The CIA's DI Disgrace
July 13, 2004
To understand why the Central Intelligence Agencys Directorate of Intelligence or DI failed so miserably to analyze the evidence on Iraqs weapons of mass destruction, one has to look back almost a quarter century to when ideological conservatives decided to deconstruct the DIs tradition of objective analysis.
In the heady days after Ronald Reagans victory in 1980, conservatives took dead aim at the CIAs analytical division for not agreeing with the Rights preferred assessment that the Soviet Union was a rising superpower with both the capability and intent to overwhelm the United States militarily. The incoming Reagan administration wanted an alarmist assessment of the Soviet Union to justify a major arms buildup.
But the CIA analysts didnt buy into the Rights theory of Moscow as a 10-foot tall ogre directing world terrorism, planning a first-strike nuclear attack and provoking conflict in Central America and the Third World to isolate and ultimately defeat the United States. The CIAs view of the Soviet Union was of a difficult enemy, but one with weaknesses, vulnerabilities and limited ambitions a nuanced view that would not fit with the new eras Evil Empire rhetoric.
So the DI at least as it had existed since the CIAs founding in 1947 had to be taken apart. The task of softening up the DI fell to a Reagan-Bush transition team of conservatives and neoconservatives.
That the Reaganites saw their arrival as a hostile takeover was apparent in the most extraordinary transition period of my career, recalled CIA officer Robert Gates, himself an anti-Soviet hardliner who would become a key assistant to Reagans CIA Director William Casey.
For the first time in decades, an incoming President orchestrated a comprehensive battle plan to seize control of a city long believed to be in enemy hands, Gates wrote in his memoirs, From the Shadows. Main force political units, flanking maneuvers, feints, sappers, and psychological warfare all played their part as Reagan and company between November and January deployed their forces for a political blitzkrieg. During the transition, every department and agency became a political and ideological battlefield.
That was especially true of the CIAs analytical division. In a scalding assessment of the CIAs Soviet analysis, the transition team accused the DI of an abject failure to foresee a supposedly massive Soviet buildup of strategic weapons and the wholesale failure to comprehend the sophistication of Soviet propaganda.
The transition report even questioned the patriotism of the career analysts who supposedly had underestimated the Soviet commitment to world domination. "These failures are of such enormity," the transition report said, "that they cannot help but suggest to any objective observer that the agency itself is compromised to an unprecedented extent and that its paralysis is attributable to causes more sinister than incompetence." [For details, see Mark Perry's Eclipse.]
This head-on assault against the CIAs analytical division set the stage for its later retreats. The reaction inside the Agency to this litany of failure and incompetence from the transition team, Gates wrote, was a mix of resentment and anger, dread and personal insecurity.
Amid rumors that the transition team wanted to purge several hundred top analysts, career officials feared for their jobs, especially those considered responsible for assessing the Soviet Union as a struggling power often seeking to avoid confrontation and eager for détente with the United States.
Once Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush took office and Casey arrived at the CIA, the war over intelligence broke out in earnest. The first pitched battle came over an analysis of the Soviet Unions support for international terrorism.
It had become an article of faith among the Reagan-Bush newcomers that Moscow was supporting international terror groups as a way to destabilize the West in general and the United States in particular. Conservative author Claire Sterling was making this case in her book, The Terror Network and the foreign policy principals of the Reagan-Bush administration were fans of Sterlings hypothesis.
The day after Reagan's inauguration, Secretary of State Alexander Haig, believing that Moscow had tried to assassinate him in Europe where he served as Supreme Allied Commander, linked the Soviet Union to all acts of international terrorism, wrote Melvin Goodman, then-chief of the CIAs office for Soviet analysis. There was no evidence to support such a charge but Casey had read Claire Sterling's The Terror Network and, like Haig, was convinced that a Soviet conspiracy was behind global terrorism. [Foreign Policy, Summer 1997]
CIA analysts had a secret reason for doubting Sterlings theories, however. Specialists at CIA dismissed the book, knowing that much of it was based on CIA black propaganda, anticommunist allegations planted in the European press, Goodman wrote. But Casey contemptuously told CIA analysts that he had learned more from Sterling than from all of them.
Carolyn McGiffert Ekedahl of the CIAs Soviet office was the unfortunate analyst who was handed the assignment to prepare the analysis on Soviet support for terrorism.
Because of the importance of the request and the volatility of the issue, exceedingly high priority was given to collecting and evaluating all available information dealing with Soviet involvement, direct and indirect, to any group dealing in terrorist activities, Ekedahl testified later before the Senate Intelligence Committee. We discarded no piece of evidence and, when I wrote the draft, I included an annex with all the evidence, good and bad, carefully described and explained. [See Nomination of Robert M. Gates, Select Committee on Intelligence of the United States Senate, Volume III.]
Contrary to Sterlings allegations, Ekedahl said the consensus of the intelligence community was that the Soviets discouraged acts of terrorism by groups getting support from Moscow for practical, not moral, reasons. We agreed that the Soviets consistently stated, publicly and privately, that they considered international terrorist activities counterproductive and advised groups they supported not to use such tactics, Ekedahl said. We had hard evidence to support this conclusion.
Still, the CIA analysis noted that the Soviets did provide assistance to revolutionary or resistance groups, such as the Yasir Arafats Palestine Liberation Organization and Nelson Mandelas African National Congress. The PLO was challenging Israels occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, while the ANC was resisting the white supremacist government of South Africa. Both the PLO and the ANC were accused of employing terrorist tactics in their struggles, though their organizations also represented the aspirations of broader popular movements.
We reported that we had found no persuasive evidence of Soviet support for those European terrorist groups (the IRA, the Red Brigades and the Red Army Faction) about which Secretary Haig had specifically asked, Ekedahl said about the analytical divisions draft of its intelligence estimate.
Ekedahl said Gates, then an assistant to Casey, was dissatisfied with the analysis and joined in rewriting the draft to suggest greater Soviet support for terrorism. In his memoirs, Gates denied politicizing the CIAs intelligence product while acknowledging that he was aware of Caseys hostile reaction to the analysts disagreement with Sterlings theory.
The first draft by the analysts proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Haig had exaggerated the Soviet role that the Soviets did not organize or direct international terrorism, Gates wrote in From the Shadows. But Casey was mad, telling the division chiefs that he was greatly disappointed with the report and vowing not to pass the analysis on to senior officials, Gates wrote.
Casey believed the CIA analysts were too wedded to solid evidence while the director felt the practical judgments on which policy is based in the real world do not require that standard of proof, which is frequently just not available, Gates wrote. Casey denigrated the Soviet analysts as deficient in intellectual and semantic rigor and too reliant on Soviet statements. Casey then assigned the terrorism project to a new group of analysts at the Defense Intelligence Agency.
All the DIA analysts who had been involved originally had been replaced by people new to the subject who insisted on language emphasizing Soviet control of international terrorist activities, Ekedahl said. The second draft, completed on April 8, asserted that the Soviet Union was directly supporting and controlling most international terrorist activity. Casey liked the draft.
A donnybrook ensued inside the U.S. intelligence community. Some senior officials responsible for analysis fought back against Caseys dictates, warning that the revised draft would undermine the integrity of the process that had been used for decades to analyze intelligence. Casey agreed to permit some modifications of his favored analysis, but senior CIA officials accepted the bureaucratic reality that the revision was being done under constraints, Ekedahl said.
I was the only one of the original group of analysts who attended the coordination meetings on the third draft, Ekedahl said. I was told that I could not speak unless I were asked a direct question, a restriction that Ekedahl said she violated a few times when she observed serious misuse of operational material.
To finesse the divergent analytical positions on Soviet responsibility for worldwide terrorism, the revised draft widened the scope of the analysis. The new approach merged concerns about Soviet support for revolutionary movements with questions about terrorism. By conflating the two issues, the report found the Soviets guilty of aiding terrorism by backing revolutionary groups.
Ekedahl said she viewed this approach as misleading and joined with her division chief, Melvin Goodman, in writing a memo to Casey that protested the convoluted nature of the estimate and its implicit support for conclusions that could not be supported by the evidence. But the protest had no effect, except perhaps to harden Caseys determination to bring the CIAs analytical division under control.
Casey, the wily old spymaster, realized he needed to find a way to outflank the old guard of traditional analysts and crush their resistance. With its emphasis on coordination, institutional independence and analytical objectivity, the process was not sufficiently responsive to Caseys interests, Ekedahl said.
Working with Gates, Casey undertook a series of institutional changes that gave him fuller control of the analytical process. He required that drafts needed clearance from his office before they could go out to other intelligence agencies. Casey also appointed Gates to be director of the DI and consolidated Gatess control over analysis by also making him chairman of the National Intelligence Council, another key analytical body.
Casey and Gates used various management tactics to get the line of intelligence they desired and to suppress unwanted intelligence, Ekedahl said. The latter is relatively simple because a given report or estimate can be dismissed on a variety of grounds (insufficient evidence, irrelevance, poor analysis, etc.) not clearly traceable to politicization.
The tradition of expressing opposition in footnotes also suffered. During the period of Gatess tenure, the DI [the analytical division] was effectively prevented from dissenting when its analysts disagreed with estimates of interest to Casey/Gates, Ekedahl said.
With Gates using top-down management techniques, CIA analysts sensitive to their career paths intuitively grasped that they could rarely go wrong by backing the company line and presenting the worst-case scenario about Soviet capabilities and intentions, Ekedahl and other CIA analysts said.
Replacing experts with people willing to cooperate became a central element in the Casey-Gates approach to intelligence management, Ekedahl said. Whereas the pre-Gates ethic emphasized analytic independence and objectivity, the new culture is that of the hired pen, loyal to the current leadership and its views. Whereas intelligence production should be based on informed and objective analysis of the available evidence, in the Gatess culture it is based on the anticipated reaction of senior managers and officials.
[Ekedahl left the Office of Soviet Analysis in September 1985 because of issues involving politicization, she said.]
Mel Goodman, the chief of the Soviet analysis office in the early 1980s, said the clash over Soviet support for terrorism began a period of career retribution against out-of-step analysts.
Junior analysts became responsible for analysis on Soviet domestic and foreign policy as senior analysts sought other positions inside the intelligence community and elsewhere, Goodman told the Senate Intelligence Committee a decade later.
Over a period of a few years in the early 1980s, the CIAs proud Soviet analytical office underwent a purge of its most senior people. Nearly every senior analyst on Soviet foreign policy eventually left the Office of Soviet Analysis, Goodman said. The picture for Soviet domestic policy is similar, with the departure of most senior analysts and the introduction of managers with virtually no experience in Soviet domestic politics.
Another management strategy used to assert control was a restructuring of the analytical division, which had traditionally functioned along disciplinary lines economics, politics, military and technical analysis rather than within geographical areas. That changed in September 1981 when the old subject-area offices were abolished and were replaced with new ones structured along geographic lines, a change that allowed wholesale removal of senior management personnel.
The ripping off of the mask of the plan was when all the Directorate of Intelligence office chiefs were invited to go to an off-site conference over the weekend, recalled Peter Dickson, an analyst who concentrated on proliferation issues. When they came back the offices didnt exist anymore. The offices were abolished out from under them.
Dickson told me that the significance of the structural change became apparent at the start of 1982 when Casey promoted the boyish-looking Gates to run the analytical division. The structure was changed to give Bobby Gates a blank slate to create his own DI, and that was, in effect, what happened; he was able to pick a whole new set of cadre, chiefs, and they were beholden to him, Dickson said in an interview. You had an awesome regime change in the Directorate of Intelligence with that act.
Gatess rise under Casey was considered meteoric. Though entering the CIA as an analyst, Gates spent a relatively short time at the Langley-based spy agency. He followed an unusual career path that involved two stints on the National Security Council staff where he operated within a more political environment than most CIA professionals experienced. Because of his White House tours, Gates would say that he understood the shortcomings of the CIA product because he had viewed the process through the eyes of the consumers of intelligence, not just the producers.
Gates soon was salting the analytical division with his allies, a group of managers who became known as the "Gates clones." Some of those who rose with Gates were David Cohen, David Carey, George Kolt, Jim Lynch, Winston Wiley, John Gannon and John McLaughlin (the CIA's current acting director).
Along with the new structure and new management team, Gates made clear he intended to shake up the DIs culture, demanding greater responsiveness to the needs of the White House and other policymakers. In a speech to the DIs analysts and managers on Jan. 7, 1982, Gates berated the division for producing shoddy analysis that administration officials didnt find helpful.
Gates said the weaknesses included analysis that was irrelevant or untimely or unfocused or all three; close-minded, smug, arrogant responses to legitimate questions and constructive criticisms; flabby, complacent thinking and questionable assumptions combined with an intolerance of others views, both in and out of the CIA; poor, verbose writing; a pronounced tendency to confuse objectivity and independence with avoidance of issues germane to the U.S. government and policymakers.
Gates also endorsed some of the criticisms of the CIA that conservatives had raised. We significantly misjudged the percentage of Soviet GNP allocated to defense, Gates said. We ignored Soviet interest in terrorism.
Gates unveiled an 11-point management plan to whip the DI into shape. His plan included rotating division chiefs through one-year stints in policy agencies and requiring CIA analysts to refresh their substantive knowledge and broaden their perspective by taking courses at Washington-area think tanks and universities. He declared that a new Production Evaluation Staff would aggressively review their analytical products and serve as his junkyard dog.
Gatess message was that the DI, which had long operated as an ivory tower for academically oriented analysts committed to an ethos of objectivity, would take on more of a corporate culture with a product designed to fit the needs of those up the ladder both inside and outside the CIA.
It was a kind of chilling speech, recalled Dickson. I remember people coming back from it who were more senior than I who went down to listen to it. One of the things he wanted to do, he was going to shake up the DI. He was going to read every paper that came out. What that did was that everybody between the analyst and him had to get involved in the paper to a greater extent because their careers were going to be at stake. He was saying he didnt trust anyone. Hes the top guy and hes going to review all the papers. And he made an effort to do that. It had a chilling effect.
A chief Casey-Gates tactic for exerting tighter control over the analytical process was to express concern about the editorial process, Dickson said.
You can jerk people around in the editorial process and hide behind your editorial mandate to intimidate people, Dickson said. Gates created an increasingly layered process which wore down people. The effect of that was a gradual process of intimidation. It got very nasty, very Darwinian. There was a weeding out process of people who could stand up and defend positions. There was a grinding down of the independent mind of the analysts.
In describing this corporate-style takeover of the CIAs analytical division, Dickson compared Casey to the corporate raider, Gordon Gecko, in the movie Wall Street, with Gates serving as his protégé, Bud Fox. People who dont know this history dont understand what happened to people who work inside the business and why the culture changed, Dickson said.
Though Dicksons area of expertise nuclear proliferation was on the fringes of the Reagan-Bush primary concerns, it ended up getting him into trouble, anyway. In 1983, he clashed with his superiors over his conclusion that the Soviet Union was more committed to controlling proliferation of nuclear weapons than the administration wanted to hear.
Dicksons CIA superiors didnt want to give the Soviets any credit for demonstrating caution on the nuclear technology front. When Dickson stood by his evidence, he soon found himself facing accusations about his psychological fitness and other pressures that eventually caused him to leave the CIA.
Dickson also was among the analysts who raised alarms about Pakistans development of nuclear weapons, another sore point because the Reagan-Bush administration wanted Pakistans assistance in funneling weapons to Islamic fundamentalists fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. One of the effects from the exaggerated intelligence about Soviet power and intentions was to make other potential risks such as allowing development of a nuclear bomb in the Islamic world or training Islamic fundamentalists in techniques of sabotage pale in comparison.
While worst-case scenarios were in order for the Soviet Union and other communist enemies, best-case scenarios were the order of the day for Reagan-Bush allies, which at that time included Osama bin Laden and other Arab extremists rushing to Afghanistan to wage a holy war against European invaders, in this case, the Russians.
As for the Pakistani drive to get a nuclear bomb, the Reagan-Bush administration turned to word games to avoid triggering anti-proliferation penalties that otherwise would be imposed on Pakistan.
There was a distinction made to say that the possession of the device is not the same as developing it, Dickson said in an interview. They got into the argument that they dont quite possess it yet because they havent turned the last screw into the warhead. As long as they havent done that, they dont possess it yet. So the aid could continue. No matter how you look at that there was a subordination of intelligence to a policy to aid the Afghan rebels no matter what.
Finally, the intelligence on the Pakistan Bomb grew too strong to continue denying the reality. But the delay in confronting Pakistan ultimately allowed the Muslim government in Islamabad to succeed in developing nuclear weapons. Pakistani scientists also shared their know-how with other rogue states, such as North Korea and Libya.
Cooking the Books
As the Reagan-Bush administration settled in, the CIAs analytical division came under ever-increasing pressure to comply with Ronald Reagans Evil Empire rhetoric.
In one case, the Reagan administration pressed the CIA to accept right-wing allegations that the Soviet KGB was behind the May 13, 1981, assassination attempt against Pope John-Paul II. The attack had been carried out by a Turkish neo-Nazi named Mehmet Ali Agca, but Sterling and other conservative writers built the case against the KGB, in part, because Agca had traveled through Bulgaria and because the Soviet motive was supposedly the Popes symbolic value to the Polish Solidarity movement.
Standing up against the KGB-Pope-assassination conspiracy theory brought the CIA analysts in for another round of pummeling from the Right for supposedly going soft again on the Soviet Union. Even hardliner Gates marveled at the intensity of the criticism. Some accused us of trying to cover up the Soviet role, though why we and especially Casey would do such a thing I never grasped, Gates wrote in his memoirs.
When conservatives continued to complain about the CIA's supposed failure to pin the 1981 papal assassination plot on Moscow, Casey and his team decided to cook the intelligence books with a special review of the issue in 1985, Goodman said..
Earlier CIA assessments and Gates's testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 1983 had concluded that Moscow had no role in the papal plot, and senior officials of the directorate of operations informed both Casey and Gates that Moscow had stopped political assassination and that strong evidence indicated neither the Soviets nor the Bulgarians were involved, Goodman wrote in Foreign Policy magazine [Summer 1997].
But Casey was determined to undermine Secretary of State George Shultzs diplomatic overtures to Moscow and thus commissioned a special paper alleging a connection to the shooting of the Pope, Goodman wrote. Gates made sure that CIA analysts worked in camera to prevent proper vetting and coordination of the assessment, Goodman recalled. Indeed, Agca's Attempt to Kill the Pope: The Case for Soviet Involvement read like a novelist's fantasy of communist conspiracy, but Gates's covering note to the president and the vice- president described the report as a comprehensive examination that we feel able to present . . . with some confidence.
With the 1985 report on the papal assassination plot, Goodman wrote that the CIAs politicization of intelligence on the Soviet Union hit rock bottom.
Though Gates has consistently denied politicizing the CIA, he acknowledged that Casey did put pressure on analysts, especially when they were working on a subject matter dear to his heart, such as the Soviet threat.
Casey complained bitterly and often graphically when the analysis he got seemed fuzzy-minded, lacked concreteness, missed the point, or in his view was naïve about the real world, when it lacked ground truth, Gates wrote. At the same time, while he had strong views, he was willing to change his mind (or to learn) when presented with good evidence or a cogent argument. However, an analyst had to be tough and have the courage of his or her convictions to challenge Casey on something he cared about and knew about. He argued, he fought, he yelled, he grumped with the analysts in person and on paper. He pulled no punches. Some thrived on it. Many were put off by his abrasiveness, his occasional bullying manner.
In the trenches at the CIA, however, Caseys bluster often was amplified by the new senior managers who had risen to power under Casey and Gates, according to several CIA analysts whom I interviewed. Some analysts were verbally berated until they agreed to change their findings; some faced job threats; others experienced confrontations with supervisors who literally threw papers around the office and sometimes into the analysts' faces. The scars left on the CIAs tradition of objective analysis ran deep and affected later intelligence failures, the analysts said.
The politicization that took place during the Casey-Gates era is directly responsible for the CIAs loss of its ethical compass and the erosion of its credibility, said Mel Goodman in his Senate testimony in 1991. The fact that the CIA missed the most important historical development in its history the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the Soviet Union itself is due in large measure to the culture and process that Gates established in his directorate.
In Goodmans view, the failure to notice the decline and the disintegration of the Soviet Union can be traced directly to the Gates-Casey intervention in the analytical process. They systematically created an agency view of the Soviet Union that overemphasized the Soviet threat, ignored Soviet vulnerabilities and weaknesses, said Goodman, who served as a senior CIA analyst on Soviet policy from 1966 to 1986.
The evidence of the accelerating pace of Moscows economic decline was emerging by the mid-1970s and was cited in the work of economists, such as Sweden's Anders Aslund. Academic analysts and businessmen who visited the Soviet Union also observed its backwardness, especially in crucial areas of technological development and production of consumer goods, but the CIA was mostly blind to these historic developments.
CIA estimates on the Soviet Union were dead wrong on the size and performance of the economy and the military burden, Goodman wrote. CIA analysis described an economy that could expand and at the same time allow greater military expansion, which had a direct impact on the justification for U.S. defense spending.
In other words, the CIA didn't miss the collapse of the Soviet Union as much as its analytical division had been trained -- like Pavlovian dogs -- to avoid noticing signs of Soviet decline. By the late 1980s, with fewer and fewer exceptions, CIA analysts had learned to respond to a harsh rewards-and-punishment system that benefited analysts who would present the scariest picture of Soviet power.
Clintons Missed Chance
The question of politicization at the CIA cropped up briefly as a national issue in 1991 when President George H.W. Bush appointed Robert Gates to be CIA director. In a break with tradition, CIA analysts stepped out of the shadows and testified openly before the Senate Intelligence Committee against Bushs choice.
Led by Soviet specialist Goodman, the CIA dissidents fingered Gates as a key politicization culprit. Their testimony added to doubts about Gates, who was already under a cloud for dubious testimony he had given on the Iran-Contra scandal and allegations that he had played a role in a covert scheme to assist Saddam Husseins Iraq.
But the elder George Bush lined up solid Republican backing for Gates and enough accommodating Democrats particularly Sen. David Boren of Oklahoma, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman to push Gates through.
(Borens key staff aide who helped limit the investigation of Gates was George Tenet, whose behind-the-scenes maneuvering on Gatess behalf won the personal appreciation of the senior George Bush. Those political chits would serve Tenet well a decade later when the younger George Bush protected Tenet as his own CIA director, even after the intelligence failure of September 11, 2001, and revelations about faulty intelligence on Iraqs weapons of mass destruction. Tenet would finally resign in July 2004 amid a growing scandal over the WMD evidence.)
Amid the triumphalism of the post-Cold War period in the early 1990s, however, U.S. policymakers werent inclined to demand major reforms of the CIA, despite its failure to give policymakers much warning about the collapse of the Soviet Union.
There was a brief window for reform with Bill Clintons election in 1992. Former CIA analyst Peter Dickson was among the CIA veterans to put the politicization issue before Clintons incoming national security team. Dickson sent a two-page memo, dated Dec. 10, 1992, to Samuel Sandy Berger, a top Clinton national security aide.
Dickson urged Clinton to appoint a new CIA director who understood the deeper internal problems relating to the politicization of intelligence and the festering morale problem within the CIA.
In calling for a housecleaning, Dickson wrote, This problem of intellectual corruption will not disappear overnight, even with vigorous remedial action. However, the new CIA director will be wise if he realizes from the start the dangers in relying on advice of senior CIA office managers who during the past 12 years advanced and prospered in their careers precisely because they had no qualms about suppressing intelligence or slanting analysis to suit the interest of Casey and Gates. This is a deep systemic problem.
But the appeals from Dickson and other CIA veterans were largely ignored by Clinton and his top aides, who were more interested in turning around the U.S. economy and enacting some modest social programs. The Clinton didnt want to refight the battles of the 1980s, a senior Democrat told me. Although Gates was removed as CIA director, Clinton appointed James Woolsey, a neoconservative Democrat who had worked closely with the Reagan-Bush administrations.
One well-placed Democratic source said the incoming Clinton team defended the choice of Woolsey as a reward to some neoconservative Democrats at the New Republic and elsewhere who had split from George H.W. Bush and lent their support to Clinton. Under Woolsey and Clintons subsequent CIA directors, the Gates team sans Gates remained in top management positions and consolidated its bureaucratic power. The old ideal of intelligence analysis free from political taint was never restored.
Clintons last CIA director, George Tenet, earned more gratitude from the Bush family when he presided over a ceremony in 1999 to rename the CIAs headquarters the George Bush Center for Intelligence.
This is a great day at the Central Intelligence Agency and a great day for our CIA Family, Tenet gushed. We are deeply proud that you are part of our CIA Family. As you know, the sense of family here is very strong. (Some old-time CIA analysts were troubled by the decision to put such a partisan name on the CIA, which had been created by President Harry Truman to provide impartial intelligence without political taint.)
Kept on by George W. Bush in 2001, Tenet continued to prove himself a loyal bureaucrat to the second Bush administration. In February 2003, when Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the United Nations Security Council about Iraqs alleged WMD program, Tenet was prominently seated behind Powell, giving the CIAs imprimatur to Powells assertions that turned out to be a mixture of unproved assertions, exaggerations and lies.
If one goes back to that very long presentation [by Powell], point by point, one finds that this was not a very honest explanation, said Greg Thielmann, a former senior official in the State Departments Bureau of Intelligence and Research, in an interview with PBS Frontline. I have to conclude Secretary Powell was being a loyal secretary of state, a good soldier as it were, building the administrations case before the international community.
Though Tenets primary responsibility should have been to the integrity of the intelligence product, he was backing up Powell in helping the administration build its case before the U.N.
In one telling example of how malleable the CIA's analysis had become, a Defense Intelligence Agency employee, assigned to CIA headquarters, discovered that his superiors spurned his objection to Powell's citation of "first-hand" evidence from an Iraqi defector about Iraq's possession of mobile bioweapons labs.
After reviewing a draft of Powell's testimony a few days before the secretary's U.N. speech, the DIA employee questioned the "validity of the information" and doubted that it should be used "as the backbone of one of our major findings for the existence of a continuing BW [bioweapons] program!"
Inside the U.S. intelligence community, there had been concern about the reliability of the defector, an Iraqi engineer code-named "Curve Ball," who was initially debriefed by the German Federal Intelligence Service in 2000. When questioned by the DIA official in May 2000, the defector arrived suffering from a hangover. Subsequently, the Germans told the DIA official that they had misgivings about the defector and couldn't make him available for additional questioning.
When the DIA official restated his doubts about including the defector's information in Powell's U.N. speech, the deputy chief of the CIA's Iraq task force e-mailed back: "Let's keep in mind the fact that this war's going to happen regardless of what Curve Ball said or didn't say, and that the Powers That Be probably aren't terribly interested in whether Curve Ball knows what he's talking about. However, in the interest of Truth, we owe somebody a sentence or two of warning, if you honestly have reservations." The e-mail exchange was included in the Senate Intelligence Committee's July 9, 2004, report on the Iraqi intelligence failures. [Washington Post, July 13, 2004]
Only after March 2003 invasion and the failure to find stockpiles of trigger-ready WMD did the Washington debate turn to who was at fault for the shoddy intelligence that had led the nation to war.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 25, 2003, Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid offered a clue when he compared the accuracy of tactical intelligence in the Iraq war versus the faulty strategic intelligence. Intelligence was the most accurate that I have ever seen on the tactical level, probably the best Ive ever seen on the operational level, and perplexingly incomplete on the strategic level with regard to weapons of mass destruction, said Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command which was responsible for Iraq.
In other words, the intelligence handled by lower-level military intelligence personnel was excellent. It was the intelligence that went through the CIAs analytical division and senior levels of the Bush administration that failed.
The WMD issue, therefore, came down to two questions: Was the CIAs intelligence analysis that bad or did the White House cherry-pick the intelligence that it wanted? The answer appears to have been that both points were true. A thoroughly politicized CIA slanted the intelligence in the direction that it knew Bush wanted and the White House then trimmed off caveats the CIA may have included.
The CIAs internal complaint that it was just the victim of administration ideologues was undercut by its own analytical products, including a post-invasion report claiming that two captured Iraqi trailers were labs to produce chemical or biological weapons. That claim has since collapsed as evidence emerged showing that the labs were for making hydrogen for artillery weather balloons.
While Tenet and other CIA officials also have noted that they objected to some bogus administration claims, such as the assertion that Iraq was seeking yellowcake uranium from Niger, those protests were mostly half-hearted and made behind closed doors. Bush was only forced to back off the yellowcake claim, which he had cited in his State of the Union address in January 2003, after the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that the supporting documentation was "not authentic."
In its July 9, 2004, report, the Senate Intelligence Committee broadly condemned the CIAs analysis of the military threat posed by Iraq, blaming analytical group think that led the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies into a pattern of errors on Iraqs WMD program and other issues.
A series of failures, particularly in analytic trade craft, led to the mischaracterization of intelligence, the committee said in a 511-page report. Most of the major key judgments [in a pivotal October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate were] either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting. [NYT, July 10, 2004]
While the results of the CIA's "group think" are now apparent in the nearly 900 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and in the deepening anti-U.S. sentiment around the world the start of this path that led to the CIA's humiliation can be found in those early days of the Reagan-Bush administration when ideology became more important than fact.
This article is adapted from Robert Parrys upcoming book, Secrets and Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty. As a correspondent for the Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s, Parry broke many of the stories now known as the Iran-Contra scandal.
Back to Front