Sunday’s Washington Post featured an op-ed by John Prados, described as a “national security expert,” entitled “He slept with her. Who cares?” in the print edition. Who cares indeed — apparently not Prados, who prefers to see a sex scandal surrounding General David Petraeus where the real issue is the pervasive corruption and entitlement mentality of Washington’s military elite. Or does Prados assume that most Americans travel around with a mistress doubling as a hagiographer on the taxpayer’s dime? He describes how the Petraeus/Broadwell affair has “done more to harm national security than the affair itself.” But he does not explain exactly how that is so before leading into a call for the intelligence community “to end the arbitrary and outdated rules that govern US intelligence employees.”

Prados focuses on two issues. The first is the “CIA’s insistence on investigating foreigners engaged to agency employees” and the policy to deny clearances to homosexual officers which prevailed until 1998. He opines that the policies were put in place to protect against blackmail and suggests that “the thought that a prospective spouse would have to pass a security check must have led many valuable intelligence officers to quit” while gay officers would find themselves “not working to the fullest extent of their capacities, keeping their heads down to avoid attracting attention.”

Both of Prados’s suggestions are absurd. He cites several CIA officers who went rogue and insinuates that their problems began with having foreign wives and girlfriends checked out by security. He claims that Philip Agee’s “catalyst for his crusade was the CIA’s demand to investigate his Mexican girlfriend” and that re: Aldrich Ames one has to “wonder about the impact … of the agency’s vetting of his Colombian wife.” As I recall the problem with Agee was that he drank a lot and was still married to his American wife when he acquired his Mexican girlfriend. Ames’s wife was complicit in his espionage, hiding the proceeds in her native land. No intelligence organization anywhere in the world would fail to investigate the foreign spouse or girlfriend or boyfriend of an intelligence officer.  Implying that it is an “artifact of the cold war era” makes no sense whatsoever, and to do otherwise would be suicidal.

Prados does not even appear to know how the system works, preferring instead to believe that foreign born spouses are hounded by the office of security. In fact, a significant percentage of senior management at CIA has foreign-born wives and husbands, many of whom were first met while overseas by officers who were already married to someone else. The Agency requires that they be background investigated when a relationship is established, then pretty much leaves them alone. I know this from personal experience as I have a foreign-born wife whom I married when I was in Rome Station.

Regarding homosexuality, the Agency concern was indeed that it opened the door to blackmail, which was certainly true in the fifties and sixties. Today, the concern is somewhat different and there is no institutional discrimination in CIA against gay and even transsexual employees. Quite the contrary, they have their own association that meets regularly at headquarters. But many countries in the world still criminalize homosexual acts. Should the U.S. send intelligence officers and diplomats to those countries where there is a significant possibility that they might be arrested if they socialize in gay circles?

Prados concludes that it is “far fetched today to think that a foreign government would contrive an operation to ensnare a CIA employee through an affair…” Excuse me? CIA refers to using sex to obtain an agent as a honeypot operation. The prime objective of every intelligence organization in the world is to penetrate both friendly and hostile competing services by whatever means necessary. That is precisely what they seek to do, and while Americans are more inclined to succumb to money, sex is certainly on the menu.