How To Fix The CIA
By Roy D. Follendore III
Copyright 2004 by RDFollendoreIII
Recently the acting CIA Chief announced that he personally opposes the recent push for a cabinet level Intelligence post that would oversee the entire intelligence community, including his agency. His stated reason was that it would create another bureaucracy. The fact is that the CIA needs to be split up and changed for many many reasons.
November 28, 2008
There can be no doubt that the intelligence community has been responsible providing the disastrous intelligence that was instrumental as justifications for the invasion of Iraq. But this was far more than deplorable incompetence. War is the ultimate desperate act of a nation. All of the organizations who held the authority and responsibility for the production and delivery of intelligence information should should be made accountable. The question is not if these organizations should be changed. The question is the the degree of change that will be necessary. More specifically, the CIA failed to protect our nation in spectacular ways. It was supposed to have the overall responsibility. It did not do its job. Our nation did not and still not getting non reputable intelligence information that we need.
Many of the options that once may have existed for dealing with our intelligence organizations are behind us now. This is a matter of national confidence as well as national security. Our leaders as well as the leaders of the free world feel that they can no longer trust intelligence information that comes from our analysts. In the case of 911, the CIA provided no warning of the airline attack because they chose not to properly organize intelligence information. They simply did not do their job. In the case of Iraq, the intelligence that our President said that he was given has since been proven to be incorrect. The CIA did not do their job because they didn't adequately voice their opinions to our Congressional leaders who had a need to know. America should be ashamed of the poor production of intelligence products that were produced and the leadership of those who allowed a war to happen under false pretenses. At some point this was a criminal act, not an accident.
First of all the CIA did not do their job because they did not properly match the intelligence with its proper audience. They knew that what makes raw information useful is the analysis. They knew that raw intelligence is meaningless to political leaders. They knew that the kind of analysis would have everything to do with the expectations of the presentation. They knew that what the President was telling Congress was wrong and they did not choose to speak up. They then classified the lie they told to Congress and in doing so began an invasion of a war that did not need to be fought. The CIA and the President of the United States then made the decision to classify intelligence that should have been made public. Exactly how many things have to occur in Washington before a deliberate pattern of intentional wrong doing and cover up is determined to exist? To understand exactly how this might have happened, you first have to get your head into the mindset of intelligence bureaucrats.
If intelligence analysts are not given the proper guidelines by their superiors, then the products being produced can be expected to be useless. But what exactly should be those guidelines? Who should have given them these guidelines? Did these analysts perceive their job to be that of initiating war? Certainly they must have understood that trigger-happy leaders could use any justification they provided to pull the trigger. At the same time, they also should have known the consequences and outcomes of withholding intelligence information from Congress. Were they compelled to produce intelligence that was incorrect? Everyone in the CIA knows that biased intelligence depends on the bias of the chosen audience, not just the analysis of the message. The critical factors necessary for matching the audience with a need to know with intelligence that leaders require is a presumption that is completely understood by professional intelligence organizations around the world. These professionals knew that the proper approach with respect to minimizing a bias of interpretation was a function of the proper message to the proper audience. The management within the CIA knew that their efforts towards the elimination of bias would be a matter of making sure that the content of the intelligence product was communicated effectively. The did not do their job and through their intentional negligence began a horrible, enormously expensive and unnecessary war with another sovereign nation that is still at this moment.
These are professionals knew that their job and their responsibility was to properly communicate facts and not contrived and unsubstantiated hearsay and fiction. There are a significant number of people that review every word of formal intelligence before it reaches the White House and it is highly unlikely that poor intelligence would have gotten through unless (1.) the intelligence creation process was deliberately manipulated, and (2.) an improper path for delivery was deliberately created. At some point, deliberate and criminal actions of corruption, malfeasance, fraud, conflict of interest, dereliction of duty, and other 'patriotic' acts at least bordering on treason must have occurred within the CIA.
What happened to these people? Where are they working now? What are they doing? Why weren't they prosecuted? Why aren't they out on their ear? American have a need to know that the CIA is being ran properly. They have an absolute need to know and in that knowing keep in mind that some real problems with internal decision making began to exist early in the history of the CIA. One of the very first 'experts' that the CIA recruited after World War II was Heinrich Muller, a man who deserved to be tried in Nierenberg for crimes against humanity and the former Chief of the Nazi Gestapo. The CIA chose to overlook the fact that the Gestapo efficiently fabricated whatever intelligence and evidence Adolph Hitler desired. Is this the original model of an organization that is now working us now?
There are so many operational questions that have been left unanswered by the Senate Committee on Intelligence.
What went terribly wrong with our system? Was the problem really the information itself? Did false and misleading information suddenly jump up onto computer screens to be included in the President's classified reports? Maybe part of the problem was that the kind of work that is being given to the agency that did not fit the organization? Maybe the reason for recent CIA failures are simply because there was no one that could be held responsible for mapping intelligence products with audience needs. If so then who's fault was that? If not then who was responsible for this job? Does the organization of the intelligence community match the production of the kinds of products America needs? Perhaps our intelligence community, and specifically the CIA, is no longer structured for the jobs at hand. This is not the world we faced during cold war. Perhaps our intelligence community never really had the necessary self regulating impetus necessary to do the right job right. It is not beyond the scope of possibility that our American brand of pride has become our sin that is failing our national security. But is that all there is to this disgraceful situation? It is not beyond the scope of reason to believe that false sense of nationalism and rotten to the core politics has been injected into the heart of the intelligence community.
Perhaps there is an even more fundamental flaw within our intelligence system. Somehow our intelligence organizations seem to think that they are better than they really are. In doing so they tend to take for granted that third world nations and second rate terrorist factions can't do us any harm. The leaders of these organizations like to disregard the fact that the distribution of technology and knowledge has made our enemies more than equal to us in many ways. Even small nations can have powerful intelligence gathering capabilities.
When you think about it, it is easy to realize when the operational failure of our intelligence community actually began to implode. When you consider that the fall of the Soviet Union created an intelligence services vacuum that could not be filled by the existing intelligence organizations. It is not a secret in Northern Virginia that the number of companies now supporting the intelligence community has become ridiculous. Anyone can see of what is going on within the requirements of job wanted adds. Since the reign of the senior Bush as President, intelligence organization have been transforming themselves into outsourcing organizations who contract for predetermined solutions to predetermined problems. This is nuts. America has chosen leaders who want to create 'corporate' environments out of civil service environment because they somehow think that the results will be less problematic. Had they taken opportunities to think about the scope of national problems they would have understood that Federal employees who can do their jobs properly have had to hand the the work over to vendors chosen to fulfill the specifications of contracts.
The problem with this is that the real dangers to the United State of American and our allies are nondeterministic which contractors can not respond in part because their obligations to contractual agendas can't change fast enough. For contractors, contracts naturally revolve around competitive opportunities for profits. The commercialization of our national intelligence estimates are responsible for much of this. The reality of what has been happening is that the American taxpayers have been paying corporations to underestimate our enemies. We have gotten into the habit of a 'contractual response' to world crisis. The contracting vehicles are part of the problem, not the solution. Through these contracts, perhaps too much power may be placed in the hands of middle managers who can't see the big picture. The credibility of the civil servant within the intelligence community may have been undermined. It is easy for managers to place more credence on an outside contractors and consultants than an employee, particularly if that vendor is willing to take any position that pleases the managers. In an age that requires commercial political support to become a successful politician running for the White House, too much dependency on commercial contractors may very well have contributed to the corruption of the quality of intelligence systems on which we depend.
For American citizens the election time is near. We voters too easily forget that concept of a courageous thin blue line does not only exist in Police organizations. The thin line drawn is drawn within the sands of democracy and is created at the moment that each Federal Government employee lifts his right hand to swear their solemn oath. The line is created through that oath of employment that involves personal professional sacrifices, without monetary obligation or self-serving economic contracts. That oath that means that Government employees should be willing to risk their careers to do their jobs. Loyalty to our country means that the oath means that what is good for our nation should come before what is good for an agency like the CIA. What we have been seeing is the result of self servicing employees with misplaced, misguided and/or corrupted loyalties rising to positions of authority, delegating their responsibilities without authority and within that process risking everything that is America. To say that the cause of continued failures of National Intelligence was a mistake, or was caused by lack of authority or by micromanagement is wrong because it is too narrow. The cause of America's intelligence failure is a lack of valid leadership. There were too many politicians in positions of responsibility who simply did not do their jobs. These were officials involved within the intelligence community who allowed politics and ideology come before their duty. They allowed themselves to be influenced. They destroyed the internal continuity of checks and balances and they did not have the guts to do what was right for our country. A public example needs to be set. There is guilt for what some have not done as well as for what others have not done. At the very least they need to be brought up on charges within the CIA. The good people of the CIA, the United States of America and citizens of other nations need to be assured that all of the individuals involved have been removed and banned from our Federal Service. In a nuclear age where our President has claimed the right to make preemptive strikes on other nations based on presumed threats arising from the quality of our intelligence, we can do no less.
It stands to reason that the Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia area is a place where secrets exist. But these secrets are available to many people. The CIA and other intelligence organizations are large and complex, and it is no secret that they employ lots of people to do work for them. Add to this the number of associated bureaucrats in the Washington D.C. area and some kinds of secrets become not so secret. Because of this, many many people knew that it was pumping out irresponsible products before 911. The numbers should speak for themselves. This is what makes the terrible truth that not enough people spoke up before 911 so awful. Some say that hindsight is easier than foresight and maybe that is so. In the end it is all of those who knew but did not speak up about the internal intelligence production problems were responsible for allowing the attacks on our nation to occur.
There is no doubt that many high ranking people within the Bush administration must have known that the President's justifications for the invasion of Iraq were phony, just as many ex CIA employees understood why the agency has been failing the United States and could have easily guessed. The trouble was that at the time it just didn't seem to matter. There is a nasty nationalistic momentum that takes place when a President desires revenge and takes it into his head that he has the right to unilaterally attack, punish, invade and occupy other nations. Just as in Nazi Germany, irrationality of military authority can too easily go unchecked. The rot at the core of the CIA is that it had long ago lost much of its professional bearing as anl intelligence gathering organization and has began to produce the necessary propaganda tools for partisan political action. Only later and after the facts came out did the CIA become an excuse, a political means of plausible denial and a justification for Presidential unilateral action and a scapegoat for the failure of national security. The CIA now is an institution fighting for supremacy, a place where many highly intelligent, legitimate and honorable men and women fight at great odds against the currents of its operational problems with full understanding that it is a dysfunctional society. The winds of change is owed to them as well as to our nation and to the world.
The CIA has become dysfunctional because too many wrong headed appointed leaders have consistently put their personal careers before the security of our nation. The CIA is dysfunctional because these improperly motivated leaders worked together to solve the wrong problems for the wrong reasons. And it is dysfunctional because the groups of people who repeatedly failed our nation have successfully been able to hide their professional failures through secrecy, by shifting responsibilities and did so because they could. Many of America's problems may have been prevented by the CIA but many also came about because the CIA management has intentionally created institutional policies that were capable of hiding internal mistakes behind a cloak of secrecy. This should not be a surprise. Those who are interested have read the novels of dozens of ex CIA employees who have exposed the corruption. All of these people are not disgruntled employees seeking revenge or conspiracy theorists. Just as the fictional FBI Agent Molder often said on the television show the X-Files, "The truth is out there." All you really have to do to begin to discover the nature of the truth is examine the nature of the work.
Intelligence means espionage, which has always been a nasty human oriented business where lying, cheating and stealing is the tradecraft. The reality is that unlike the movies, spy organizations find that they have to copy each others sources and methods to gain the upper edge. It should be no wonder that over time, organizations like the CIA become ripe with the kind of spy masters trained to ignore moral ethics of normal citizens. As our 'good' spies work to defeat the worst people of the world, what they must do begins to rub off. In a way, they can become too good at what they do. Keep in mind that these are individuals who are willing to do whatever is necessary in the name of national security. Just like any commercial organization, when these skilled individuals are 'retired from overseas' they go into positions of management responsibility, sometimes policy, technical or intelligence analysis positions. The difference is that when these people don't get their way, they can resort to the persuasive and deceptive skills that they know best. Disinformation and disingenuous cabals pull the rugs out from under other perceived competitors. Intelligence organizations like the CIA is such a tough place in which to work because mixed in with is corruption are honest and genuine people, who are very good at their jobs but don't easily get promoted. When they choose to do what is right, they can't stay through retirement because they get forced out. The golden rule within such a dog eat dog secret society is that the moment you are not in, you are out. For the average intelligence agency employee, it is impossible to stay on the best side of internal politics and still do the job. Far too often, the employees who do best in their long term careers are the ones with jobs that produce the least amount of internal dissent. Life for them becomes much easier that way.
The argument against the intelligence czar that would oversee intelligence is the additional layer of bureaucracy. This is a smokescreen because bureaucracy is the name of the game within the CIA. The truth is that CIA management fear their internal values will be found out. They risk the appearance of their incompetence. They fear the consequences of the exposure of their failures Perhaps most of all, they fear change far more than failure. Change is the enemy of the silent CIA tradition that represents the armor of the organization, its mystique and the reason that the resistance to organizational change is problematic. Constructive change can not occur because it requires genuine openness.
The strongest tool for managing organizational change within the intelligence community is an independent, open and caring employee grievance process. Unfortunately this also happens to be most problematic human resources concern for secret organizations like the CIA. Exactly how does one design an employee grievance process within a need to know environment. One might think that so many cleared people with comprehensive background investigations should not need a grievance process. The trouble is that clearances are not adequate credentials for attributing decency and honor to people. A clearance is intended to be a means to authorize access to classified information but in practice clearances are mistakenly used to determine the good guys from the bad. This is problematic because while there may be a few saints who hold clearances, some of the most murderous and disreputable people who have ever lived hold clearances too. In this regard, people who are cleared for classified information are just like everyone else. Clearances offer little assurance that the people who hold them are honest or worthy of trust. But this is exactly the reason why grievance processes are required. When they are properly functioning grievance procedures offer the necessary internal checks and balances that help keep the clockwork of human organizations functioning properly.
Whether classified or unclassified, gathering and analyzing intelligence is a process, a form of raw power that is very difficult to obtain and even more difficult to hold on to and control. The reality of all truly powerful forms of authority is that ruthless, untrusting people tend to hold the reins of more power for longer periods of time. It would be naive to assume that trusting generous people are not swept from the field of management positions. This is an environment where the strongest survive and it is the reason why the management of CIA are not below the use security background investigations and for that matter, internal psychiatric evaluations as tools to undermine the credibility of employees who get in their way while doing their job.
This is also a reason why the true promotion criteria is based on management popularity, not the quality of technical performance. Some might even go so far as saying that the internal grievance procedure within the CIA is a farce designed to eliminate those who are not team players. This may be the reason why the truth is that reporting the truth is relative to the nature of the internal politics. If CIA management does not approve of an internal report being written then they control the product by undermining the qualifications of the writer and/or find someone else who is willing to write the report that they want. To write anything, all they need is the right author willing to put what they want said into words. This is coercion that is easy to justify and easy to deny and after all, as B.B. King sings, even "Lucille lies a little." During their careers many senior CIA people come so far as to believe that there is no such thing as a lie. This represents a form of internal corruption that cannot be easily cleansed from an existing organization because it represents a chronic moral failure, one that is the greatest liability for decent employees who choose to earn an honest living.
For the employee, professional insecurity extends to the security process. The 'need to know' should ideally be the basis of obtaining a security clearance but in reality that just is not so. The problem is that the security clearance process has been carefully designed to keep the undesirables out, particularly socially educated and dedicated individuals who were willing to stand up to the management system. Security is a tool, not just a justification. If a failing CIA manager wants to keep outside perspectives out of the picture there is no better way than to invoke the need for an existing special clearance.
Improving the quality of intelligences product that come out of the CIA ultimately means finding ways to change CIA culture. The problem is that the culture of the career CIA employee has been based on the primal fear of abandonment. There is the fear that you are not a team player, fear that the management will not like what you find, and fear that any mistake will get you tossed out of the agency. Sometimes can also be an incestuous family business. Many of the worst offenders are sons and daughters of CIA employees. They are trusted because they were born and raised in the tightly controlled society. They are trusted because they come from families that do not rock the boat. They are trusted because their family history has already been carefully documented. 'Family' members organize themselves into insidious political associations that can work against cultural reforms. Open communication between employees need to be encouraged.
The intelligence community desperately needs to completely separate its intelligence gathering from the actions of covert paramilitary. The analysis and reporting activities should not be allowed to contaminate the intelligence product.. When an organization is given two distinctly different missions requiring different values to be successful, they eventually will come into direct conflict. When this happens, operational necessity makes it necessary to create two separate organizations. This conflict is the underlying reason for the 911 commissions recommendations. The resolution of internal conflicts of interest does not happen at the CIA. The CIA should be an information gathering and reporting organization. It should never have been used for military actions. Our military constantly trains and maintains professional organizations to do the dirty kinds of jobs that are sometimes necessary. Each time that the CIA gets involved there is a tradeoff and it loses valuable intelligence gathering opportunities. It is for similar reasons that the CIA should have a completely separate organization that processes intelligence information independently of the politics of those who take public office. The job of a national central intelligence agency is ultimately that of reporting truthful and timely information products to our national leaders, not political or military action. The concept of truth should not be tainted by the idea that everyone tells lies or bartered by secret internal lobbies with separate and independent professional agendas.
Secrecy must never be allowed to be a justification for poor performance. The CIA needs good people to consistently good work. To accomplish this, the CIA desperately needs a separate the internal employee grievance process. Within the CIA conspiracies really do exist because that is by definition the nature of espionage work. To assure the highest quality of management and products, CIA employee grievances should take place through an independent organization directed and appointed by nonpartisan congressional oversight. To prohibit contamination because of conflicts of interest, former CIA employees should not be assigned to this role. Those employees who choose to go through a grievance process for the good of the agency should be not only protected but rewarded and given incentives to continue the good work. The employee grievance process is an important check and balance that needs to be protected by a special department that is managed though Congressional oversight not the CIA.
Those involved in reforming the CIA need to put a halt to the practice of 'fast tracking' new employees so that are easily used as management pawns. This means that they should quit handing out perks like paramilitary confidence courses as management incentives. The military who train these easily manipulated 'kids' fully realize the futility of what they are doing. They fully understand that these folks would not last very long in real combat situations and they would not wait around and allow them to jeopardize safety. Making fast track employees think they are some kind of super secret undercover 007 represents a danger to national security even if it only ends up promoting them above their ability to perform. But the truth is that fast tracking also gets people hurt and represents a tremendous waste of Government money and resources. In the last analysis, senior management must be able to depend on employees who trust their own decisions. The feckless individuals who are chosen to go though this training end up being the same ones who are unwilling to just say 'no' to whatever crazy scheme management comes up with and they become the cadre that steps up to say yes to anything.
Better Congressional control of funding is needed. Money has usually been at the heart of previous public conflicts of interest within the CIA. Within any secret organization there is the difficult issue of money. You don't need to be a genius, a corporate finance manager or have a Harvard accounting degree to know that secrecy complicates proper book keeping. Money can be the only thing between rogue activities and sanctioned organizational action. No one should be surprised to hear that the CIA must have a problem with the way that it manages its budget. Even within an open corporation, the way that internal funding takes place means that projects and programs may continue well past their intended period of operation. One can imagine what this does to organizations designed for maintaining secrecy. Loss of local fiscal control creates tremendous operational and management problems with respect to organizational objectives.
Management actions that create financial cross purposes not only inhibits the production of valuable intelligence production because doing so taints the value of products that are produced. Finding the best solution for handling internal requirements for fiscal responsibility is obviously an important priority. This is particularly true for those intent on changing the culture of the CIA while maintaining capabilities. But there are things that can and must be done to fix many of the problems that exist. Some of the motivational fiscal changes have to do with economic incentives. This means that internal management salaries need to be affected. At the very least, the CIA needs to quit paying out senior management bonuses for things that should have been a normal part of their job description.
When the conditions of employment are considered it is no wonder that there is a chronic abandonment of imagination within the CIA. There is a fundamental sense of valid public service that gets lost within the secret walls of a society like the CIA. Vaulted rooms tend isolate the humanity within employees. Although they may sometimes pay lip service, the reality is that that true creative leadership is something that is frowned upon and lacking at the highest levels within the CIA. Employees who stick their heads up to excel are often given great responsibilities without the authority to commit resources. Employees who are promoted have learned that regardless the cause it does not pay to step out of line and put their neck into the proverbial noose. For too long if an employee wanted to be promoted to success they didn't need ethics, just the silent political acumen that let them pass through the system. These are not the leaders that are necessary for the job of this millennia.
The problem with having a corporate sense of ethics is that the corruption of organizational 'group think' occurs when legitimate debate and consensus are not made a management priority. We have witnessed this at Enron and WorldCom. At first it seems counterintuitive that in order to generate intelligence products that have any opportunity for being close to the truth, organizations must be willing to both tolerate and promote productive and healthy dissention within the ranks. Because the truths of our universe are not black or white, competitive perspectives present the range of answers that our leaders need. particularly when alternative viable potentials are present. Perfect consensus within intelligence communities create opportunity for perfectly wrong analysis.
What all of this adds up to is the fact that an internal purge of intelligence ethics are necessary and have been long time coming. When and if such a purge comes, there will be a change in the character as well as the products that are necessary for this nation of ours to both survive and flourish in the age of Globalism. Misplaced loyalties to the White House Presidency must be replaced by loyalty to the Constitution. The poorly run self serving concept of a Central Intelligence Agency has blighted our national character must come to an end. The factions that have harmed our great Nation by allowing America to be assaulted by our enemies have got to come to an end. With the Grace of God, the next President will be able to implement these changes.
Read Get Over It, written on September 11th 2002 and you will find that the things that I have said a year and a half ago are becoming recognized today. That was before we invaded Iraq.
In theory the President is always in direct control of the CIA. The two directors that the President and the United States Senate appoints are responsible for seeing to it that the CIA follows the President's instructions. In practice the CIA is given more discretion to act than nearly all other parts of the U.S. government. Does the CIA provide impartial and unbiased reporting to our national leadership? Can the United States afford to 'go it alone' in the world and base its decisions in intelligence provided by our CIA?
For such a secret organization, even a cursory review of an encyclopedia is enough to find an increasing number of very public CIA failures.
The questions that evolves from any discussion of the future of the CIA is how many gross incidents of incompetence, neglect and failure have been covered up over the decades? How many of these failures were due to the fact that the CIA has been protected from internal change by the notion that secrecy should be synonymous with national security? Our leaders have to come to terms with the fact that a proportion of even the necessary work that the CIA has had to be involved in over the years was rotten business.
Espionage is seen from the perspective of many intelligence community employees as a kind of continuous minimal intensity warfare. Over time it affects all of the people involved in much the same way that soldiers and support personnel involved in combat are affected. At the same time, some heartless politicians have been more than willing to throw people into the cesspools of the world as though they were faceless bacteria. They are not. Is it any wonder that the intelligence that we have been depending on seems like it has gone down the toilet? The fact is that any organization, even one doing necessary and vital work that is able to shroud itself in secrecy to protect its membership requires a periodic flushing and restructuring to be kept clean. That has not happened the way that it should have happened. In economic terms, attempting to fix the CIA without without restructuring its organization from the outside is like trying to fix a bad septic system by flushing billions of dollars down the drain.
Before restructuring begins to take place, the CIA needs to be flushed and made whole by holding all of those accountable who were responsible for the intelligence failures. If this is not accomplished first then these individuals will continue to operate together in informal channels as they did before.
Some of the major worries that should keep each of us awake if the CIA is broken up is: (1) that that the accuracy and accountability of intelligence will be distanced from the analysts. (2.) that the management and oversight of the organizational pieces will be uncoordinated and even more shrouded in secrecy. (3.) that these separate pieces will be abused and misused in ways that are contrary to the national security of our nation. (4.) that the potential of intelligence 'group think' is replaced by an organizational form of 'group paralysis.'
With respect to the third point, you can be assured that there are those with personal, political and religious agendas, who are inevitably posturing for top leadership roles like hyenas going after their share after a lions kill. We need to be aware that what we inadvertently may be doing by shattering the CIA is completely contaminating the roles of domestic intelligence and law enforcement. We should listen more closely to the reasoning behind the competing watchdogs in order to maintain an understanding of which way we are moving with respect to these issues. We need to be wise. The Patriot Act has already been used to break the membrane between the agencies that were put there to protect our nation from the undue influence by an Agency of such means. In these kinds of delicate situations we should all recognize that there is a tightrope that exists which we need to be wise enough to manage, least we fall off to our peril.
With respect to the fourth point which is tied to the third, the question of who makes the final 'unbiased' operational decisions when decisions are not being made will become the issue, particularly when secrecy and need to know are involved. These are too far down the operational ladder for the President to be involved and the influence of the winds of political opinion is not exactly what one might define as 'unbiased.'
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