Former CIA Analyst
It is as though I’m back as an analyst at the CIA, trying to estimate the chances of an attack on Iran. The putative attacker, though, happens to be our own president.
It is precisely the kind of work we analysts used to do. And, while it is still a bit jarring to be turning our analytical tools on the U.S. leadership, it is by no means entirely new. For, of necessity, we Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) have been doing that for almost six years now-ever since 9/11, when “everything changed.”
Of necessity? Yes, because, with very few exceptions, American journalists put their jobs at grave risk if they expose things like fraudulent wars.
The craft of CIA analysis was designed to be an all-source operation, meaning that we analysts were responsible-and held accountable-for assimilating information from all sources and coming to judgments on what it all meant. We used data of various kinds, from the most sophisticated technical collection platforms, to spies, to-not least-open media.
Here I must reveal a trade secret and risk puncturing the mystique of intelligence analysis. Generally speaking, 80 percent of the information one needs to form judgments on key intelligence targets or issues is available in open media. It helps to have been trained-as my contemporaries and I had the good fortune to be trained-by past masters of the discipline of media analysis, which began in a structured way in targeting Japanese and German media in the 1940s. But, truth be told, anyone with a high school education can do it. It is not rocket science.
Reporting From Informants
The above is in no way intended to minimize the value of intelligence collection by CIA case officers recruiting and running clandestine agents. For, though small in percentage of the whole nine yards available to be analyzed, information from such sources can often make a crucial contribution. Consider, for example, the daring recruitment in mid-2002 of Saddam Hussein’s foreign minister, Naji Sabri, who was successfully “turned” into working for the CIA and quickly established his credibility. Sabri told us there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
My former colleagues, perhaps a bit naively, were quite sure this would come as a welcome relief to President George W. Bush and his advisers. Instead, they were told that the White House had no further interest in reporting from Sabri; rather, that the issue was not really WMD, it was “regime change.” (Don’t feel embarrassed if you did not know this; although it is publicly available, our corporate- owned, war profiteering media has largely suppressed this key story.)
One former colleague, operations officer-par-excellence Robert Baer, now reports (in this week’s Time) that, according to his sources, the Bush/Cheney administration is winding up for a strike on Iran;” that the administration’s plan to put Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on the terrorism list points in the direction of such a strike; and that the delusional “neo-conservative” thinking that still guides White House policy concludes that such an attack would lead to the fall of the clerics and the rise of a more friendly Iran.
Hold on, it gets even worse: Baer’s sources tell him that administration officials are thinking “as long as we have bombers and missiles in the air, we will hit Iran’s nuclear facilities.”
Rove and Snow: Going Wobbly?
Our VIPS colleague Phil Geraldi, writing in The American Conservative, earlier noted that in the past Karl Rove has served as a counterweight to Vice President Dick Cheney, and may have tried to put the brakes on Cheney’s death wish to expand the Middle East quagmire to Iran. And former Pentagon officer, retired Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, who worked shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the most devoted neo-cons just before the attack on Iraq, has put into words (on LewRockwell.com) speculation several of us have been indulging in with respect to Rove’s departure.
In short, it seems possible that Rove, who is no one’s dummy and would not want to be required to “spin” an unnecessary war on Iran, may have lost the battle with Cheney over the merits of a military strike on Iran, and only then decided-or was urged-to spend more time with his family. As for administration spokesperson Tony Snow, it seems equally possible that, before deciding he had to leave the White House to make more money, he concluded that his stomach could not withstand the challenge of conjuring up yet another Snow job to explain why Bush/Cheney needed to attack Iran. There is recent precedent for this kind of thing.
We now know that it was because former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld went wobbly on the Iraq war-as can be seen in his Nov. 6, 2006 memo to the president-that Rumsfeld was canned. (That was the day BEFORE the election.) In that memo, Rumsfeld called for a “major adjustment” in war policy. And so, Robert Gates, who had been waiting in the wings, was called to Crawford, given the test for malleability, hired, and dispatched by the president immediately to Iraq to weigh in heavily with the most senior U.S. generals (Abizaid and Casey). They had been saying, quite openly, Please, please; no more troops; a surge would simply give the Iraqis still more time and opportunity to diddle us while American troops continue to die. So much for the president always listening to his senior military commanders. And the bug of reality was infecting even Rumsfeld.
In his memo to the president, Rumsfeld suggested that U.S. generals “withdraw U.S. forces from vulnerable positions-cities, patrolling, etc.,” and move troops to Kuwait to serve as a Quick Reaction Force. Bush, of course, chose to do just the opposite.
Our domesticated press has not yet been able to put two and two together on this story, so it has been left to investigative reporters like Robert Parry to do so. In his Aug. 17 essay, “Rumsfeld’s Mysterious Resignation”, Parry closes with this:
“The touchy secret about Rumsfeld’s departure seems to have been that Bush didn’t want the American people to know that one of the chief Iraq War architects had turned against the idea of an open-ended military commitment and that Bush had found himself with no choice but to oust Rumsfeld for his loss of faith in the neoconservative cause.”
Granted, it is speculative that similar factors, this time with respect to war planning for Iran, were at work in the decisions on the departure of Rove and Snow. Someone ought to ask them.
Surgical Strikes First?
With the propaganda buildup we have seen so far on Iran, what seems most likely, at least initially, is an attack on Revolutionary Guard training facilities inside Iran. That can be done with cruise missiles. With some twenty targets already identified by anti-Iranian groups, there are enough assets already in place to do that job. But the “while-we’re-at-it” neo-con logic referred to above may well be applied after, or even in conjunction with, that kind of limited cruise missile attack.
Cheerleading in the Domesticated Media
Yes, it is happening again.
The lead editorial in yesterday’s Washington Post regurgitates the allegations that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps is “supplying the weapons that are killing a growing number of American soldiers in Iraq;” that it is “waging war against the United States and trying to kill as many American soldiers as possible.” Designating Iran a “specially designated global terrorist” organization, says the Post, “seems to be the least the United States should be doing, giving the soaring number of Iranian-sponsored bomb attacks in Iraq.”
It’s as though Dick Cheney and friends are again writing the Post’s editorials. And not only that: arch neo-con James Woolsey told Lou Dobbs on Aug. 14 that the US may have no choice but to bomb Iran in order to halt its nuclear weapons program. As Woolsey puts it, “I’m afraid within, well, at worst, a few months; at best, a few years; they could have the bomb.”
Woolsey, self-described “anchor of the Presbyterian wing of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs,” has long been out in front plumbing for wars, like Iraq, that he and other neo-cons myopically see as being in Israel’s, as well as America’s, interest. On the evening of 9/11, Woolsey was already raising with Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings the notion that Iraq was a leading candidate for state sponsorship of the attacks. A day later, Woolsey told journalist James Fallows that, no matter who proved responsible for 9/11, the solution had to include removing Saddam Hussein because he was so likely to be involved the next time (sic).
The latest media hype is also rubbish. And Woolsey knows it. And so do reporters for the Washington Post, who are aware of, but have been forbidden to tell, a highly interesting story about waiting for a key National Intelligence Estimate-as if for Godot.
The NIE That Didn’t Bark
The latest National Intelligence Estimate regarding if and when Iran is likely to have the bomb has been ready since February. It has been sent back four times-no doubt because its conclusions do not support what Cheney and Woolsey are telling the president and, through the domesticated press, telling the rest of us as well.
The conclusion of the most recent published NIE (early 2005) was that Iran probably could not acquire a nuclear weapon until “early to mid-next decade,” a formula memorized and restated by Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell at his confirmation hearing in February. One can safely assume that McConnell had been fully briefed on the first “final draft” of the new estimate, which has now been in limbo for half a year. And I would wager that the conclusions of the new estimate resemble those of the NIE of 2005 far too closely to suit Cheney.
It is a scandal that the congressional oversight committees have not been briefed on the conclusions of the new estimate, even though it cannot pass Cheney’s smell test. For it is a safe bet it would give the lie to the claims of Cheney, Woolsey, and other cheerleaders for war with Iran and provide powerful ammunition to those arguing for a more sensible approach to Iran.
But Attacking Iran Would Be Crazy
Despite the administration’s war-like record, many Americans may still cling to the belief that attacking Iran won’t happen because it would be crazy; that Bush is a lame-duck president who wouldn’t dare undertake yet another reckless adventure when the last one went so badly.
But rationality and common sense have not exactly been the strong suit of this administration. Bush has placed himself in a neoconservative bubble that operates with its own false sense of reality. Worse still: as psychiatrist Justin Frank pointed out in the July 27 VIPS memo “Dangers of a Cornered Bush,” updating his book, Bush on the Couch:”
“We are left with a president who cannot actually govern, because he is incapable of reasoned thought in coping with events outside his control, like those in the Middle East.
“This makes it a monumental challenge-as urgent as it is difficult-not only to get him to stop the carnage in the Middle East, but also to prevent him from undertaking a new, perhaps even more disastrous adventure-like going to war with Iran, in order to embellish the image he so proudly created for himself after 9/11 as the commander in chief of ‘the first war of the 21st century.'”
RAY McGOVERN was a CIA analyst from 1963 to 1990 and Robert Gates’ branch chief in the early 1970s. McGovern now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). He is a contributor to Imperial Crusades, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
An earlier, shorter version of this piece appeared on Consortiumnews.com