraisal of staff abilities not generally considered useful for covert operations, abilities typically not recorded in the employee's staff file. In some cases, advanced technologies may be able to eliminate the need for or substitute for civilian contractors as well.
This practice is costly, the payment to the contractor in many cases a minor portion of the cost incurred by contracting them. Training is a significant expenditure, as facilities are required for training and the trainers are frequently paid more than the contracted trainee. Other unanticipated costs typically arise. For example, costs are incurred to maintain a recruit's civilian life while the civilian is involved in the operation, or to compensate for unexpected medical emergencies.
This process is usually inefficient. Covert work is exhausting, dangerous, and requires skills that generally arise only through dedication and practice. The steps necessary to compensate for the impact on physical and mental health, as well as emotional well-being, caused by sudden immersion in a covert operation, are significant when compared to the scope of the effort expended on the operation as a whole. A typical agent involved in a covert operation is highly-trained and experienced, and able to detect and avoid danger. A civilian contractor is typically less of a well-oiled cog in such a machine.
This practice introduces substantial security risks, a severe detriment to covert operations. Decreasing the security risks could be accomplished though tighter screening and surveillance of civilian contractors, but that would make the use of civilians even more costly and impractical. It is frequently not fully understood what loyalties a typical civilian contractor might hold, and it is perhaps unreasonable to expect that a commitment to successful covert government operations is among them.
In covert operations, information about the operation is typically kept compartmentalized, disseminated on a need-to-know basis. At first glance, civilian contractors would appear to be ideal recruits, as knowledge of the actual motives behind any operation can be withheld from them, and they can be easily misled about their roles. However, civilian contractors are more likely to have an uneasy relationship with government, particularly when intelligence organizations, seen as unaccountable to the civilian population, are considered. American civilians also tend to have an exaggerated sense of their own legal rights. Finally, without an overview of the entire scope of national security, a civilian contractor could, even with the best of intentions, accidentally compromise it.
IMPACT ON MORALE
The practice of contracting civilians may cause tension among staff and military personnel involved in an operation. An agent who has been immersed in the constrained world of covert operations may suffer stress when exposed to a civilian who behaves un-self-consciously and speaks their mind openly. Further, and more obviously, to expect a civilian to behave with the same sort of discipline instilled by the military or government intelligence or enforcement organizations, would imply, simply, that this individual was no longer a civilian.
ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION
As mentioned, it was not the purpose of this report to pursue the legal and ethical implications of this practice, nor the impact upon the lives of civilians involved, including how their life might be permanently shaped as a result of playing a temporary role in a covert operation. This is certainly an important issue, however, and deserves careful scrutiny by the intelligence community in the future. The Ed Commission, however, must primarily concern itself with the issues specified by its charter.
The narrative section of this report details the matter of Ed Fluegel, from his initial recruitment to the most recent reports on the matter, describing the course of events that led the Commission to this conclusion.