Former CIA officer Mark Polimeropoulos

We will start a new episode on The Cipher Brief’s open source collection podcast, and add a selection of headlines from all over the world that we bring to you, as well as expert insights on today’s news.

This week, Brad Christian of Cipher Brief and Marc Polymeropoulos, a former CIA officer, discussed the US government’s investigation of “Havana Syndrome”, ensuring that Afghan interpreters will not fall behind, and the next step of Jordan’s King Abdullah’s visit to the White House. Some people may realize it is much greater.

Password Briefing Expert Mark Polimeropoulos Before retiring from the Advanced Intelligence Agency in June 2019, he worked for the CIA for 26 years. His positions include field and headquarters missions involving the Middle East, Europe, Eurasia, and counter-terrorism.

Christianity: In the field of national security this week, what are you most concerned about?

Polymer: Havana Syndrome, the CIA’s response to the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, and Jordan’s King Abdullah’s visit to Washington let us start with Havana Syndrome.

You have seen in the media in the past few days that the Inspector General of the CIA is reviewing the CIA’s handling of health care and how officials have come to them since 2016 after these attacks in Cuba. I think this is a good thing. This is a necessary evil. I think many of your listeners and readers know that I was affected in December 2017. It led me to retire in July 2019. I have been very outspoken in calling on our officials to need medical care. We must consider Havana syndrome in three aspects.

First, it is the accountability system, which is good. This is a necessary evil, but we must see how the agency responds to officials, because it is critical. Agency staff are watching. I think the IG review of the CIA is very good, and I also understand the situation of the House of Representatives and the Senate Supervisory Committee.

The second is continuous medical care for officers, who go to Walter Reed’s National Center of Intrepid Excellence. CIA Director Bill Burns is doing this, so this is positive.

Then the last part is guilt. I think you have also seen in the media recently that a senior intelligence officer who was indispensable in the hunt for Osama bin Laden has been appointed as a member of the task force. So a lot of things are happening in Havana syndrome, and I think all of them are moving in a positive direction. I applaud Director Burns. I think this will be the top of the news cycle in the coming days, weeks and months.

Christianity: Do you think that the entire government level outside the CIA now has a unified understanding? Is Congress focused on this? Is the White House paying attention to this matter in a way that you think is necessary?

Polymer: Really a good question. The White House is sure. Congress is absolutely indispensable in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. They are about to pass the “Havana Act”, which will provide economic relief to affected officials, but involves all US government agencies. What I want to say is that the State Council is seriously behind and this is a big problem for me. I sympathize with my state colleague. 41 State Department officials were affected. Secretary of State Blincoln did not even meet with them, and Director Burns met almost all the victims of the CIA, so the state government still has a long way to go. I think we will count on the White House and Congress to continue to exert pressure.

Christianity: These incidents are still happening, even though they are under investigation. Tell us a little bit about what’s happening at the frontier of the attack.

Polymer: I think you have seen news reports of mass casualties in Vienna, Austria, which can only be regarded as a slow-rolling mass casualty. Many State Department and intelligence officials have been affected in our embassy there. Again, this is announced in the media, so it is important to pay attention to this. But these things are still happening, and I think we must review the old anti-terrorism model of the CIA to effectively discover, destroy and prevent attacks by our terrorist opponents. We must apply the same type of thinking to this problem set.


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Christianity: Withdrawal from Afghanistan, there are many things to do there. We have seen reports of U.S. air strikes supporting the Afghan forces in Kandahar. This week, it was reported that when their border post near the Pakistani city of Chitral was occupied, fewer than 50 Afghan troops requested refuge in Pakistan. The Pakistani government let them in. We now see that Afghanistan’s strategic focus is to protect the capital region and possibly cede some of its provincial capitals.

Polymer: I look at this from a narrow perspective. As a former CIA officer and the head of the Afghan base from 2011 to 2012, I ran one of our paramilitary bases on the border between eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a CIA officer in the field, especially in the base, life is unique in that we have only a few people. We have only a handful of Americans, but we have hundreds or even more than 1,000 indigenous Afghan personnel, whether they are the army fighting us or support personnel. We live with them. I think this may be slightly different from the experience of the American army on the Afghan National Army.

I entrust my life to these people. They have been fully armed before us. We ate together in the cafeteria. We sat around the fire pit together, and of course we patrolled together. So, this is really personal to me. I remember our Afghan interpreter. I remember our indigenous people, and I am really worried about them. In the future, I think it must be bleak. I do not support the government’s decision to withdraw it completely. I don’t understand why we can’t leave a remnant force, but this policy decision has been made. I think what I’m looking at in the near future is that after the end of August, will the US military still carry out air strikes to support the Afghan army? It makes sense to betray those who actually reached an agreement with us. This is just as a CIA officer who is deeply rooted in our hearts, and we don’t want to do that. So, this is what I really worry about. I remember the faces of our interpreters and indigenous staff every day. These are great heroes. I think that without their heroism, many of us in the CIA would not have lived to this day.


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Christianity: Your third question is very interesting. King Abdullah of Jordan is visiting Washington. It has not received too much multimedia coverage. But you say this is an important story. Tell us why.

Polymer: President Biden has a long-term relationship with King Abdullah. This is the sign of Jordan’s return. For many reasons, we call Jordan the water lily of the United States. I mean, when you think back to 2006 and Jordan’s indispensable role in the Anbar Awakening, that was when we united the tribes in Iraq to fight terrorism. When you think of how the United States enters Jordan’s strategic bases, and when you think of the Jordanian Intelligence Agency as one of the most important counter-terrorism partners of the US government. But the fact is that Jordan was not treated well during the previous administration, so Abdullah is really important here. I think this is a very good thing. Don’t forget that CIA Director Bill Burns was Amman’s ambassador a long time ago. I think this is a very positive development, not only for the return of the United States to its old strategic partner, but also for Jordan. Jordan has not only been a firm ally during the reign of King Abdullah, but of course, it has also been the same during the reign of the king. Hussein in front of him.

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