"American Intelligence Analysts Have a Patriotic Duty to
Speak Out and Transcend the Cult of Secrecy"
An Interview with Ray McGovern
by Barbara Jentzsch
September 22, 2003
Editor’s Note: Ray McGovern is a retired senior analyst, 27 years with the CIA. Once a briefer for Vice Pres. George Bush from 1981-85, McGovern founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals For Sanity (VIPS) in January 2003. The following interview was broadcast on German Public Radio. Thanks to Paul Nellen in Hamburg for providing this transcript, translated from German.
Barbara Jentzsch: What are the goals of VIPS ["Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity"]?
Ray McGovern: We established VIPS at the end of January of this year when it became clear that there would be probably a war against Iraq. That for the first time in its history the US would attack another nation. And they would do so, using as justification, intelligence that we thought to be very thin if not bogus.
Jentzsch: When you say we, who is we, who belongs to VIPS?
RMG: We are a group of mostly retired but also resigned members of the intelligence community. Most of us come from the analytic ranks of the CIA, but we have alumni from the Defense Intelligence Agency, the State Dept. Intelligence unit, the FBI and I say also intelligence from other organisations, we are a very wide intelligence community body.
Jentzsch: The function of VIPS, is it something like a watchdog?
RMG: You could call it that. We have all the experience built up over the years at a very senior level of intelligence and policy. As we saw what was happening we could see that there was none speaking out for truth and intelligence, so to speak. That this case for war was made on very flimsy grounds and those inside of course have a lot of trouble speaking out.
Jentzsch: Truth? The CIA has a certain history -and truth is as far as I know or remember not a trademark of the CIA...
RMG: That is really something that needs to be clarified: there are basically 2 parts of the CIA. One has to do with clandestine action and covert operations and one has to do with analysis. They are very separate and distinct. The one that has to do with analysis goes by the scripture that is engraved in the wall of the entrance to the CIA headquarters which says, "you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free". And so it was our job to lay out all the evidence, to analyze it and to speak out without fear or favor, conveying the conclusions that we drew from this evidence and telling the president what we thought the real situation was. In that way we provided a real service for the President of the United States and his senior advisers because they had one place where they could come where people had career protection for telling it just the way it is. For the most part we were able to do that in the old days. As we see that this is no longer possible it gets us very very angry and outraged really when bogus intelligence is used to start a war.
Jentzsch: When did the old days stop being the old days?
RMG: The old days stopped being the old days gradually during the reign of William Casey who came in with Ronald Reagan and was the director of the CIA then. He had policy axes to grind and he violated the central tenet of being the director of CIA by becoming a cabinet member. Cabinet member make policy and the director of the CIA has no business, no business at all making policy. You can't make policy and convey intelligence. You just can't do it. It is two very separate and distinct functions and if you start getting involved in making policy, your credibility in offering intelligence slips to zero.
Jentzsch: That is happening right now - CIA director Tenet is making policy or is bowing to pressure from the policy makers.
RMG: He seems to be. Tenet is a strange director of Central Intelligence. He has allowed himself to be put into untenable positions, for play on words. For example, in the Middle East there is a so-called Tenet Plan. Well, he has no business making a policy plan for the Middle East or anything else. There are certain requirements for a director of Central Intelligence and this one fulfills very few of them.
Jentzsch: So he should have resigned?
RMG: Well, yes it's difficult. In American government very seldom does anyone resign on principle. And that's a real drawback in our experience. But some do, but few. We have 3 foreign service officers to their great credit who resigned before the war because they just could not stomach what was happening and the deceit that was being applied to explaining this war. Big fish seldom resign. They get seduced into the feeling that they are a very important part of the "team" and their loyalty is to this little team and not to the people in the United States or the government as a whole. They are willing to deceive Congress as part of this team and George Tenet and Colin Powell are both susceptible to those pressures and have bowed to them.
Jentzsch: In your appeal to your former colleagues at the CIA you are quoting Gingrich having said that Tenet's job is safe, he can't be fired, because he knows too much and could blackmail this White House.
RMG: Yes, there are two things about that. You mentioned Gingrich, well, he said in a moment of loud thinking, "George Tenet is so thankful and so grateful and so loyal to the President that he'll do anything for him." Unfortunately, that seems to be the case and that's no position for a director of CIA to be in. The other reason that they won't get rid of Tenet is that he knows chapter and verse about what he told the President of the United States in July/August and early September of 2001 before 9-11. And I am sure he has a little computer disk with all that information on it, and were that to be released to the public, we would see that the President was just not up to the task of acting on the intelligence, the abundant intelligence - despite all the SNAFU, there was still plenty of intelligence according to which at the very least the airlines and airports should have been on heightened alert.
Jentzsch: How is the mood in the CIA today?
RMG: The folks who are working in the agency, in the analytic directorate, the directorate in which most of us from VIPS worked, are terribly demoralized. Think for example about the heroic efforts they made after 9-11
to track down each and every report having to do with ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Despite there assiduous efforts, they came up with zero. No conclusive evidence at all that bears the term evidence, that there were any ties at all - meaningful ties - between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Then think of them after a year and a half of this painstaking work, holding their integrity against the Pentagon which very much wanted to prove the existence of these ties, watching their director sitting right behind Colin Powell as the spun this yarn into the end of the speech, about all these associations, this sinister nexus between al-Qaeda and Iraq.
Now the other folks unfortunately are the folks that bubbled to the top of the managerial ranks during William Casey and his protégé who learned so well at his knee: a fellow named Bobby Gates. They were rewarded for being able to sniff which way the wind was blowing and to trim their sails accordingly, and so early on in the eighties you had some prostitution of intelligence. On Iran for example, on the Soviet Union for example. And the folks that bubbled to the top, many of them are still in place, and those are the folks that you can go to when they are doing a "National Intelligence Estimate" (NIE) on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
And say: "As you know, the Vice President has said that 'Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program', I certainly hope that the NIE will bear that out", and they say, "Yes, Sir", they'll salute crisply and they mold the evidence to fit the policy. This is the cardinal sin, cooking evidence to the recipe of high policy and it was done in this estimate and it is an unforgivable sin in terms of intelligence.
Jentzsch: To whom in the CIA is your appeal directed?
RMG: It is directed toward everyone. We are hoping that everyone has a conscience. Even those who are more career enhancing minded than the analysts. But yes, it is primarily to those who have seen what has happened, who have seen that for the first time in our country’s history an unprovoked war was waged by tricking Congress into authorizing the President to wage this war. And we can begin to appreciate the gravity of that situation and not only that but can realize that this can happen again, if these people are allowed to get away with it. And we need only to look at Iran or Syria or North Korea to be very very worried and not at all sure that our government will act in a responsible, honest way.
Jentzsch: Are you asking your colleagues, ex-colleagues to do something illegal or is this within their obligation to do?
RMG: Very good question! What we are asking is not necessary illegal. It is highly ethical, it is moral. What we are asking them to do is if they see clear signs of dishonesty, to speak out and to say, these judgments are not supported by the evidence. They are dishonest judgments, they are judgments that have been forced upon us by the White House, the Defense Department, the Vice President's office which is often the case, whoever it happens to be. Now, that is not to divulge classified information. It is to risk your career, but we hope that some analysts will put the country's best interest over considerations of career and just speak out.
There is a constitutional crisis here
Jentzsch: Which mistakes or failures are too grave to ignore...
RMG: Well, there is a constitutional crisis here. Under our system, the Congress, the legislative branch has exclusive right to declare war. That's the way our founding fathers wanted it and that's the way it should be. So for the President of the US to start a war, he has to get congressional authorization for that and in this case bogus evidence, evidence known to be erroneous and even forged was used to deceive the Congress last fall, into ...giving the President the power to make war - that is the most serious sin if you will done by the administration.
Jentzsch: How were they able to do that?
RMG: Well, 9-11 is the answer. 9-11 was an incredible trauma to the body politic of our nation. 9-11 allowed the President of the US to play on those fears that were stoked and encouraged by the White Houses PR machine into thinking for example that Iraq had something to do with 9-11.
The American populace and their elected representatives was deceived
Jentzsch: Most Americans thought that. Why?
RMG: Because the President said it in consecutive sentences. The American populace was deceived and their elected representatives were told that Saddam Hussein was about to get a nuclear weapon. And the first indication would be a mushroom cloud. And so the executive branch mounted a concerted campaign to deceive the legislative branch into ceding their authority to make war to the President, and that is the cardinal offense. The 16 words, that's small potatoes, in a sense however regrettable. It is a red herring because it takes the focus off the real problem. The real problem was last fall, before Congress voted to authorize this war.
Jentzsch: How about the visits?
RMG: Oh, the visits, that's where we Veteran Intelligence Professionals can make a real contribution. Here is Colin Powell bragging about his 4 days and nights at the CIA, right before his February 5 speech to the UN. One would think that he would be ashamed of that. That's not the way the government works. We don't want the Secretary of State to come out to the CIA and do the analysis himself. That analysis should have been done months before. The decision for war had clearly been taken.
Jentzsch: Did they do the analysis after that?
RMG: Well, apparently so, because he did spend four days and four nights out there. And not only he but Condoleeza Rice came out to join them too. The Vice President had been out there and Newt Gingrich of all people has come as well. And so the picture of the Secretary of State sitting down with the analysts, saying ok now, what are we going to tell the UN, what do we have here? 4 days before the speech is so incongruous, is so beyond the pale that it doesn't make any sense at all,- other than the fact that there was really no good evidence and they were scurrying around, cramming as if for an exam together, whatever might be put together to make as good a case as they possibly could. And that of course is what they did and if you look at Colin Powell’s speech and look at it now in retrospect you'll see that he was wrong on so many counts, demonstrable wrong, that it is really incredible.
Jentzsch: All the issues you talk about, are they being talked about in the congressional investigations that are being conducted now?
RMG: I am sorry to tell you that I expect nothing from the congressional investigations. Congress is controlled by the Presidents party and that means that on both houses, the House and the Senate, controlled that way,
Congress will not initiate or conduct a unbiased investigation. That's just the nature of the beast.
Jentzsch: You have been the personal briefer of Bush senior, 81-85, what do you think goes through his mind when he sees what his son is doing in matters of intelligence?
RMG: I often wonder. You see the folks who are running the policy towards Iraq and the war in the Middle East, these are a strange breed of folks. It is not as though they arrived just last week. They have been around for a couple of decades and ironically enough in the eighties they were widely referred to as "the crazies", the real crazies. When you referred to the crazies you knew who was meant: it was the Wolfowitzes, it was the Perles,it was folks that had gone way out on the limb, espousing policies that ducktailed very much with the Israeli leaders for whom they also worked. And so for the first President Bush to be looking at this son, hiring on wholesale the crazies, not only hiring them on but being susceptible to their suggestions and their policies, that must be a very hard pill to swallow.
Jentzsch: Your appeal to CIA employers does come late in the game - the war has run its course. What can be prevented now?
RMG: For one thing more war. Further wars, more adventures. If it becomes clear to the American people and to our elected representatives, that the people who started and conducted the war in Iraq did so on false pretenses without any real plan for postwar Iraq, then I think it will be much more difficult for them to get approval, to get the support they need to do a similar thing vis-à-vis Syria or Iran or God forbid North Korea. So that's one very important aspect right there. It is just very very important that the truth gets out and the focus now of course is the administration would like to say, well, we are in it now. We really have to support the troops and give them everything they need.
What really is necessary is a sober assessment of how we got in there, what we are trying to accomplish and how our policies should be from now on. And that should be done in a wider circle than this little clique in the Pentagon that we used to call "the crazies". It is not at all too late for intelligence analysts to come forward and say, yes, we saw this happening, this is how it happened. We are not going to divulge in classified information, but our conclusions were altered, were prostituted and that's why this war started and we need not to let that happen again, thank you very much.
Jentzsch: Do you have any hope that anybody will come forward?
RMG: Well, it's already happening. Folks are coming forward in London.
Jentzsch: How about Langley [CIA headquarters]?
RMG: I think that the American intelligence analysts, the good ones will recognize that they have a patriotic duty to speak out, that transcends the cult of secrecy and sensible loyalty and going throughout the channels that usually only delays things for years.
Barbara Jentzsch is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist working with German Public Radio. This article first appeared in Life-info.de in Germany (www.life-info.de/).
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