Editor's Note: The following is an open letter sent by former CIA
analyst Ray McGovern to Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, who is now the
ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee and is slated to become
the committee chairman when the Democrats take control in January 2007.
Dear Senator Levin:
The humiliation you felt was palpable when, as the ranking Democrat
on the Armed Services Committee, you were unceremoniously diddled by
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputies Paul Wolfowitz and
Douglas Feith, chief architects of the fiasco in Iraq. They all but
thumbed their noses at you, and you often complained about their "lack
In two short months, you will chair Armed Services and will no longer
have to tolerate such behavior. Indeed, you can start practicing now by
not letting the nomination of Robert Gates be a "slam dunk."
One need not be politically astute to see that the White House is
again using its cat's paw Senator, patrician gentleman from Virginia
John Warner, who now chairs the committee, to force through the
nomination of Gates this year, while the lame-duck Republicans still
hold the majority. That, of course, is par for the course. What is far
more disturbing is press reporting that you intend to acquiesce in that
maneuver. You don't have to do that any more.
I am having a hard time believing that you would give Gates a pass,
since I have so much admired your courage in the past. But I fear that
the many recent years in minority exile may have dulled your edge and
that you have gotten too used to unsavory compromises.
I have in mind the deal you worked out with South Carolina Republican
senator Lindsay Graham curtailing some of the rights of "detainees." Not
to mention your sudden cave-in, in the aftermath of 9/11, on funding for
the National Missile Defense program, which you earlier recognized as
obscenely expensive, of unproven reliability, and of dubious utility
given the changing nature of the threats to our security.
A lot is riding on whether you step up to the plate on the Gates
nomination. Your decision will be one of the earliest tangible signs of
whether the November 7 election has injected some spine into Democrats -
whether they still have it in them to act like winners.
You have had a running dispute with the Bush administration over the
way its representatives have misrepresented so much on Iraq in testimony
before your committee. If you bow to Republican pressure to allow the
Gates nomination to sail through without a thorough investigation of his
record, you will be giving a fresh nihil obstat to the practice
of no-fault dissembling before Congress.
In 1991, you joined 30 other senators in voting against Gates's
confirmation as CIA director because Gates was a good deal less than
candid about his role in Iran-Contra and unconvincing in his denials
that he had politicized intelligence. A few days ago you said that you
wanted to give Gates a "fair and fresh look; a lot of time has passed."
Fair enough. If you want to know what has happened in the interim,
you can start with the fresh, documentary evidence adduced in
award-winning investigative reporter Robert Parry's recent article, "The
Secret World of Robert Gates". Parry's article contains unique and
highly damaging information on Gates's role in the original "October
Surprise" - the unconscionable but successful Republican effort to
prevent the release of the 52 American hostages imprisoned for 14 months
in the U.S. embassy in Tehran until Ronald Reagan had won the election
in 1980. Parry also provides fresh detail on Gates's involvement in the
illegal sale of weapons, including cluster bombs, to Iraq in the early
Another excellent source on Gates's involvement in the secret arming
of Saddam Hussein (yes, the same Saddam) and the Iran-Contra scandal is
Amy Goodman's interview of Parry and former CIA analyst Mel Goodman
on Democracy Now, November 9th.
As you suspected when you voted against his nomination in 1991, Gates
knew about many of Oliver North's illegal activities but, under oath, he
just couldn't remember. Gates has been able to escape close scrutiny of
his own involvement in extralegal and illegal activities largely because
there are far too few journalists with the enterprise, talent, and
courage of Robert Parry.
All the above-mentioned escapades are enough to derail Gates's
nomination, but the corruption of intelligence should be given priority
attention, given the huge role this played in 2002 in deceiving Congress
into voting for an unnecessary war. The record shows that Gates is the
archetypal intelligence fixer, employing all the tricks of that
dishonorable trade - including memory loss, when caught. Indeed, it was
the malleable managers who prospered at CIA during Gates's tenure there
who caved in to White House pressure to "lean forward" on the issue of
weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Those commenting on the Gates nomination so far seem largely unaware
of this history. The exception is Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ), who
worked in the State Department's intelligence bureau and now sits on the
House Intelligence Committee. Pointing out Gates's reputation for
putting pressure on analysts to shape their conclusions to fit
administration policies, Holt called the nomination "deeply troubling"
and stressed that the confirmation hearings "should be thorough and
probing." Good advice.
The question, Senator Levin, boils down to whether you will stand up
and say, "Never Again." Even before you formally become chair of the
committee, you have the power to require a serious vetting of Gates's
past behavior and to make "Never Again" stick.
I am reminded that, at a hearing on his first (abortive) nomination
to be CIA director in 1987, Gates kept denying that he had tailored
intelligence to please his superiors; at one point he added, curiously,
"Sycophants can only rise to a certain level." Whether that was an
unintentionally prophetic observation now depends largely on you and
your newly empowered, but apparently not yet emboldened, fellow
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity