Dave Marlowe has been the CIA’s deputy director of operations since June 2021, and his work is worth knowing about.
Having excelled in some of the most formidable overseas and domestic assignments, Mr. Marlowe is now at the pinnacle of his career, responsible for directing the CIA’s global clandestine espionage operations. Under Mr. Marlowe’s masterful stewardship, CIA officers around the world recruit spies, steal secrets and conduct presidentially authorized covert operations.
For the CIA, there is no such thing as a “denied area.” CIA clandestine operations officers, many serving under Mr. Marlowe’s command behind enemy lines, collect the most sensitive source reporting also known as human intelligence (HUMINT), on which the CIA’s all-source analysis and ultimately our nation’s security so deeply rely.
CIA deputy operations directors rarely — if ever — make public appearances, observing the age-old agency mantra that “the secret of our success is the secret of our success.” They remain in the shadows focused on their hyper-demanding, risky and consequential HUMINT mission.
So our allies and adversaries must have taken notice when Mr. Marlowe recently addressed George Mason University’s Hayden Center, talking openly about the world’s hottest war.
Assessing the Kremlin’s failed invasion and ongoing brutal war in Ukraine, Mr. Marlowe emphasized that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “objectives were to squeeze things out of Ukraine, to threaten NATO and affect NATO unification, and to show off to the world that Russia is powerful militarily, economically, diplomatically.”
Unfortunately for the KGB-agent-in-the-Kremlin, Mr. Marlowe continued, Mr. Putin “squandered every single bit of that. And so for the directorate of operations, we’re looking around the world for Russians who are as disgusted with that as we are, because we’re open for business.”
I had the honor of serving with Mr. Marlowe for decades. Known for his low-key demeanor, wry sense of humor, calm under pressure and exceptional operational acumen, Mr. Marlowe was delivering a deliberate, pointed and very public message to Russian officials.
“We’re open for business” means the CIA is hunting for sources who can lift the veil on Russia’s strategic plans and tactics both in Ukraine and against NATO and the West; the extent to which Ukraine’s courageous defense these past 10 months and Kyiv’s latest counteroffensive in Kherson might have driven a wedge between Mr. Putin and his inner circle; and whether Mr. Putin has wasted so much Russian blood and treasure that he might be losing the support of his powerful military and intelligence services.
When they talk of trying to influence someone’s behavior, Russians are fond of saying there are two options: “Knutom ili pryanikom” — “the whip or the gingerbread.” It’s their version of the choice between the carrot and the stick.
Tolerating absolutely no opposition, Mr. Putin, who served in the KGB before the Soviet Union’s collapse and directed Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) before taking the top job, has long preferred to rule with an iron “whip.” He turned FSB defector Alexander Litvinenko into a human dirty bomb and tried to assassinate Russian military intelligence defector Sergey Skripal with a banned chemical nerve agent because he wanted to frighten his inner circle into subservience just as he is now trying — unsuccessfully — to terrorize Ukrainian civilians into capitulating.
Mr. Marlowe was turning the spotlight on Mr. Putin’s horrific misadventure in Ukraine, which CIA analysts believe may have altered the calculus of some of Russia’s security service and military professionals.
Mr. Marlowe is an expert at what retired FBI Special Agent Robin Dreeke calls “sizing people up” in the title of his 2020 book. Mr. Marlowe can see the world through the eyes of a Russian general or spymaster. As much as he and his fellow CIA substantive experts appreciate Russia’s extraordinary culture, history, language and literature, they know Mr. Putin’s savage war in Ukraine reflects atrociously on the country’s reputation and greatness as a nation.
Mr. Putin’s decision to rain down hell on Ukrainian civilians has created a humanitarian catastrophe and national security crisis the likes of which Europe has not witnessed since World War II.
The U.S. diplomatic presence in Russia is at an all-time low, and the U.S.-Russia bilateral relationship is at its worst since the Cold War. With the Kremlin rigidly controlling Russia’s media and denying its citizens freedom of speech and assembly, Russia presents a permanent fog of war.
The U.S. intelligence community and Mr. Marlowe’s team of clandestine CIA collectors are on the hook to lift that fog and fill in reporting gaps so that our policymakers can make the most educated decisions. Going back to the Cuban missile crisis, intelligence has been critical to avoiding dangerous miscalculations between our nations.
This perilous moment in our history is no different.
• Daniel N. Hoffman is a retired clandestine services officer and former chief of station with the Central Intelligence Agency. His combined 30 years of government service included high-level overseas and domestic positions at the CIA. He has been a Fox News contributor since May 2018. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHoffmanDC.