If elected as the U.S. Representative from Maryland’s 5th Congressional District, Charles “Sam” Faddis will bring a very interesting and unique perspective to the legislature.
A retired CIA operations officer whose last position was in charge of the unit chasing terrorist weapons of mass destruction, and who was the first CIA officer into Iraq ahead of the invasion of that country, Faddis still holds the highest level of security clearance.
Faddis wouldn’t be the first former spook in Congress. Porter Goss, who served the great state of Florida, was a former CIA clandestine service officer who had a decade with the agency. As did Will Hurd, currently a Republican representing Texas. And there have been others.
Faddis, however, would be one of the few who both retired from the agency and had considerable operational experience.
(But he wouldn’t be the first Charles Faddis to serve in Congress. His grandfather did, serving as a Democrat from Pennsylvania, taking time out to serve in WWII.)
But I am getting ahead of things.
Faddis, who I’ve relied on for years to help give me an informed perspective of things in the shadowy world of spies, told me that he will be filing papers next week seeking the Republican nomination to run for the seat currently held by Democrat Steny Hoyer. It’s the first time he’s gone on the record with his aspirations, so there is still a long way to go, and many hurdles to jump.
Why do I care about a Congressional election more than a year away in a tiny state about 900 miles north of here?
Because the CIA, that’s why.
Faddis, who retired in 2008 and was at one point a Democrat, told me he is running on a platform of reducing government and making that which remains work better.
However you feel about that, it’s important stuff, but not these days in my wheelhouse.
What to do about Iran, Iraq and the other unhappy situations I cover, however, is.
First, some bona fides.
Faddis, 56, served in the Army before doing a stint as assistant Washington State Attorney General, before joining the Central Intelligence Agency.
There, Faddis ultimately served as department chief of the CIA’s Counter-Terrorist Center between 2006 and 2008, which included overseeing more than 100 people running operations against bad guy weapons of mass destruction targets. Before that, he was a chief of station in the Middle East between 2003 and 2006, and before that, chief of base in the Middle East, running the first intelligence collection team to establish a presence in Iraq ahead of the invasion about eight months later.
And after he retired, he wrote several books, including Beyond Repair: The Decline and Fall of the CIA, which took the agency to task.
So he is a guy intimately familiar with the region, the players and the geopolitics.
Given the state of things, I’ll delve first into his thoughts on Iran. The U.S. is leading negotiations with that nation over ending sanctions in return for delaying its ambitions to create a nuclear weapon. At the same time, Iran sees much of Iraq and the rest of the region as its ordained sphere of influence and has been taking steps to bolster that vision through military action against the Islamic State in Iraq, propping up the despot Bashar al-Assad in Syria and by supporting and supplying the Three-H Club — Hizballah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and the Houthis in Yemen.
While Islamic State “is a horrible organization that we need to deal with,” the bottom line, says Faddis, is that it is “a few tens of thousands of guys with weapons and vehicles they stole from someone else.”
Iran, on the other hand, “has an army, a navy, an air force, ballistic missiles, chemical weapons and they have made significant progress toward getting nuclear weapons,” says Faddis. “Their ideology is every bit as vitriolic and anti-American as Daesh.” Daesh is an Arabic name for Islamic State.
As such, “how does it make any sense to enlist their help against Daesh and in the process allow them to gain influence and power?” asks Faddis, who calls the Obama administration’s wish to sign a nuclear agreement “madness” and the overall approach to seeing Iran as a stabilizing force in the region “very, very naive.”
Faddis says there are two reasons he would have backed the 47 GOP Senators who sent a letter to Tehran reminding the regime that, oh, by the way, once the President leaves office, all bets are off. The first he says, is because President Barack Obama “brags about the fact that he intends to take all sorts of actions and cut Congress completely out of the loop.”
The second is that “it ultimately makes no difference what the terms of the deal are,” he says. “The Iranians have no intention whatsoever about abiding by any of them.”
Faddis says he derives that conclusion as the result of having worked the region including Iran’s weapons of mass destruction programs, as a CIA officer.
“I guess my point is that I’ve seen exactly what they have done and know exactly what is involved in putting together a program like this,” Faddis says of nuclear weapons development. “Every expert in proliferation will tell you that the critical element in building atomic weapons is quickly acquiring fissile materials.”
Thousands of centrifuges will allow Iran to do just that, says Faddis, with the rest of the bomb being engineering that can be done on a small scale.
A nuclear-armed Iran will create additional tensions in the region, says Faddis. The already wary Israelis will be further backed into a corner, he says, with limited options for a successful, conventional kinetic means of stopping the Iranian nuke program. Meanwhile, the Saudis, who no more want to see Tehran get the bomb than the Israelis, will take matters into their own hands, says Faddis, likely shipping large amounts of cash to Pakistan in return for a “turnkey” nuclear weapons program ready in months, instead of years.
And this is all on top of Iran’s hegemonic ideations, says Faddis.
“The Iranians have made no secret of the fact that their intention is to eventually annex Iraq,” says Faddis, adding that you don’t have to take his word, just read the Iranian press, which, as I pointed out last week, refers to the region as the “Iranian plateau” for that nation to run as it sees fit.
And speaking of Iraq, Faddis says if it were up to him, he wouldn’t send brigades of U.S. troops into the ground battle, but he would send Green Beret A Teams forward to call in air strikes and help Iraqis lead assaults,
That’s happening. But it’s Qassem Suleimani, head of the Iranian Qods Force - that nation’s spec ops unit - taking action (and snapping battlefield selfies) while U.S. Green Berets are forced to hang back at joint operations centers and training camps.
Though that gives the Iranians a dangerous edge in Iraq, Faddis says no amount of U.S. troop involvement on the ground will ultimately make a difference if the status of a Shia-led campaign against Islamic State is allowed to remain quo.
The Iraqi army, he pointed out, dropped their weapons and fled Mosul and other places not just because they were scared, but because they saw the Shia-led Iraqi government of then Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki as a “repressive and hostile force” for which they had no interest in sacrificing their lives. Whether the new government of Haider al-Abadi is a whole lot better is questionable. Ultimately, says Faddis, Iraq might be best off as a confederation of three semiautonomous states, one each for the Kurds, Sunnis and Shia and established along the lines of what exists now in the Kurdish north.
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Gary Berntsen, a retired 23-year veteran of CIA’s Clandestine Service, knows well the uphill battle Faddis will face as a former spook running for office.
“The disadvantage you have is that you don’t have as much time to build relations,” says Berntsen, who in 2010 lost the GOP bid to take on Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York. “The key is funding.”
Berntsen is a senior policy advisor for national security for an advocacy group called Concerned Veterans For America, and a long-time friend of Faddis, who he calls “a great guy.” He says he experienced political shenanigans worthy of any espionage movie.
Berntsen says he had to contact the FBI because his campaign was the victim of a sophisticated hacking attack in which money was stolen from personal accounts of strangers and deposited into his campaign fund.
So how does politics compare to the spy game?
“Its dirtier,” he says. “In the spy game, you know who your enemies are and all America is on your side.”
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The Pentagon reported no deaths last week in the ongoing operations in the U.S. Central Command region.
There have been three deaths in support of Operation Inherent Resolve and none in Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
However, the Louisiana National Guard last week announced the deaths of Chief Warrant Officer 4 George Wayne Griffin Jr., 37; Chief Warrant Officer 4 George David Strother, 44; Staff Sgt. Lance Bergeron, 40; and Staff Sgt. Thomas Florich, 26; who died March 10 when a UH-60M Black Hawk they were riding on crashed into the Santa Rosa Sound, Florida.