Lack of spies in such hot spots as Iraq, Iran and North Korea is the main problem of U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
Without people on the ground, the agency has relied mostly on satellite photos and communications intercepts to figure out what is going on, said Duane Clarridge, a former chief of the CIA's counterterrorist center.
"We didn't have any good intelligence on Iraq, we didn't have any good intelligence on Iran and we don't have any good intelligence on North Korea," Clarridge said Wednesday in a speech to the Arkansas Committee on Foreign Relations. "We have photo intelligence and we have maybe some signal stuff, but we don't have any human intelligence, and you've seen what the results have been."
The CIA on Thursday responded to Clarridge's remarks. "Mr. Clarridge had quite a career at the agency, but his service here ended years ago," spokesman Paul Gimigliano said. "While he knows many things about intelligence and espionage from those days, he's in no position to speak authoritatively about what we're doing now."
Clarridge said the agency had little human intelligence on Iraq before the U.S. invasion in 2003.
"We literally didn't have any sources that were worth a damn," Clarridge said.
Clarridge served 33 years with the CIA, eventually serving as chief of the agency's Latin America and European divisions. He retired from the agency in 1988.
Clarridge was indicted in 1991 for allegedly lying about his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, which involved the sale of U.S. arms to Iran and the diversion of profits to the Nicaraguan rebels when such aid was barred by federal law.
Clarridge had not yet been tried on the charges when he was pardoned along with four other officials in 1992 by then-President George H.W. Bush.
Now the president of a consulting firm, Clarridge also said the agency needs to be more willing to work with unsavory people for intelligence gathering.
"The people who have the secrets that the spies are after are not nice people," he said. "You're just going to have to recruit some of these ugly people."