There is, thankfully, a remnant of CIA
professionals who still put objective analysis above political
correctness and career advancement. Just when they thought there
were no indignities left for them to suffer, they are shuddering
again at press reports that Rep. Porter Goss (R-FL) may soon
be their new boss.
That possibility conjures up
a painful flashback for those of us who served as CIA analysts
when Richard Nixon was president. Chalk it up to our naivete,
but we were taken aback when swashbuckling James Schlesinger,
who followed Richard Helms as CIA director, announced on arrival,
"I am here to see that you guys don’t screw Richard Nixon!"
To underscore his point, Schlesinger told us he would be reporting
directly to White House political adviser Bob Haldeman (Nixon’s
Karl Rove) and not to National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger.
No doubt Goss would be more
discreet in showing his hand, but his appointment as director
would be the ultimate in politicization. He has long shown himself
to be under the spell of Vice President Dick Cheney, and would
likely report primarily to him and to White House political adviser
Karl Rove rather than to National Security Adviser Condoleezza
Goss would almost certainly
follow lame-duck director George Tenet’s practice of reading
to the president in the morning and become an integral part of
the "White House team." The team-membership phenomenon
is particularly disquieting.
If the failure-prone experience
of the past few years has told us anything, it is that being
a "team member" in good standing is the kiss of death
for the CIA director’s primary role of "telling it like
it is" to the president and his senior advisers. It was
a painful moment of truth when former Speaker Newt Gingrich–like
Cheney, a frequent visitor to CIA headquarters–told the press
that Tenet was "so grateful to the president that he would
do anything for him."
One need look no farther than
what has become known as a latter-day Whore of Babylon – the
National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of Oct. 1, 2002, the very
title of which betrayed a politically correct, but substantively
wrong, conclusion: "Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons
of Mass Destruction." And bear in mind that it was only
several months after President Bush decided to attack Iraq that
Tenet commissioned that estimate. Not unreasonably, Congress
was wondering about the views of the intelligence community,
and the White House wanted congressional acquiescence in the
war it had decided to launch.
No problem. "Slam-dunk"
Tenet, following White House instructions, ensured that the estimate
was cooked to the recipe of Cheney’s tart speech of August 26,
2002. "We know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire
nuclear weapons," Cheney said, and the estimate Tenet signed
gave belated endorsement–with "high confidence," no
less–to that lie.
The intelligence process, of
course, was not the only thing undermined. So was the Constitution.
Various drafts of that NIE, reinforced with heavy doses of "mushroom-cloud"
rhetoric, were used to deceive congressmen and senators into
ceding to the executive their prerogative to declare war–the
all-important prerogative that the framers of the Constitution
took great care to reserve exclusively to our elected representatives
What was actually happening
was clear to intelligence analysts, active and retired. We Veteran
Intelligence Professionals for Sanity were not the only ones
to expose it–as clearly and often as the domesticated US media
But what about CIA alumnus
Porter Goss, then in his sixth year as chairman of the House
intelligence oversight committee? Republican party loyalist first
and foremost, Goss chose to give an entirely new meaning to "oversight."
Even when it became clear that the "mushroom cloud"
reporting was based mostly on a forgery, he just sat back and
watched it all happen. Like Br’er Fox, he didn’t say nothin’.
Tenet to Professional Politician
This is what CIA would get
with Porter Goss at the helm. Appointing Goss would administer
the coup de grAcntce to intelligence analysts trying to survive
while still speaking truth without fear or favor. The only saving
grace for them would be the likelihood that they would be spared
"multiple visits" by Cheney to the inner sanctum where
it used to be possible to produce unvarnished analysis without
vice presidents and other policy makers looking over their shoulders
to ensure they "had thought of everything." Goss, who
has a long history of subservience to Cheney, could be counted
upon to play the Cheney/Gingrich/et al. role himself.
Me in That Briar Patch
Last month when Tenet was let
go, administration officials indicated that a permanent replacement
would not be named until after the election. They indicated they
wanted to avoid washing the dirty linen of intelligence once
again in public. Evidently, they had not yet checked with Karl
The Democrats warn smugly that
an attempt by the administration to confirm a new CIA director
could become an embarrassing referendum on CIA’s recent performance,
but they miss the point entirely–and show, once again, that
they can’t hold a candle to Rove for political cleverness. The
name of the administration’s game is to blame Iraq on intelligence
failures, and Goss already did so last week in what amounted
to his first campaign speech for the job of director. Consider
court historian Bob Woodward’s book, Plan of Attack, which Condoleezza
Rice and other officials have promoted. Rice has publicly confirmed
Woodward’s story about Tenet misleading the president by claiming
the evidence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was a "slam
While there is ample evidence
of ineptitude on Tenet’s part, his obsequious ejaculation in
this now-famous vignette obscures the fact that President Bush
had unleashed the dogs of war well before checking to see if
there was any credible intelligence to justify doing so. As the
election nears, it serves the administration quite well to keep
the focus on intelligence shortcomings and to make it appear
that the president was misled – on weapons of mass destruction,
for example. And Porter Goss is precisely the right person to
cooperate in this effort. I can imagine Rove laughing up his
sleeve last week at word that the Democrats are urging Senate
minority leader Tom Daschle (<D-S.D>.) to prepare for extensive
confirmation hearings this fall. (In my mind’s eye I can see
Rove musing, Bring –em on!)
Intelligence Committee Report
The report due out this week
by the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating intelligence
performance regarding the long-sought-after Iraqi weapons of
mass destruction is said to be scathing in its criticism of CIA.
No problem. This too will help keep the focus where the White
House wants it – the more so since committee chair and Republican
stalwart Pat Roberts (R-KS) can be counted on to do whatever
Cheney and Rove tell him to do. It was not until Roberts was
instructed to give Tenet the cold shoulder that the latter began
to see the handwriting on the wall.
As for Porter Goss, he was
happy to let the Senate intelligence committee take the lead
in investigating intelligence performance on key issues like
weapons of mass destruction and, before he decided to promote
his candidacy for director, he generally chose to keep his committee’s
head (and his own) down. With good reason. The myriad shortcomings
in intelligence work appeared on his somnolent watch; by any
reasonable standard, he bears some responsibility for impaired
oversight – not only on Iraq, but on 9/11 as well.
Republicans handpicked by Cheney
also dominate the 9/11 Commission, which is supposed to issue
its report by July 26. Although commission chair, Thomas Kean
and vice-chair Lee Hamilton have sought to appear nonpartisan,
they have already caved in to White House pressure to alter the
findings of commission staff.
At stake was no less an issue
than whether the vice president usurped Bush’s power as commander-in-chief
in ordering the shoot-down of suspicious airliners on Sept. 11,
2001. The staff found no hard evidence to support Cheney’s claim
that he called Bush and got his authorization. According to Newsweek,
‘some staffers flat out didn’t believe a call ever took place,’
and an early staff draft reflected deep skepticism.
The White House lobbied vigorously
to change the offending passage, with spokesman Dan Bartlett
insisting, ‘We didn’t think it was written in a way that clearly
reflected the accounting the president and vice president had
given to the commission.’ Kean and Hamilton backed down and removed
some of the offending language. ‘The report was watered down,’
one staffer admitted to Newsweek.
Watch for more watering down.
By now Kean and Hamilton have doubtless been warned by the White
House that if the highly controversial staff report that there
is ‘no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qaeda cooperated on
attacks against the United States’ is allowed to stand, this
would place further strain on the legal underpinnings of the
war on Iraq. On March 19, 2003, the day the war began, President
Bush sent a letter to Congress in which he said that the war
was permitted under legislation authorizing force against those
who ‘planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks
that occurred on September 11, 2001.’
Kean is already backing off.
A few days after the release of the staff report he emphasized
repeatedly that it is only an ‘interim report.’ He added that
not only is it ‘not finished,’ but also the commissioners themselves
have not been involved in it so far.
Democrat Commissioner Richard
Ben-Veniste does not see it this way. As Kean was talking to
ABC’s This Week, Ben-Veniste told NBC’s Tim Russert, ‘There was
no Iraqi involvement in 9/11. That’s what our commission found.
That’s what our staff, which includes former high-ranking CIA
officials, who know what to look for (found).’
Ah, but what about the additional
information that Cheney says he ‘probably’ has? Kean was quick
to note that the final report will include whatever ‘new information’
becomes available. In other words, there are already ample signs
that the Republican commissioners will continue to succeed in
watering down findings critical of the administration, while
highlighting those critical of intelligence performance.
With respect to the various
investigations into 9/11, Goss was thrust into the limelight
by Cheney, who initially opposed any investigation at all. In
February 2002, Cheney went so far as to warn that if Congress
decided to go ahead with an investigation, administration officials
might not show up to testify. When folks started talking about
the need for a genuinely independent commission, though, Cheney
acquiesced in the establishment of the congressional joint committee
as the lesser evil and took reassurance from the fact that Goss
could be counted on to keep the lid on–and, when necessary,
run rings around co-chair Sen. Bob Graham, (D-FL).
Porter Goss performed that
task brilliantly, giving clear priority to providing political
protection for the president. Goss acquiesced when the White
House and CIA refused to allow the joint committee to report
out any information on what President Bush had been told before
9/11–ostensibly because it was "classified." This
gave rise to thinly disguised, but eloquently expressed, chagrin
on the part of the committee staff director, who clearly had
expected stronger backing in her negotiations with White House
As a result, completely absent
from the committee’s report was any mention of the President’s
Daily Brief of Aug. 6, 2001, which bore the title "Bin Laden
determined to strike in US," even though the press had already
reported the title and the gist of that damning piece of evidence.
Small wonder that the families of 9/11 victims were outraged
and pressed even harder for an independent investigation.
And a First
for a Congressional Committee
The most notable (and bizarre)
achievement of the joint committee was inviting the FBI to investigate
members of Congress. In June 2002, Cheney called Goss and Graham
to chastise them for a media leak of sensitive information from
intercepted communications. A CNN report had attributed the leak
to "two congressional sources," and Cheney was livid.
Goss admitted to being "chagrined"
over Cheney’s call. He and Graham promptly bypassed normal congressional
procedures and went directly to Attorney General John Ashcroft,
asking him to investigate the leak. Little thought apparently
was given to the separation of powers between the executive and
congressional branches, or the fact that Congress has its own
capability for such investigations.
Next thing you know, the FBI
is crawling all over Capitol Hill, questioning members of the
joint committee that is investigating the FBI, CIA, et al., and
asking members of Congress to submit to lie-detector tests. Shaking
his head, Sen. John McCain (R-NM) noted the ludicrousness of
allowing the FBI to build dossiers on lawmakers who are supposed
to be investigating the FBI. He and others joined those pushing
for the creation of an independent 9/11 commission.
That Goss and Graham could
be so easily intimidated by Cheney speaks volumes.
West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller,
the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee is
right in saying, "We need a director who is not only knowledgeable
and capable but unquestionably independent." And politicians
need not apply. Rockefeller would rule out "any politician
from either party." But who pays attention to minority members
these days–ranking or non-ranking?
Rockefeller might add, if only
for the record, that another prerequisite for a director of the
CIA is prior experience managing a large, complex organization.
Tenet had none; neither does Goss.
There seems a better than even
chance the Bush administration will nominate Goss, and use the
nomination hearings as yet another forum at which to blame the
Iraq debacle on faulty intelligence. And, as a bonus for Bush,
if there is time before the election, it would seem a safe bet
that Goss will be able to bring to heel recalcitrant analysts
who are still "fighting the problem," still staring
in disbelief at the given wisdom (given, apparently, only to
the Pentagon and White House) that Iraq and al-Qaeda were in
bed with each other. Nor should anyone rule out the possibility
that Goss will see to it that ‘weapons of mass destruction’ are
found–perhaps as an October surprise.
Ray McGovern, a CIA analyst for 27 years, is co-founder
of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity and a
contributor to CounterPunch’s unsparing new history of the Afghanistan/Iraq
Crusades. McGovern can be reached at: RRMcGovern@aol.com