Amid a massive rebellion against his management style, The Central Intelligence Agency has relieved Jonathan Bank of his duties in Iran, citing a serious problem with "workplace issues."
The Agency veteran and chief of Iran operations was placed on paid administrative leave and sent home from agency headquarters after an internal investigation determined that Bank created an abusive and hostile work environment that put a crucial division in disarray. This condition was formally confirmed by both current and former officials within the agency.
One fellow veteran officer who knew and worked with Bank told me under the condition of anonymity, "This action was long overdue. This officer probably should have been thrown out of the service 20 years ago."
Other fellow Agency employees involved in the Iran Division (responsible for covert operations overseeing Iran's nuclear activities) were notified in Langley that Bank, a veteran officer and member of the senior intelligence service, was being relieved of his post.
That same veteran intelligence officer commenting on the overdue action, poses an even more important and relevant question; "Will this change anything? Will the organization stop and re-examine how it is promoting officers to senior ranks? Will it stop promoting yes-men and start focusing on leaders?"
Before I could respond, his rhetorical question was self answered; "Unfortunately I think the answer is no. Nothing will change."
As many as three former Agency officials confirmed the Iran operations division was in "open rebellion to Bank's management style." Making matters worse, there were numerous critical officers demanding transfers out of Bank's unit.
Another officer stated, "Iran is one of most important targets, and the place was not functioning."
This is not the first foray into drama for Bank, now 46, who has served at Agency stations in the Balkans, Moscow and Baghdad. In 2010, Bank was removed from his position as CIA station chief in Islamabad following Pakistan, India, England and other international newspapers published his name in connection with an ongoing court case. Langley confirms Bank received numerous death threats and took the action for "the officer's safety."
Washington officials believe Pakistan's intelligence service was responsible for leaking Bank's name in retribution for CIA drone attacks in the country's tribal belt.
Dean Boyd, the agency's chief spokesman, said he could not comment on a personnel issue. He also was a top assistant to James Pavitt, who from 1999 to 2004 headed the CIA's operations arm, now known as the National Clandestine Service.
"As a general matter, the CIA expects managers at all levels to demonstrate leadership skills and foster an environment that helps their employees perform at the highest levels to achieve agency objectives,"
Boyd said. "Whenever that doesn't happen, we examine the situation carefully and take appropriate action."
Another former officer told me, "I never had to work FOR Jonathan, so I can't speak to his management style, but I certainly was aware that he rubbed many people at HQS the wrong way. That said, I did work with him on occasion, and I always found him to possess a discerning intellect, and, at least in our one-on-one conversations, to be refreshingly honest about the capabilities, or lack thereof, of the DO."
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Several former CIA officials said they could not remember a senior manager being suspended over workplace issues, but management problems are a recurring challenge at the agency.
In an off-the-cuff conversation I had with another somewhat controversial case officer, this was stated comically, but with frightening sincerity; If the CIA were to send every reputed bad manager or all-around prima donna/a-hole home, the halls of Langley would be empty.
A 2009 internal CIA workplace survey determined that officers who left the CIA frequently cited "bad management" as a factor, particularly in the clandestine service. It has been my experience that all officers I spoke with had predominately good things to say about the spy agency. If and when anyone spoke negatively, it was always about an isolated manager, or a bureaucratic hot potato tossed down from Washington.
It should be noted that all the officers I spoke with, active or retired, spoke on condition of anonymity since Bank is technically undercover. His name, however, being made public since the 2010 incident, did not pose any additional risk. It should also be noted that Bank did not respond to email messages requesting a response.