In a damning 1,400-word investigation published today, the Associated Press rips the lid off the hiring practices at the Central Intelligence Agency. What they find is a disturbing trend of CIA agents making "significant missteps" and scoring major promotions thereafter. And we're not talking minor infractions.

In once instance, the CIA captured an innocent German citizen and placed him in a secret Afghan prison for five months. The agent responsible for the mishap was then promoted to a "premier" job at the CIA's Counterterrorism Center. In another instance, a suspected terrorist froze to death in a CIA prison. The two agents at fault were not even disciplined. Another case involved an interrogator placing an unloaded gun and a bitless drill to the head of a prisoner. Though these types of mock executions are forbidden in the U.S., the station chief who witnessed the event was subsequently hired to run the agency's Central European Division.

In the article, former Republican Senator Kit Bond says "we've seen instance after instance where there hasn't been accountability." Liberal blogger Adam Serwer, reacting to the piece at The American Prospect, agrees. "We essentially have a class of people operating in our intelligence services who are not bound by the law in any meaningful sense when it comes to actions they take in the line of duty," he fumes.

Basically, the agency's got a PR nightmare on its hand. The debacle isn't being helped by another CIA-related news item courtesy the US News and World Report. Apparently, the CIA is now allowing agents to hop around to different regional assignments (say, from Latin America to the Middle East) where previously agents would only specialize in one geographic area. According to the article, some agents are thrilled to not have to "spend entire careers" in one particular place. The bad bit? Some of the CIA's veterans aren't too happy about the reorganization.  Today, they aired their views anonymously to the Washington Post:

"[It] totally misses the real needs of the clandestine services and the IC [intelligence community] in general," said a retired senior CIA official. "It is absolutely wrong-footed. What the agency/IC really needs is in-depth experts who really know their region/country's language, history, culture etc.--not generalists floating all around the directorate. Good grief! Don't we ever learn?”

In sum, not a good day of press for the nation's spies.