Kerry’s Unenviable Record for Veracity

The last time major war loomed on the near horizon, Secretary of State John Kerry played fast and loose with the facts. On Aug. 30, 2013 he solemnly claimed, no fewer than 35 times, “We know” the government of Bashar al-Assad was responsible for chemical attacks outside Damascus on August 21.

Just a few days later, it became abundantly clear that Kerry did not know. On Aug. 30, no one knew for sure. And, to their credit, my former colleagues in CIA and in the Defense Intelligence Agency stood their ground in refusing to say “we know” when U.S. intelligence did not know. We Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) tried to alert President Barack Obama to this in a Memorandum for the President on September 6. [for details, see Consortium’s Obama Warned on Syrian Intel.]

Determined to avoid a repeat of the fraudulent intelligence performance on WMD before the March 2003 attack on Iraq, this time our former colleagues refused to “fix the intelligence around the policy,” as the British Downing Street Minutes document put it. The opposition was so strong that not even the malleable CIA Director, John Brennan, was able to provide Kerry with the usual “Intelligence Assessment” he wanted. So the best he could do was to issue a “Government Assessment” bereft of verifiable evidence.

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Facts Needed on Malaysian Plane Shoot-Down

It will likely take some time to determine who downed the Malaysia Airlines Boeing-777 over eastern Ukraine on Thursday, killing all 298 people onboard. Initial speculation is that someone with a missile battery mistook the plane as a military aircraft, but the precise motive may be even harder to discern.

Given the fog of war and the eagerness among the various participants to wage “information warfare,” there is also the possibility that evidence – especially electronic evidence – might be tampered with to achieve some propaganda victory.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko immediately labeled the tragedy “a terrorist act” although there was no evidence that anyone intentionally shot down the civilian airliner. But Poroshenko and others in the Kiev government have previously designated the ethnic Russians, who are resisting the Feb. 22 overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych, as “terrorists” so Poroshenko’s bellicose language was not a surprise.

For their part, the separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine denied responsibility for the crash – saying they lacked anti-aircraft missiles that could reach the 33,000-foot altitude of the Malaysian airliner – but there are reasons to suspect the rebels, including their previously successful efforts to shoot down Ukrainian military aircraft operating in the war zone.

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin deflected questions about who may have fired the missile as he called for an international investigation. But he made a telling point when he noted that the “tragedy would not have happened if military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine.”

Those likely to agree with that statement include German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande who, during a lengthy four-way conference call with Poroshenko on June 30, tried desperately to get him to prolong the ceasefire. Only the U.S. voiced support for Poroshenko’s decision to spurn that initiative and order Ukrainian forces into a major offensive in the east.

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No Tears for the Real Robert Gates

In the early 1970s, I was chief of the CIA’s Soviet Foreign Policy Branch in which Robert M. Gates worked as a young CIA analyst. While it may be true that I was too inexperienced at the time to handle all the management challenges of such a high-powered office, one of the things I did get right was my assessment of Gates in his Efficiency Report.

I wrote that if his overweening ambition were not reined in, young Bobby was sure to become an even more dangerous problem. Who could have known, then, how huge a problem? As it turned out, I was not nearly as skilled as Gates at schmoozing senior managers who thus paid no heed to my warning. Gates was a master at ingratiating himself to his superiors.

The supreme irony came a short decade later when we – ALL of us, managers, analysts, senior and junior alike – ended up working under Gates. Ronald Reagan’s CIA Director William Casey had found in Gates just the person to do his bidding, someone who earned the title “windsock Bobby” because he was clever enough to position himself in whatever direction the powerful winds were blowing.

To justify the expensive military buildup of the 1980s and the proxy wars that Reagan wanted fought required judging the Soviet Union to be ascendant and marching toward world domination. In that cause, Gates was just the man to shatter the CIA’s commitment to providing presidents with objective analysis. He replaced that proud legacy with whatever “information” would serve the White House’s political needs.

As Casey’s choice to head the CIA analytical division and then serve as deputy CIA director, Gates showed himself to be super-successful at weeding out competent analysts, especially those – like Melvin A. Goodman – who knew the Soviet Union cold and recognized its new President Mikhail Gorbachev for the reformer he was.

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Sunday on ‘Face the Nation’: Gen. Michael ‘No Probable Cause’ Hayden

Barring a last-minute frantic call from the White House, CBS’s “Face the Nation” will interview whistleblowers Thomas Drake (ex-senior executive at the National Security Agency) and Jesselyn Radack (ex-ethics adviser at the Justice Department). Michael Hayden, who headed the NSA and CIA and now is a chief NSA defender on CNN and Fox News, will also be interviewed this Sunday.

It was a high privilege for me to join Drake, Radack and FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley on a visit to Edward Snowden in Russia on Oct. 9. Never have I been in the company of persons who are such incorruptible straight-arrow patriots. Not so, sadly, Michael Hayden.

Given how these network interviews go, however, Hayden will probably be introduced as the patriot he isn’t. Here is a more fact-based introduction that I would urge the moderator, CBS’s Major Garrett, to use:

“Let me also welcome former Gen. Michael Hayden. Gen. Hayden was the first director of NSA to violate his oath to the U.S. Constitution by acquiescing in the Bush administration’s order to violate the Fourth Amendment, which, until then, had served as the ‘First Commandment’ at NSA.

“On May 8, 2006, former NSA Director Adm. Bobby Ray Inman stated publicly that what Hayden did was in clear violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Another former NSA director, Army Gen. William Odom, told an interviewer on Jan. 4, 2006, that Hayden ‘should have been court-martialed.’

“This sad reality was known to CBS and our mainstream media colleagues before Hayden was confirmed as CIA director on May 18, 2006, but we were successful in deep-sixing it, keeping it out of the public debate.

“We also are grateful to both the Bush and the Obama administrations for making it possible to have Gen. Hayden with us in the studio here today rather than having to speak with him via Skype from a federal prison where he assuredly belongs for his eavesdropping crimes at NSA. Hayden and the enabling giant telecoms escaped accountability via the Bush-pushed 2006 law holding all harmless for these violations of law.

“As for President Obama, had he not decided to ‘look forward and not backward’ and thus avoid prosecuting Bush administration criminals, Hayden might be locked away today for crimes against the Constitution and international law. As CIA director, he was a staunch defender of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ including waterboarding.

“Gen. Hayden also has been one of the harshest critics of Edward Snowden, hinting broadly that Snowden should be put on the President’s Kill List, a motion that was immediately seconded by House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers. So, our thanks to Presidents Bush and Obama for enabling Gen. Hayden’s presence here today, and thanks also for the rest of you for being here this morning.”

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Clarifying Snowden’s ‘Freedom’

A common angle from the mainstream U.S. media is that NSA leaker Edward Snowden will regret his asylum in Russia (rather than life in prison in the U.S.). A quote from ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern was used in support of that theme, but he has asked the New York Times to clarify it.

I was quoted in Steven Lee Myers’s “In Shadows, Hints of a Life and Even a Job for Snowden,” published by the New York Times on Oct. 31, as saying (about former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden), “He’s free, but not completely free” in asylum in Russia.

An unfortunate juxtaposition in the text of Mr. Myers’s piece has led several acquaintances to misinterpret my words. I trust you will agree that the issue is of some importance; thus, my request that you publish this clarification.

Mr. Myers quotes me correctly. Unfortunately, the immediately preceding sentences quote a Russian journalist, who “cautioned” that the appearance of a “happy, open asylum” could be “propaganda,” and that the Russian security services might be waiting to question Mr. Snowden until he becomes “increasingly dependent on them.”

This is not at all what I meant by “not completely free.” For starters, I guess I’m not sure how free you can feel being stateless, the State Department having revoked your passport.

Still more on this issue emerged on Oct. 9, after Mr. Snowden was presented with this year’s Sam Adams Associates Award for Integrity in Intelligence. We four Sam Adams Associates – Jesselyn Radack, Thomas Drake, Coleen Rowley, and I – chatted into the wee hours with Mr. Snowden and WikiLeaks journalist Ms. Sarah Harrison. (It was Ms. Harrison who facilitated his departure from Hong Kong on June 23. She has been at his side ever since to witness that he is not undergoing at the hands of the Russians what in some Western countries are called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”)

I asked Mr. Snowden whether he was aware that just six days before our Sam Adams award ceremony, Michael Hayden, former director of both the NSA and the CIA had said publicly that he had “thought of nominating Mr. Snowden … for a different list” – an unmistakable hint that Mr. Snowden be put on President Barack Obama’s infamous “Kill List.” With a wan smile, Mr. Snowden assured me that Yes; he keeps well up on such things.

And did he know that Mike Rogers, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, chimed right in with immediate support for Hayden’s suggestion, stating, “I can help you with that?” This time the wan smile gave way to a wince – and another Yes. (Both Hayden and Rogers were speaking at an Oct. 3 conference sponsored by the Washington Post, which, oddly, neglected to report on this macabre/mafia–type pas de deux.)

After the back-to-back wan smile and wince, I resisted the urge to ask Mr. Snowden if he saw reassurance in the official letter of July 23 from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to his Russian counterpart conveying Holder’s promise: “Mr. Snowden will not be tortured … if he returns to the United States.”

In his Oct. 31 article, Mr. Myers includes an instructive remark from Anatoly Kucherena, a Russian lawyer assisting Mr. Snowden. Mr. Kucherena told Myers he would not discuss Mr. Snowden’s life in exile “because the level of threat from the U.S. government structures is still very high.”

THAT’S what I meant by “not completely free.”

Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. Ray entered the CIA as an analyst on the same day as the late CIA analyst Sam Adams (a direct descendant of John Adams, by the way), and was instrumental in founding Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence.

Reprinted with permission from Consortium News.

Edward Snowden’s Brave Integrity

I’ve had a couple of days to reflect after arriving back from Moscow where my whistleblower colleagues Coleen Rowley, Jesselyn Radack, Tom Drake and I formally presented former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden with the annual Sam Adams Associates award for integrity in intelligence.

The thought that companioned me the entire time was the constant admonition of my Irish grandmother: “Show me your company, and I’ll tell you who you are!” I cannot remember ever feeling so honored as I did by the company I kept over the past week.

That includes, of course, Snowden himself, WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison (and “remotely” Julian Assange) who, together with Russian civil rights lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, helped arrange the visit, and – last but not least – the 3,000 Internet transparency/privacy activists at OHM2013 near Amsterdam, whom Tom, Jesselyn, Coleen and I addressed in early August and who decided to crowd-source our travel. (See: “In the Whistleblower Chalet” by Silkie Carlo)

As representatives of Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, we were in Moscow last Wednesday not only to honor Snowden with the award for integrity, but also to remind him (and ourselves) that we all stand on the shoulders of patriots who have gone before and pointed the way.

Because of speaking commitments he could not break, Pentagon Papers truth-teller Dan Ellsberg, whom Henry Kissinger called “the most dangerous man in America” and who in 1971 was vilified as acidly as Ed Snowden is being vilified now, could be with us only in spirit. He did send along with us for Ed the video of the award-winning documentary that uses Kissinger’s epithet as its title, together with Dan’s book Secrets, in which he had inscribed a very thoughtful note.

Ellsberg’s note thanked Snowden for his adroit – and already partially successful – attempt to thwart what Snowden has called “turnkey tyranny,” that is the terrifying prospect of a surveillance-driven government tyranny ready to go with the simple turn of a key.

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