No alien penetration, or treachery of double agents, have ever done nearly as much damage to the CIA as the infighting consequent upon the arrival of each new Director, charged by his White House master with cleaning house and settling accounts with the bad guys installed by the previous White House incumbent.
Bush’s new director, former Republican Florida rep Porter Goss and his team of enforcers, rampage through the corridors of CIA hq at Langley. Goss was once an undercover CIA officer so there’s probably a personal edge to his mission of revenge, as he strikes back at the dolts who nixed his expense accounts or poured scorn on his heroic endeavors in the field.
But Goss’s most pressing task is to exact retribution for the stories emanating from the CIA in the months before the election suggesting that the Agency’s measured assessments of the supposed WMD presence in Iraq were perverted by the war faction headed by (vice) president Cheney.
Goss and his hit team have acted swiftly. In early November the CIA’s number 2, John McLaughlin, resigned, followed days later by the Agency’s top man on the clandestine side, Stephen Kappes and his number 2, Michael Sulick. And, no surprise, into retirement goes Mr “Anonymous”, Michael Scheuer, leader of the CIA unit hunting Osama bin Laden. I’m with Goss on that one. Scheuer probably spent most of each day hunting down his next book advance and kibbitizing about royalties from Imperial Hubris with his true “Controls” at Brassey’s Inc, owned by shadowy Books International.
So Goss will exact vengeance, spill blood,leak to favored journalists and deliver Bush daily intelligence briefings tailored to meet the expectations of his patron.
Of course there’s a portentous uproar and wringing of pious hands as the cry goes up that the abilities of the Agency to collect and analyze useful intelligence are being compromised by what Jason Vest in The Nation was pleased to call “unparalleled” political partisanship. “We need a director,” cries Jay Rockefeller, ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, “who is not only knowledgeable and capable, but unquestionably independent”.
There’s nothing new in all this. Permit me to take you on a brisk tour of CIA Directors. Before Goss we had George Tenet, a former Congressional staffer so eager to please Bush that he uttered the imperishable words “slam dunk” about the supposed ease of making a case for Saddam’s WMD.
Tenet, whose political agility is advertised in the fact that he was one of the longer serving DCIs,supplanted John Deutch, an MIT prof who divided his brief sojourn as director between downloads of the Agency’s darkest secrets onto his personal laptop, business ventures with a revolving doorman from DoD, William Perry, and excursions to town meetings in Los Angeles, claiming to black audiences that the CIA had no role in funnelling cocaine into the nation’s ghettoes. Among the few secret files Deutch apparently failed to download onto his laptop were materials later excavated by the CIA’s own inspector general, Fred Hitz, establishing CIA complicity in the cocaine trade.
Deutsch’s predecessor was Jim Woolsey, unusual for someone in the Clinton-Gore milieu in having no conspicuous record of marijuana consumption, hence a security clearance, thus qualifying him as the nation’s top spy. Clinton and Gore mostly liked Woolsey for political reasons, because he had street cred with the neocons (who used to sail under the flag of “Jackson Democrats”). Woolsey later became a prime lobbyist for attacking Iraq.
DCI before Woolsey was Robert Gates, a cat torturer/ drowner in his youth, creature of Bush Sr’s administration, in trouble for lying to Congress; before him William Webster, brought in as air freshener after William Casey, one of the most consummate scoundrels ever to run any government agency in the entire history of the United States. Casey was Reagan’s campaign bag man, then given the CIA with the prime function of misrepresenting the threat posed by the Soviet Union and nearer at hand, Nicaragua.
Casey dislodged Jimmy Carter’s man, Admiral Stansfield Turner, a relatively honest fellow. Turner, roasted for firing many in the CIA “old guard” of that era, took over as CIA chief from Bush Sr, who, like JFK, sanctioned a Murder Inc in the Caribbean, and who wilted under pressure from the Jackson Democrats, aka the Military Industrial Complex. It was Bush who appointed the notorious “Team B” to contradict previous in-house CIA analyses suggesting the Soviet threat was not as fearsome as that depicted on the cartoon (aka editorial) page of the Wall Street Journal.
Bush’s predecessor as DCI was William Colby, a CIA careerman mostly famous for running the Phoenix assassination program in Vietnam, battling with the CIA’s crazed counter-intelligence czar, James Angleton and testifying with undue frankness in the Church congressional hearings into the CIA. In retirement Colby continued his career as a conspiracy buff, probing the suicide of Clinton’s counsel Vince Foster for his newsletter. Colby finally stepped into his canoe on Maryland’s eastern shore after a dinner of clams and white wine and turned up drowned a few days later.
Colby replaced James Schlesinger who ran the Agency for a few months in the midst of the Watergate scandal. Ray McVicar, a 27-year career analyst with the CIA, now retired, remembers how he and his Agency colleagues were taken aback when Schlesinger announced on arrival, “I am here to see that you guys don’t screw Richard Nixon!” To underscore his point, McGovern recalls, Schlesinger “told us he would be reporting directly to White House political adviser Bob Haldeman and not to National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger.”
We’ll stop with Schlesinger, but you get the idea. There’s nothing new about the “political” appointment of Porter Goss, who least has the agreeable distinction of owning an organic farm in Virginia where tiny donkeys run herd on hairy sheep from Central Asia, and chickens lay green eggs, thus reduplicating the Agency’s most expensive op ever, the Afghan caper, where the CIA supervised the mujahedeen at a cost of $3.5 billion, and launching Osama bin Laden on his chosen path.
Most intelligence is worthless, and with the scant truthful stuff rapidly deep-sixed. Whatever makes its way onto the desks of presidents or congressional overseers is 100 per cent “political”. Anyone who wants to find out what’s happening in the world would be better advised to ask a taxi driver.
Footnote: I wrote this column for The Nation print edition that went to press last Wednesday. The previous week the Nation ran an odd piece by Jason Vest claiming that the previously politically neutral post of the DCI was now being disfigured by an “unparalleled” political appointment. Vest appeared to claiming that the evictions of the chief and assistant chief of the CIA’s clandestine wing, Sulick and Kappes, were somehow a blow to the forces of decency. It’s surely no function of left commentary to start supporting any faction on the covert side of an agency that has carried out assassination, terrorism and torture as a matter of routine policy for the past 55 years.
CounterPunch’s editorial position is that the more overt the political reconfiguring of the Agency by each new director, the better off we are. Let’s suppose that one day a leftist president settles in behind his desk in the Oval Office, sticks a portrait of W.E.B. DuBois on the wall and then reaches for the phone, fires the heads of the CIA’s covert side, appoints no successors ande shifts the entire complement of covert officers into monitoring soil erosion in the Great Plains, a real national security threat. Wouldn’t that be a step forward?