losing the war for reality (extracts)

– from Robert Parry, Consortium News

When Reagan captured the White House in 1980, his followers set their sights on purging the CIA’s analytical division of its historical commitment to objectivity, to be replaced by a submissive readiness to deliver politically desirable data. As former CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman’s book, Failure of Intelligence : The Decline and Fall of the CIA explains in impressive detail, the key action officer for carrying out this reversal of the CIA’s analytical role was Robert Gates, who is now Secretary of Defense.

The CIA’s analytical tradition of honest scholarship began to erode in 1973, with President Richard Nixon’s appointment of James Schlesinger as CIA director and Gerald Ford’s choice of George H.W. Bush for that job in 1976, but the principle of objectivity wasn’t swept away until Ronald Reagan put in his campaign chief, William Casey, as CIA director. Casey then chose the ambitious Robert Gates to run the analytical division. Goodman observed, “Bob Gates in the 1980s tried hard to anticipate the views of policymakers, in order to pander to their needs. Gates consistently told his analysts to make sure never to ‘stick your finger in the eye of the policymaker.’”

It didn’t take long for the winds of politicization to start blowing through the halls at Langley. From his front-row seat at CIA headquarters, Goodman watched in dismay as Gates applied his bureaucratic skills to reversing the agency’s analytical principles. When the Soviet Union collapsed without any timely warning to the US government, the CIA didn’t as much “miss” this development as it was blinded by ideological taskmasters to the reality playing out in plain sight. Then, rather than take the Soviet intelligence failure to heart, Gates and other bureaucrats went to work covering their tracks.

For that, they got the help of Harvard’s Kennedy School, which received hundreds of thousands of dollars to finance case studies to show that the CIA got it right. “The office director for the Soviet Union during much of the 1980s, when the work of politicization was undertaken, Douglas MacEachin, was sent to Harvard as intelligence officer in residence to help the director of the case studies, Philip Zelikow, prepare these studies. In 1993, MacEachin became the CIA’s deputy director for intelligence. Zelikow and MacEachin were reunited in 2004, when Zelikow was named staff director of the 9/11 commission, and appointed MacEachin a team leader on the staff. Zelikow and MacEachin made sure that the commission did not indict the CIA for its contributions to the 9/11 intelligence failure.”

In the 1980s, two other brave analysts were punished when they clashed with the Casey-Gates desires regarding analyses on nuclear proliferation issues, particularly evidence that Pakistan was developing a nuclear bomb. Yet, in the 1980s, while out-of-step analysts were pushed aside, many of Gates’s protégés went on to successful CIA careers. Eventually, they would play key roles in the politicizing of the intelligence on Iraq’s WMD. A central theme of Goodman’s book is that the consequences of this obsequious intelligence – this failure to face reality – have been disastrous : “Much of the intelligence damage in the run-up to the Iraq War was due to the DI believing that it was actually ‘serving’ the White House in preparing its assessments of Iraqi WMD.”

Goodman traced the end of serious congressional oversight of intelligence to 1991, and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s capitulation during Gates’s confirmation hearings to be CIA director. After Gates had been blocked from the top CIA job in 1987 because of his ties to the Iran-Contra scandal, “Gates set about to launder his credentials, and particularly to insinuate himself with Sen. Boren, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. In 1991, the White House checked with Boren to see if Gates could receive confirmation this time around, and Boren angered many Democrats on the intelligence committee when he guaranteed confirmation to White House aide Boyden Gray.” A firestorm over Gates’s role in politicizing CIA intelligence threatened his nomination in fall 1991. Rather than back off this time, however, President George H.W. Bush told committee Republicans “that he was ‘going to the mat’ for Gates and wanted his nomination confirmed at all cost.” Gates’s future ultimately was saved by Boren and his top aide, George Tenet, who shepherded the nomination through the committee and then the full Senate.

Once Gates got in as director, he went to work shielding Bush from political scandal, including Bush’s secret military support of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq during the 1980s, according to Goodman. Gates helped squelch the House Banking Committee’s examination of a multi-billion-dollar Iraqi-financing operation involving the Italian-owned Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, Goodman wrote, adding : “The fact is that the Bush administration was engaged in an effort to subsidize and arm Saddam Hussein right up to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and the CIA was totally aware of these efforts.”

The Casey-Gates approach of putting politics and ideology ahead of objective analysis was still alive and well a decade later when then-CIA director George Tenet offered President George W. Bush the “slam-dunk” intelligence on Iraq’s WMD. Though Goodman suspects that Bush would have invaded Iraq whatever the CIA did, “it is conceivable that honest leadership from George Tenet and John McLaughlin, and a strong CIA stand, could have created more opposition to the war from the Congress, the media, and the public. The CIA’s failure in the run-up to the Iraq War was a total corporate breakdown.”

Even in the wake of the Iraq WMD disaster, politicization has remained dominant, according to Goodman. Tenet’s successor, former Republican congressman Porter Goss, issued a memo to the CIA staff telling them to “support the administration and its policies in our work. As Agency employees, we do not identify with, support, or champion opposition to the administration or its policies.” Faced with mounting opposition to the Iraq War in 2006, President Bush also dipped back into his father’s old roster of pliable bureaucrats and brought Robert Gates back into the government as Secretary of Defense. Gates helped put a fresh face on the “surge.”

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