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Time magazine (November 9) carries an article dealing with the reason why the CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus had to resign under the caption, “Resignation at the CIA: Why Petraeus had to go.” There is a paragraph:

“In the world of spies, there is a short list of weaknesses you can exploit in your opponents: People have spent centuries figuring out how to get people to commit treason. Arguing the other side is better for humanity, offering to help someone who’s deeply in debt or paying hard cash to the greedy are classic methods. But few are more effective than blackmail, and even in the post-Lewinsky era in Washington, infidelity leaves officials vulnerable.

You can’t lead an organization whose case officers must be impervious to blackmail if you’re vulnerable to it yourself.”

I cannot understand what the last line, “You can’t lead an organization ‘whose case officers must be impervious.’ “means? What does “case officer" mean?

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"Case officer" means an officer who is assigned to one or more cases for which they have direct responsibility. CIA case officers sometimes work at foreign embassies and pose as ambassadors. –  David Schwartz Nov 9 '12 at 23:16
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I imagine case officers just means the lower-level staff (officers, officials) who actually investigate individual cases. Those officers must be impervious to blackmail (they mustn't have any skeletons in the closet that would make them susceptible to blackmail), and the text above is saying that the person in charge of them must also meet that condition. –  FumbleFingers Nov 9 '12 at 23:19
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Specifically, CIA case officers pose as ordinary ambassadors, but in fact are directly responsible for monitoring specific CIA cases and assets. –  David Schwartz Nov 9 '12 at 23:21
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Please submit these as answers instead of comments. That way they can be voted up and the question doesn't show up on the "unanswered" list. –  joseph_morris Nov 10 '12 at 0:32
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@joseph_morris: I dunno about the rest. I'm just diffident because really I think it's General Reference. Googling "case officer" defines things quite clearly in the first several results, without even leaving Google's homepage. –  FumbleFingers Nov 10 '12 at 3:56

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

A case officer is literally an officer who manages or investigates cases. A case is defined by Webster as:

a : a set of circumstances or conditions <is the statement true in all three cases>
b (1) : a situation requiring investigation or action (as by the police)
(2) : the object of investigation or consideration

Wikipedia has an entry for case officer:

A case officer is an intelligence officer who is a trained specialist in the management of agents and agent networks. Case officers manage human agents, and human intelligence networks. Case officers spot potential agents, recruit prospective agents, and train agents in tradecraft. Case officers emphasize those elements of tradecraft which enable the agent to acquire needed information, as well as to enable the case officer to communicate with and supervise the agent. Most of all, case officers train agents in methods of avoiding detection by host nation counter-intelligence organizations.

A 2004 article from USA Today outlines the training and requirements of CIA case officers:

Being a CIA case officer typically means working at a U.S. embassy under diplomatic cover. It is painstaking work. It might involve meeting officials of a friendly foreign intelligence service who have information to offer, trying to recruit a source in an allied or adversary government, or interrogating a recently captured terror suspect.

Considering their sensitive roles, they are presumably required to not compromise their positions, in this example, by falling for honeypot (sense 4) traps.

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In intelligence organizations, a case officer is an intelligence agent who is trained and responsible for managing agents and agent networks. Case Officers usually train human agents in various parts of the world or country. They train these agents in the trade-craft of intelligence. More importantly, they train them how to stay clandestine and avoid detection by host country or organization counter intelligence agencies.

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The word I would use is managers. The CIA calls them "case officers" because they manage "cases" in intelligence.

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