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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.