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July 7, 2004

Porter Goss: Cheney Cat's Paw


by Ray McGovern

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-Fla.) 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 naiveté, 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 Rice.

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."

The Whore of Babylon

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 Aug. 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 in Congress.

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 as often as the domesticated U.S. media would allow.

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'.

From Sycophant Tenet to Professional Politician

This is what CIA would get with Porter Goss at the helm. Appointing Goss would administer the coup de grâce 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.

Don't Throw 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 Rove.

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 dunk."

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!")

The Senate 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-Kan.) 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.

The 9/11 Commission Report

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.

Goss on 9/11

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-Fla.).

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 officials.

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 U.S.," 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-Ariz.) 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.

Bottom Line

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.

Truthout.org originally posted a shorter version of this article.


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