Former Intelligence agent of Albanian descent, Christopher Costa, is interviewed Tirana


 Christopher Costa, is the director of the United States of America's Washington-based International Spy Museum. In an interview to the journalist Erion Kaçorri on News 24, the Colonel Costa, who is of Albanian origin, shows the most important moments in his profession, the experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, the September 11 terrorist attacks and the emotions of being part of the staff White House.

Following are some excerpts of the interview:

Mr. Costa, you are of Albanian origin, but you were born and raised in the United States of America. What impressions did you got when you visited Albania for the first time?

For the first time I came to Albania in 1993 and it was a pleasure that I had the opportunity to go back to the same land where my grandparents were born. Today I have returned to Albania and find it very much changed. It has made tremendous progress, so much as I did not recognize Tirana.

Before visiting Albania, did you create a perception of the country?

Former Intelligence agent of Albanian descent, Christopher Costa, is interviewed Tirana

Actually, I did not know what to expect. But emotionally, it was important to go back. I knew the people were good, so I was sure I would spend very well in Albania. Leaving the politics aside, the main thing for me was the people and the Albanians did not disappoint me.

Which region of Albania are your grandparents?

My grandparents from my father were from Vithkuqi, Korça, while from my mother were from Berat.

Did you visit these places?

I visited Vithkuq and also Berat.

Did your grandparents talked you about Albania?

They spoke to me constantly, even after we grew up. We asked many questions when we were little kids and wanted to know everything about Albania.

For example?

How it was to grow there. Though they left at a young age and did not remember much detail. They were very happy to have come to America but also knew that there was a possibility that they would no longer return to Albania. I remember my grandfather saying he wanted to come back one day, but never did.

In what year did they emigrate to the US?

I think about 1912 while my grandmother a little later maybe. But I do not know very clearly what year, but before 1920.

Mr. Costa, you are the director of the International Spying Museum. What can you tell us about this museum and what is presented there?

Thanks for the question. This is the theme I like the most. The international espionage museum is a non-profit educational institute and aims to show of how the intelligence services work all over the world, not just in the United States. So it is not only about the museum of American espionage, but the museum of international espionage. We respond accurately to the secret service stories that have taken place as long as man is on this planet. People have had the desire to gather secret information with a greedy appetite and we show stories from antiquity to the present day.

So, secret services even in Antiquity?

Definitely yes. Since Ancient Times, man has asked to know everything. It's part of a man who wants to know about the risks that will faces to take the right measures. We have 7 thousand artifacts of the history of intelligence that we present in the new museum, a building that was realized with the sole purpose of displaying these artifacts.

The museum is located in Washington D.C?

It is located in Washington DC while the former museum was just a few miles away and was extremely successful. But we have expanded the premises and starting from its success, we decided to expand the environment to implement our educational mission that is so important to us. We have a theater inside the museum, we have a class that is considered a work of art and we have panoramic views of Washington DC. I am very excited about this international museum.

And I believe there is a lot of curiosity by the American public. There is a lot of curiosity as people have seen the old museum. And the reaction when I announced that I was about to leave the government services to run the museum was very positive. Everyone reacted without losing the chance they loved the espionage museum. And I answer that if they love the old museum then they will be amazed when they see the new museum.

Mr. Costa, you are a former intelligence officer in the US Army. There is curiosity about the secret services in Albania. What can you tell us about your job? Any important moment?

Thanks for the question. I think we have worked on the right side, on the side of democracy in the United States. Although the secret services may be dark, sometimes it may not be black and white but gray. The problems we have worked with have the feeling that we are doing it correctly. The lives of people are saved as a direct result of the work done by my team and a typical example may be that of an agent in a battlefield and there is information that there will be attacks. In the museum I tell the story of a former Taliban who brought me a set of information. I verified him, questioned his information, tested these informations, and only then we were able to complete a full operation that ultimately believed that managed to save the lives of American and partner nations. When I was in Afghanistan I met and had coffee with the Albanians serving in Kabul and this rounded my entire experience.

How do you confirm the informations, to make sure it is not false?

Just as you are doing, with sharp questions, with questions that follow in the right way, and also by analyzing the body language. It takes many years for the process to be refined, but a good secret agent is somehow like a priest or a psychologist, and he is also a teacher or trainer, but there is also something instinctive. Experience is also needed. It took long time to improve my skills and also I had excellent partners and extraordinary lectures from other agencies and international partners with whom we worked. The United States has the best intelligence services in the world, but at the same time our partners are tremendous as well.

We often read that tremendous training is provided for secret agents. Does it look like James Bond's movies?

My job had nothing like James Bond and obviously I was not driving a 007 vehicle even though we exposed the Aston Martin vehicle to the international espionage museum. The kind of things you see in movies happen and are an art about how you make certain meetings in dangerous places where you can get caught by a foreign intelligence service or on a battlefield can be worse because you can deal with intentional traps in various ambushes.

So my training was extensive and for a long time since the army in 1984, but intelligence training started in 1988. Before I went to Afghanistan or Iraq after the September 11th attacks, I was ready to be on the battlefield to perform my service. So it took many years to improve.

You faced with the leak of information and how did you deal with such cases?

This was when I was dealing with policy issues at the National Security Council. No leak of information happened as far as I know from our people because we had a strong team and shared as much information as we could but there are some information that you does not share with anyone.

Is it difficult to do this?

It's hard because I'm a person who believes as many Albanians wanting to share things with others, you want to give, but sometimes you need to save the information. You have the responsibility to protect the information and I have spent a lifetime protecting the information and my family did not always appreciate this until last year when I had the opportunity to talk about my work with them.

During Communism in Albania, the spying took on a negative connotation. Is it really a dark profession?

It's not dark, it's gray. But I want to believe that the work I did was in line with the values ​​of the United States and with our special partners, I believe our work was important and obviously was a dark profession. I've always felt that I was on the right side of history and also had the tactical decisions I had to live with, but for the most part I think what I did was right. I protected my resources, worked with them, and also treated them as family members. You asked me about a special story and I remember a source who was in a country full of explosives. My first reaction was not to leave the building but to ask my source to leave that place and stay there because that was my instinct as an intelligence officer. And I think I'm talking in the name of many people like me who have served to democracy.

Mr. Costa, you mentioned the September 11 attacks. Was it a failure of US intelligence services?

Very good question. I think we had extraordinary intelligence services before the September 11 attacks. But we did not knew the location and the extent of that attack. Someone says we've lost critical information, but I would say that strategic surprises have been happening throughout history since the attack on Pearl Harbor.

It's hard to be right all the time and no one has been tougher with itself than the US intelligence community. And for that matter, in my office at the National Security Council, we are very careful to not lose information. And in that I was engaged until the end of my career. I think that venture in cooperation with international partners is in a very good position. Although we do a very good job, this does not mean that there will be no defeats. Maybe there may be cyber attacks, or attacks that you and I can not even imagine. For this reason, I was not able to sleep for a whole year when I worked in the White House because of my concern if I had asked the right question, if I had followed the right path, is our team working properly.

The cyberattacks are mentioned so much tehse dasy. Where do they consist?

I'm not cybernetics expert but I know of how a terrorist behaves and know that a terrorist will use every possible means to attack his target. They use the Internet to radicalize or manipulate. Undoubtedly the internet is a good thing. But also while using your expression, there is a dark side. We are concerned about the radicalization on the Internet. We are concerned about those who manipulate the information, but for this we need to make sure that our infrastructure is protected and that we are committed to the private sector. US intelligence services can not do the job alone, but we have to cooperate with the private sector and we are doing it globally. These are some of the cyber challenges we have, but this is definitely a relatively new topic.

You have also served as the Special Assistant of the United States President and High Director in the Fight against Terrorism at the National Security Council. How challenging was this?

It was a challenging task, I used to work 12 hours a day, sometimes 18 hours a day, seven days a week, and it was mentally challenging to follow all those directions. I had an extraordinary and dedicated team and our goal was to give the right advice to the president of the United States and to other leaders who would had meetings among the various agencies. It was challenging, but also my most important part of my career was to work at the White House, one of the most popular places on the planet. It was an honor and privilege to serve in President Trump's administration during the first year of his term.

It must have been a hard job to gather the right information before you introduce it to the president, right?

The gathering of information came from an extraordinary intelligence community and we had the best information on the planet. My challenge was to distil that information and the main part was to gather people to build agency consensus through the debate so that when we went to the chain of the command to the president, he would have the best options to get a decision. In the end it was in the hands of the president to decide on the options.

Mr. Costa, the task of an intelligence agency agent should have been difficult especially during the Cold War. What can you tell the Albanian public about this experience?

I was lucky because I worked during the Cold War and was trained by individuals who had fought during all the time of the Cold War. They were great people when I started this training.

You must have been too young ...

I was very young. They taught me and trained me by realizing of how serious the threat was. We took our work very seriously from the point of view of the secret services, and we knew our weaknesses. It has also happened that we have been betrayed several times, just as it happens everywhere, and those early lectures of my career and a perfect mastery education helped me in the period after the September 11 attacks. Undoubtedly we were worried during the Cold War. I was also appointed to NATO structures and there were attempts by Eastern Germany, the Soviet Union, and later realized that secret services since the Second World War to 1989 had an important role and in fact was a true war, but without weapons.

Mr. Costa, was Communist Albania in the focus of the US secret services?

Not as far as I know, at a great level, because we had a lot more problems.

What were they?

There was a risk of a war between the Warsaw Pact and NATO. Tension escalations have occurred throughout history. I do not remember being worried about Albania or a war with this country. In 1993, all the Albanians I met were a little worried about NATO, but all expressed their love for America. I do not think there was any major risk from Albania and I even came back and read some documents that are not classified.

How is Albania described in these documents?

I think this is the end of the '40s and early' 50s where there were some concerns. We did not know where Albania was in the sphere of politics and it has been a long time since reading those unclassified historical documents but creating the idea of ​​all the uncertainties. Ultimately, intelligence services are meant to reduce the level of insecurity. It is assumed to go straight to the facts. The better you have the intelligence services, the better are the decisions of the leaders.

Former Intelligence agent of Albanian descent, Christopher Costa, is interviewed Tirana Former Intelligence agent of Albanian descent, Christopher Costa, is interviewed Tirana Thursday, March 07, 2019 Rating: 5
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