Insults to Intelligence
MEMORANDUM FOR: Colleagues in Intelligence
FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
SUBJECT: Now It’s Your Turn
Sixty-four summers ago, when Hitler fabricated Polish provocations in his attempt to justify Germany’s invasion of Poland, there was not a peep out of senior German officials. Happily, in today’s Germany the imperative of truth telling no longer takes a back seat to ingrained docility and knee-jerk deference to the perceived dictates of "homeland security." The most telling recent sign of this comes in Friday’s edition of Die Zeit, Germany’s highly respected weekly. The story, by Jochen Bittner holds lessons for us all.
Die Zeit’s report leaves in tatters the "evidence" cited by Secretary of State Colin Powell and other administration spokesmen as the strongest proof that Iraq was using mobile trailers as laboratories to produce material for biological weapons.
German Intelligence on Powell’s "Solid" Sources
Bittner notes that, like their American counterparts, German intelligence officials had to hold their noses as Powell on February 5 at the UN played fast and loose with intelligence he insisted came from "solid sources." Powell’s specific claims concerning the mobile laboratories, it turns out, depended heavily–perhaps entirely–on a source of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s equivalent to the CIA. But the BND, it turns out, considered the source in no way "solid." A "senior German security official" told Die Zeit that, in passing the report to US officials, the Germans made a point of noting "various problems with the source." In more diplomatic language, Die Zeit’s informant indicated that the BND’s "evaluation of the source was not altogether positive."
German officials remain in some confusion regarding the "four different sources" cited by Powell in presenting his case regarding the "biological laboratories." Berlin has not been told who the other three sources are. In this context, a German intelligence officer mentioned that there is always the danger of false confirmation, suggesting it is possible that the various reports can be traced back to the same original source, theirs–that is, the one with which the Germans had "various problems."
Even if there are in fact multiple sources, the Germans wonder what reason there is to believe that the others are more "solid" than their own. Powell indicated that some of the sources he cited were Iraqi emigrés. While the BND would not give Die Zeit an official comment, Bittner notes pointedly that German intelligence "proceeds on the assumption that emigrés do not always tell the truth and that the picture they draw can be colored by political motives."
Despite all that, in an apparent bid to avoid taking the heat for appearing the constant naysayer on an issue of such neuralgic import in Washington, German intelligence officials say that, the dubious sourcing notwithstanding, they considered the information on the mobile biological laboratories "plausible."
In recent weeks, any "plausibility" has all but evaporated. Many biological warfare specialists in the US and elsewhere were skeptical from the start. Now Defense Intelligence Agency specialists have joined their counterparts at the State Department and elsewhere in concluding that the two trailer/laboratories discovered in Iraq in early May are hydrogen-producing facilities for weather balloons to calibrate Iraqi artillery, as the Iraqis have said.
Perhaps it was this DIA report that emboldened the BND official to go public about the misgivings the BND had about the source.
Insult to Intelligence
What do intelligence analysts do when their professional ethic–to tell the truth without fear or favor–is prostituted for political expedience? Usually, they hold their peace, as we’ve already noted was the case in Germany in 1939 before the invasion of Poland. The good news is that some intelligence officials are now able to recognize a higher duty–particularly when the issue involves war and peace. Clearly, some BND officials are fed up with the abuse of intelligence they have witnessed–and especially the trifling with the intelligence that they have shared with the US from their own sources. At least one such official appears to have seen it as a patriotic duty to expose what appears to be a deliberate distortion.
This is a hopeful sign. There are indications that British intelligence officials, too, are beginning to see more distinctly their obligation to speak truth to power, especially in light of the treatment their government accorded Ministry of Defense biologist Dr. David Kelly, who became despondent to the point of suicide.
Even more commendable was the courageous move by senior Australian intelligence analyst Andrew Wilkie when it became clear to him that the government he was serving had decided to take part in launching an unprovoked war based on "intelligence" information he knew to be specious. Wilkie resigned and promptly spoke his piece–not only to his fellow citizens but, after the war, at Parliament in London and Congress in Washington. Andrew Wilkie was not naÃve enough to believe he could stop the war when he resigned in early March. What was clear to him, however, was that he had a moral duty to expose the deliberate deception in which his government, in cooperation with the US and UK, had become engaged. And he knew instinctively that, in so doing, he could with much clearer conscience look at himself in the mirror each morning.
What About Us?
Do you not find it ironic that State Department foreign service officers, whom we intelligence professionals have (quite unfairly) tended to write off as highly articulate but unthinking apologists for whatever administration happens to be in power, are the only ones so far to resign on principle over the war on Iraq? Three of them have–all three with very moving explanations that their consciences would no longer allow them to promote "intelligence" and policies tinged with deceit.
What about you? It is clear that you have been battered, buffeted, besmirched. And you are painfully aware that you can expect no help at this point from Director George Tenet. Recall the painful morning when you watched him at the UN sitting squarely behind Powell, as if to say the Intelligence Community endorses the deceitful tapestry he wove. No need to remind you that his speech boasted not only the bogus biological trailers but also assertions of a "sinister nexus" between Iraq and al-Qaeda, despite the fact that your intense, year-and-a-half analytical effort had turned up no credible evidence to support that claim. To make matters worse, Tenet is himself under fire for acquiescing in a key National Intelligence Estimate on "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq that included several paragraphs based on a known forgery. That is the same estimate from which the infamous 16 words were drawn for the president’s state-of-the-union address on January 28.
And not only that. In a dramatic departure from customary practice, Tenet has let the moneychangers into the temple–welcoming the most senior policymakers into the inner sanctum where all-source analysis is performed at CIA headquarters, wining and dining Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Assistant Condoleezza Rice, and even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (now representing the Pentagon) on their various visits to make sure you didn’t miss anything! You have every right to expect to be protected from that kind of indignity. Small wonder that Gingrich, in a recent unguarded moment on TV, conceded that Tenet "is so grateful to President Bush that he will do anything for him." CIA directors have no business being so integral a "part of the team."
Powell, who points proudly to his four day-and-night cram course at the CIA in the days immediately prior to his February 5 UN speech, seems oblivious to the fact that personal visitations of that frequency and duration–and for that purpose–are unprecedented in the history of the CIA. Equally unprecedented are Cheney’s "multiple visits." When George H. W. Bush was vice president, not once did he go out to CIA headquarters for a working visit. We brought our analysis to him. As you are well aware, once the subjects uppermost in policymakers’ minds are clear to analysts, the analysis itself must be conducted in an unfettered, sequestered way–and certainly without the direct involvement of officials with policy axes to grind. Until now, that is the way it has been done; the analysis and estimates were brought downtown to the policymakers–not the other way around.
What Happens When You Remain Silent?
There is no more telling example than Vietnam. CIA analysts were prohibited from reporting accurately on the non-incident in the Tonkin Gulf on August 4, 1964 until the White House had time to use the "furious fire-fight" to win the Tonkin Gulf resolution from Congress–and eleven more years of war for the rest of us.
And we kept quiet.
In November 1967 as the war gathered steam, CIA management gave President Lyndon Johnson a very important National Intelligence Estimate known to be fraudulent. Painstaking research by a CIA analyst, the late Sam Adams, had revealed that the Vietnamese Communists under arms numbered 500,000. But Gen. William Westmoreland in Saigon, eager to project an image of progress in the US "war of attrition," had imposed a very low artificial ceiling on estimates of enemy strength.
Analysts were aghast when management caved in and signed an NIE enshrining Westmoreland’s count of between 188,000 and 208,000. The Tet offensive just two months later exploded that myth–at great human cost. And the war dragged on for seven more years.
Then, as now, morale among analysts plummeted. A senior CIA official made the mistake of jocularly asking Adams if he thought the Agency had "gone beyond the bounds of reasonable dishonesty." Sam, who had not only a keen sense of integrity but first-hand experience of what our troops were experiencing in the jungles of Vietnam, had to be restrained. He would be equally outraged at the casualties being taken now by US forces fighting another unnecessary war, this time in the desert. Kipling’s verse applies equally well to jungle or desert:
If they question why we died,
tell them because our fathers lied.
Adams himself became, in a very real sense, a casualty of Vietnam. He died of a heart attack at 55, with remorse he was unable to shake. You see, he decided to "go through channels," pursuing redress by seeking help from imbedded CIA and the Defense Department Inspectors General. Thus, he allowed himself to be diddled for so many years that by the time he went public the war was mostly over–and the damage done.
Sam had lived painfully with the thought that, had he gone public when the CIA’s leaders caved in to the military in 1967, the entire left half of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial would not have had to be built. There would have been 25-30,000 fewer names for the granite to accommodate.
So too with Daniel Ellsberg, who made the courageous decision to give the Pentagon Papers on Vietnam to the New York Times and Washington Post for publication in 1971. Dan has been asked whether he has any regrets. Yes, one big one, he says. If he had made the papers available in 1964 or 65, this tragically unnecessary war might have been stopped in its tracks. Why did he not? Dan’s response is quite telling; he says the thought never occurred to him at the time.
Let the thought occur to you, now.
But Isn’t It Too Late?
No. While it is too late to prevent the misadventure in Iraq, the war is hardly over, and analogous "evidence" is being assembled against Iran, Syria, and North Korea. Yes, US forces will have their hands full for a long time in Iraq, but this hardly rules out further adventures based on "intelligence" as spurious as that used to argue the case for attacking Iraq.
The best deterrent is the truth. Telling the truth about the abuse of intelligence on Iraq could conceivably give pause to those about to do a reprise. It is, in any case, essential that the American people acquire a more accurate understanding of the use and abuse of intelligence. Only then can there be any hope that they can experience enough healing from the trauma of 9/11 to be able to make informed judgments regarding the policies pursued by this administration–thus far with the timid acquiescence of their elected representatives.
History is littered with the guilty consciences of those who chose to remain silent. It is time to speak out.
Gene Betit, Arlington, VA
Pat Lang, Alexandria, VA
David MacMichael, Linden, VA
Ray McGovern, Arlington, VA
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
The VIPS can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org