Mitch Wade and the madness of spies

Well, I was wrong about nobody caring about yesterday’s post about defense contractor Mitch Wade. The Washington Post ran a story today on the sentencing memo, highlighting the congressional corruption angle.

Wade is being sentenced next month for paying $1.8 million in bribes to former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham in return for government contracts. He’s one of the more interesting, but least known characters in the whole sordid saga.

Wade was once at the top of D.C.’s social strata. As outwardly successful as he seemed, Wade was inwardly troubled. He had classic symptoms of mania — he was equally smart, gracious, and charming as well as ruthless, relentlessly ambitious and control-obssessed.

At MZM Inc., his defense contracting firm, Wade opened mail addressed to his employees, screened employee e-mails and railed about those who received personal messages in their MZM accounts. No detail was too small for him to obsess about and nothing got done without his say-so.  As I wrote in my book:

It occurred to more than one employee that Wade had deep psychological problems. His paranoia, his compartmentalization, and his secrecy were all traits that many of his employees recognized from their experience in the intelligence world. Suspicion and paranoia were a job hazard, particularly in the spy-vs-spy of counterintelligence that was MZM’s specialty. Too many much time spent wondering if your colleagues were really your enemies did tend to make people a bit loony.

In a wonderful essay in The New Yorker, writer John Le Carre, a former spy himself, says that madness is endemic to the intelligence world “hard to detect and harder still to eradicate.” The most famous case was James Jesus Angleton, a “deranged CIA inpatient,” in Le Carre’s words, who nearly destroyed the spy agency in his quest for a Soviet mole that he could never find.

There were rumors that Wade was connected to some sort of covert intelligence network, which might explain all the paranoia. I heard stories of secret passageways, safehouses and nasty covert ops, but it was never clear to me that this was anything more than a product of Wade’s massive ego, a fantasy that he was playing at the spy world’s “great game” and not just acting like a shabby huckster.

At the same time, I’ve been thinking about the glowing fitness reports (here and here) Wade received from John McConnell, the director of national intelligence. And I can’t help but wonder whether the attributes in Wade that I think might earn him time on the psychiatrist’s couch might actually be viewed as useful traits in certain corners of the intelligence world.

2 comments

  1. patty k

    that Wade is still continuing his bribing of the US Government, trading his cooperation with the feds for a reduced sentence, shows complete contempt for the constitution, taxpayers and justice. There is no remorse from Wade, just another opportunity to use his power for his own gain. It makes me sick. He shouldn’t get one minute knocked off his sentence for his so-called cooperation. He’s an opportunist and a crook, and not about to change. And it should not be condoned or the integrity of our system traded for information on his other illegal acts.

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  2. Jim A

    Hm. Verbage notwithstanding, those fitness reports aren’t all that impressive. Yes, he got high marks but there are several things worth noting:

    First, they are both for twelve day periods. That’s because they cover the two-week annual training periods required of all reservists. In my professional judgment, they are not credible indicators of actual performance as an intelligence analyst or officer. A more realistic indicator of Naval officer performance would be his annual fitness report from his reserve unit commanding officer. We don’t see those, do we? I didn’t know the guy personally, though I’m pretty sure I encountered him at several points over the years. He thought better of himself than his peers did, trust me.

    Second, if you look at Blocks 51 (Evaluation) and 52 (Summary), you’ll see that while he is evaluated as “high,” in the summary you’ll see the number “1.” That’s the number of officers evaluated in that particular cycle. Naval Officers are evaluated against their peers. In most naval units and ships, you’d normally see a number larger than one in Block 52. The placement of the “X” in 51 compared to the number in Block 52 will show you where a Naval Officer breaks out in his Commanding Officer’s opinion. Sheafer and McConnell gave Mitchie what we in the Navy call a “one of one” fitness report. Those reports are usually ignored by Naval Officer Selection Boards for promotion purposes.

    Naval Reserve officers who came on board active duty commands for two-week annual training periods usually got this very same (or very similar) fitrep, year in, year out as long as they managed to stay out of trouble and not set the place on fire. This sort of inflated fitness report is also a major reason why the Naval Officer Fitness Report system was overhauled a few years later (didn’t work out very well, but that’s a different story). With everyone a superlative water-walker, it was hard to separate the wheat from the chaff and I saw way too much chaff promote up during the 1990’s.

    When I read his write-ups (the textual portion on page 2), it appeared to me he didn’t really do all that much during those two training periods. Morocco and Somalia weren’t all that “hot” in July, 1989 (Somalia was not too much later, though). By Dec, 1990 the Pentagon wasn’t “the” place to be for an aspiring junior officer. This was during the final phase of Operation Desert Shield, the buildup to Desert Storm, the first Iraq War, which kicked off the next month. Guys really looking to promote up were out in the fleet or elsewhere in the Middle East, most typically Saudi Arabia. Mitchie-boy was in the rear with the beer. Myself, I was more than happy to be at a small Naval facility in the Great Dismal Swamp on the Virginia-North Carolina state line at the time.

    I guess what I really wonder is didn’t he think someone out here wouldn’t recognize his fitreps for what they are? They’re simply attestations that he spent some time at a particular command on annual training and managed not to incur the wrath of the Chain of Command.

    How do I know all this? I was in the Navy from 1973 to 2006, both as an enlisted sailor and as an officer. Not so long after Wade’s visitation there, I also served at that very same JCS/J2, only for two years, not two two-week training periods. I’ve seen more than a few Mitch Wades in my time.

    ps – Patty K, you’re absolutely right.

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