I promised Zen a more thorough response, so here goes . . .
Our inability to recruit people with the right skills and employ our HUMINT capabilities in a particular manner has been addressed before – with more colorful language – here and other places. The point is clear: to kill fleas you have to lay down with dogs.
Don’t misconstrue what HUMINT is about though. This is not the FBI and the goal is not to turn Bob Smith into the Islamic Donnie Brasco; the goal is to become the guy who meets, befriends, and manages the Donnie Brascos. Regardless, as tough as some say it is to get into the mix, clearly it does not take a degree in rocket science to make the grade; mostly it is about a willingness to put up with life in the third world.
A day in the life of an analyst, functionally speaking, is not unlike that of many other cube-dwelling, research/writer-oriented jobs in the world. For a collector though it is in many ways unparalleled in both hazards as well as drudgery. The hazards are fairly obvious, since intelligence work is more or less illegal everywhere; drudgery because for every 30-minute meeting one has there are hours if not days of preparation necessary to help avoid the hazards. Use a car? Gotta document why and where to. Spend money? Gotta document why and who to and how much. Everything requires documentation, which is standard procedure for a bureaucracy, but extremely inconvenient if you are running around the hinterlands with a bunch of guys who would get more than a little suspicious if you started asking for receipts after every meal.
One answer of course is the stuff of spy books and movies.(1) The problems are obvious and complex, but not insurmountable. Based on a couple of different accounts though, as well as first-hand observations, there isn’t a big desire to go this route (if there is, thankfully, it’s still a secret).
Setting aside the very real psychological and physical issues involved in such a strategy, consider the equally real bureaucratic issues. This person(s) have to be recruited (creates a file); hired (admin shuffle and more papers to the file); trained far away from N. VA (more expense, admin and paper); and paid (more admin and paper). Now he’s an employee, he’s got all sorts of fun stuff like equal opportunity and ethnic sensitivity training to take, performance evaluations, etc., etc. The system isn’t designed for people or missions like this, so it’s either develop a series of waivers (more admin and paper) or do things off the books (dangerous and, depending on your point of view, more stuff-of-movies).
(In case you were wondering, the references to ‘admin and paper’ allude to both the level of effort involved, the fact that more and more people would know what was going on, and the fact that such a situation invites leaks.)
Currently, in some agencies, every year you spend overseas gives you extra credit for time-served, which helps with retirement (15 actual years on the job, with most of that overseas, might mean credit for 20 or more years of service). What’s the model for a guy who not only works overseas but essentially drops off the radar for months at a time? Five years running with core-AQ in the world’s garden spots equates to what in DC office-time? Ten years? Fifteen? Does he stay at GS-10 all that time or does he just get regular, automatic promotions (what happens if the whole thing is a bust – does he get retroactively demoted?)? What’s the job transition workshop for the deepest, darkest NOCs in the world look like I wonder?
As dynamic as AQ (and AQAM) is, it is still something of a bureaucracy. But it cannot compare to the sheer bulk and sloth that is our own government. This is especially true in the IC, where particular concern in paid to crossing and dotting because a) we have strict laws about this stuff and b) people can die if you don’t do things right. As absurd as a lot of this sounds, it’s not trivial stuff. It is bureaucracy, as much as it is aversion to serious but calculated risk, and our inability to attract and clear “Orientalists” that precludes our ability to penetrate and disrupt if not destroy terrorist groups.
(1) That’s a meat-space answer, in cyber-space the answer is more Shannen Rossmiller’s.