How to Create a WIA -- Worthless Intelligence Agency
How to Create a WIA -- Worthless Intelligence Agency
Two weeks after George Bush's reelection, Porter J. Goss, the newly appointed Director of Central Intelligence, wrote an internal memorandum to all employees of his agency telling them, "[Our job is 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." Translated from bureaucrat-speak, this directive says, "You now work for the Republican Party. The intelligence you produce must first and foremost protect the President from being held accountable for the delusions he has concerning Iraq, Osama bin Laden, preventive war, torturing captives, democracy growing from the barrel of a gun, and the 'war on terror.'"
This approach is not new, even though former CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman declares that "the current situation is the worst intelligence scandal in the nation's history." Back in 1973, when James Schlesinger briefly succeeded Richard Helms as CIA director, he proclaimed on arrival at the agency's
In 1973, Schlesinger wanted to protect Nixon from revelations that the CIA had broken into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee and illegally infiltrated the antiwar movement within the
Intelligence and the Truth-teller
Part of the background to the Goss memo is a widespread misunderstanding of why the CIA was created and what it actually does. For example, Bush apostle David Brooks writes in the New York Times that the CIA is engaged "in slow-motion brazen insubordination, which violate[s] all standards of honorable public service. . . . It is time to reassert some harsh authority so CIA employees know they must defer to the people who win elections. . . . If they [people in the CIA] ever want their information to be trusted, they can't break the law with self-serving leaks of classified data." Brooks seems to think that the CIA is the President's personal advertising agency and that its employees owe their livelihoods to him. About Michael Scheuer, the head of the "bin Laden Unit" in the agency's Counterterrorism Center from 1996 to 1999 and the anonymous author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, Brooks fumes, "Here was an official on the president's payroll publicly campaigning against his boss."
Leave aside the fact that the President doesn't pay any government official's salary, at least not legally, and that Scheuer was more interested in educating the public about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, on which he is an authority, than in covering up the President's mistakes; the point is that the issue of the CIA's intelligence on the Iraq war is bringing back into our political life once again the figure most feared by presidents: the truth-teller. During a previous period of falsified intelligence, National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger said in the Oval Office in front of President Nixon and his Special Counsel Charles Colson, "Daniel Ellsberg is the most dangerous man in
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had ordered a special staff to write a top secret History of
The term "intelligence" has always rested uneasily in the name of the Central Intelligence Agency. There is no question that the agency was created in 1947 on the orders of President Truman for the sole purpose of collecting, evaluating, and coordinating -- through espionage and from the public record -- information related to the national security of the
Clandestine operations, although nowhere mentioned in the CIA's enabling statutes, quickly became the Agency's main activity and as one of its most impartial Congressional analysts, Loch K. Johnson, has put the matter, "The covert action shop had become a place for rapid promotion within the agency." The Directorate of Operations (DO) soon absorbed two-thirds of the CIA's budget and personnel, while the Directorate of Intelligence limped along writing National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) -- summaries of intelligence produced by all the various intelligence agencies, including those in the Department of Defense -- for the White House.
Meanwhile, CIA covert operations subverted domestic journalism, planted false information in foreign newspapers, and covertly fed large amounts of money to members of the Christian Democratic Party in
How to Misuse Intelligence
Regardless of what it most enjoys doing, the CIA is still tasked with providing the president with accurate information to enable him to avoid a surprise attack and protect the national security. In the foyer of the CIA's headquarters at
Such revelations have usually taken one of two forms. In the first instance, the president, it is argued, has been shielded from or has refused to read accurate intelligence. In the second instance, the president is accused of secretly ordering the suppression of intelligence or of fabricating intelligence to support his preferred policies. President Bush has engaged in both forms of dishonesty, but he is certainly not the first president to do so. The examples are legion.
In 1961, at the time of the invasion of the
Similarly, in May 1970, as President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger plotted their "incursion" into
Examples of the distortion or fabrication of intelligence are rarer, but they do occur. During the Vietnam War, Gen. William Westmoreland, U.S. military commander from 1964 to 1968, omitted from his estimate of enemy forces all Communist guerrillas and informal local defense forces -- perhaps as many as 120,000-150,000 fighters -- that another estimate indicated had been responsible for up to 40% of American losses. His apparent intent was to make victory in
Another example of the suppression or distortion of intelligence occurred in 1969-70 over the issue of whether or not the Soviet SS-9 ICBM could carry three warheads and whether those warheads could be fired at separate and distinct targets -- that is, whether or not the SS-9 carried MIRVs (multiple independently-targetable re-entry vehicles). If true, this would perhaps have given the
National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird contended that the fourth version of the SS-9 was a MIRVed weapon; the CIA in its NIE on the subject said that it was not. At first the CIA rejected the pressure coming from the policymakers and, in fact, added more evidence against MIRVs to its estimate. Ultimately, however, DCI Helms removed the paragraph arguing against Soviet preparations for a first strike after "an assistant to [Laird] informed Helms that the statement contradicted the public position of the Secretary." As it turned out, the CIA was right. The SS-9s were armed with MRVs, not MIRVs -- that is, they could produce only a cluster of explosions in a single area. The
When it comes to ignoring accurate CIA intelligence, the preeminent example in the Bush administration was National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's indifference to al-Qaeda and her failure to ensure that the president read and understood the explicit warnings of an imminent surprise attack that the agency delivered to her. As the Washington Post's Steve Coll has summarized the matter in his book Ghost Wars, "BIN LADEN DETERMINED TO STRIKE IN U.S. was the headline on the President's Daily Brief presented to Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on August 6 . The report included the possibility that bin Laden operatives would seek to hijack airplanes. The hijacking threat, mentioned twice, was one of several possibilities outlined. There was no specific information about when or where such an attack might occur."
Slaying the Messenger
After the extent of its failure became known, and under extreme pressure from the public and families of the victims of 9/11, the Bush administration reluctantly authorized the creation of a National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the
The President and the Speaker of the House both said they favored enactment of the proposed legislation, but many experienced observers thought it was all Grand Kabuki by the Republican Party, intended to make it appear that the White House favored reform while ensuring that reform did not actually occur. In killing the reform bill, the Pentagon unambiguously displayed the raw political power of the military-industrial-congressional complex. During October 2004, Gen. Richard B. Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, without the public approval of any civilian leader of the Defense Department, wrote to Congressman Hunter expressing his support for sabotaging change.
After the 9/11 attacks and the Bush administration's decision to go to war with
In succeeding months numerous review commissions revealed that the October NIE was only one of numerous failures by the truth-tellers to do what the people of the
The number three civilian defense official in the Pentagon, Douglas Feith, had set up the Office of Special Plans, an operation devoted to going through all the raw intelligence available to the various spy agencies and finding items that offered possible evidence of (or hints of evidence of) links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. It was this effort to get around both the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, neither of which had found links or ties between Iraq and 9/11, that eventually led some officials to break ranks and charge that the war against Iraq was in fact undercutting the "war on terrorism" -- specifically, Richard A. Clark, the White House's coordinator for counterterrorism in both the Clinton and Bush administrations, in his book Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terrorism; and the CIA's Michael Scheuer in Imperial Hubris and in his letter to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees entitled "How Not to Catch a Terrorist"
The new head of the CIA, Porter Goss, is now setting about knocking off all such messengers and their supporters still inside the CIA because the agency, despite its frequent co-option and misuse by presidents, still retains a vestigial role as a truth-teller. Goss had been ordered to make it appear that the agency misled the President (rather than the other way round, as actually happened). He is then supposed to shake up what he calls a "dysfunctional" organization. After George Tenet resigned as DCI in July 2004 and went on the lecture circuit at $35,000 a pop -- he had earned well over a half-million dollars by November -- Bush appointed Goss to control further truth-telling at Langley and to head off efforts by Congress to create a powerful intelligence czar, as the 9/11 Commission has recommended. The Senate confirmed Goss by a vote of 77 to 17 (six senators did not vote), strongly suggesting the increasing worthlessness of Senate oversight of the executive branch.
Goss represented the 14th district of Florida for some sixteen years in the House of Representatives, but before that, between 1962 and 1971, he worked in the CIA's Directorate of Operations (DO). He was stationed primarily in
How to Create a Worthless Intelligence Agency
Goss is a highly political bureaucrat, who raised eyebrows when he gave speeches earlier this year attacking John Kerry for slashing intelligence funding without mentioning that, in 1995, he himself had co-sponsored a measure calling for firing 20% of all CIA personnel over five years. Goss has also dismissed the efforts to find out who in the Bush administration identified, and so outed, undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame -- wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson who had embarrassed the administration over its Iraqi nuclear claims -- to the press as "wild and unsubstantiated allegations," a position that will not reassure operatives at the Directorate who can be and have been assassinated because of such leaks. Goss brought with him to
It is interesting that Goss has begun his shake-up of the CIA by forcing out the director and deputy director of operations, even though this is not where the alleged failures of the CIA in recent years occurred. (This, in turn, has lead to speculation that he is trying to ensure his own service record in the DO will be kept under wraps.) Within the coming weeks, he will certainly fire Jami A. Miscik, head of the Directorate of Intelligence (DI), who has worked in the agency since 1983 and was a close associate of former DCI George J. Tenet. She has led the DI since May 2002, a period in which much of the false reporting on
There is every reason to try to make the CIA at least slightly more effective in its truth-telling mission, but even the hint that a Republican Party loyalty test is now being applied will cause an exodus of experienced analysts and leave the country even more vulnerable than it is now. With several wars underway (in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel-Palestine, Colombia, Kashmir, Sudan, and Chechnya, to name only the most obvious), Iran and North Korea on the cusp of becoming nuclear powers, a looming possibility of a global flight from the dollar, the emergence of China as an economic powerhouse, and the polar ice caps melting, this is not exactly a good time to be blinding ourselves. The only groups who will profit from a crippling of what is left of the CIA's early warning and analytic capabilities will be the Bush-Cheney White House and Rumsfeld's Pentagon.
The present sorry chapter in the rise and fall of the CIA reflects trends in the
It is true that the CIA, once founded, quickly evolved into a Praetorian Guard, totally under the president's secret control, and that every president since Truman, upon discovering such an extraordinary source of power privately available, has found its use irresistible. Over the decades, however, the CIA's ability to intervene covertly and often violently in the affairs of others almost anywhere on Earth has become somewhat less interesting to presidents as Congress passed laws constraining presidential independence of action when it came to the Agency -- and as alternatives came into being in the form of the military's various Special Forces. The president now has an explicit and far more military Praetorian Guard at his disposal that lacks any form of democratic oversight, although he risks a future moment in which it might eventually take power into its own hands, as the original Praetorians of the
Many presidents have abused their secret powers. When these violations of law became public, as they did spectacularly during the Watergate scandal, they led to Congressional efforts to impose oversight on the agency. From 1947 to 1974, Congress was completely uninformed about and exercised no control at all over anything the CIA did. The agency's budget was buried in the "black" sections of the Pentagon's budget. With the amending of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974 (the "Hughes-Ryan Act") and the 1980 Intelligence Oversight Act, the president was required formally to authorize all operations in writing and report them to special committees of Congress or at least to their chairmen and ranking minority members.
None of these measures has worked well, but they reflected a growing public distrust of secret powers. Some members of Congress even collaborated with unscrupulous CIA officials to subvert controls over expenditures and covert operations. When Congressman Charlie Wilson (D-TX) became chairman of the House's Intelligence Oversight Committee, he wrote to his friends at the CIA, who were then secretly enlarging the supply of weapons to the mujahideen in
Nonetheless, the CIA still retains its statutory role of compiling and transmitting to the president objective intelligence on matters it deems relevant to the nation's security. The Agency may have become little more than a speed-bump for an imperial president who also dominates the Congress and the courts, but it is still part of the checks and balances of power within the executive branch of our government that make the
1. Douglas Jehl, "Chief of CIA Tells His Staff to Back Bush," New York Times,
2. Melvin A. Goodman, "Righting the CIA,"
3. See, among several references, the remarks of a CIA officer who actually heard Schlesinger: Ray McGovern, "Cheney's Cat's Paw: Porter Goss as CIA Director," Counterpunch,
4. David Brooks, "The C.I.A. Versus Bush," New York Times,
5. Daniel Ellsberg, Secrets (
8. Bob Woodward, Veil: The CIA's Secret Wars, 1981-87 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), p. 49.
9. Robert M. Gates, "The CIA and American Foreign Policy," Foreign Affairs vol. 66, Winter 1987-88, p. 227.
11. Loch K. Johnson, p. 62; see also Harold P. Ford, CIA and
12. 94th Congress, 2nd Session, Senate, Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities [the Church committee], Final Report (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1976), vol. 1, p. 78.
14. Steven Coll, Ghost Wars (
15. Ray McGovern, "Cheney's Cat's Paw," Counterpunch,
16. Richard A. Clark, Against All Enemies: Inside
17. Douglas Jehl, "Ex-CIA Chief Nets $500,000 on Talk Circuit," New York Times,
18. Spencer Ackerman, "Killing the Messenger," Salon,
19. George Crile, Charlie Wilson's War (
Chalmers Johnson's latest books Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (Metropolitan, 2000) and The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (Metropolitan, 2004) are the first two volumes in a trilogy on American imperial policies. The final volume is now being written. Between 1967 and 1973 Johnson served as a consultant to the CIA's Office of National Estimates.
Copyright C2004 Chalmers Johnson
[This article first appeared on Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing and author of The End of Victory Culture and The Last Days of Publishing.]