Gates, George W. Bush’s choice to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Defense
Secretary, is a trusted figure within the Bush Family’s inner circle,
but there are lingering questions about whether Gates is a trustworthy
The 63-year-old Gates has long faced
accusations of collaborating with Islamic extremists in Iran, arming
Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in Iraq, and politicizing U.S.
intelligence to conform with the desires of policymakers – three key
areas that relate to his future job.
Gates skated past some of these
controversies during his 1991 confirmation hearings to be CIA director –
and the current Bush administration is seeking to slip Gates through the
congressional approval process again, this time by pressing for a quick
confirmation by the end of the year, before the new
Democratic-controlled Senate is seated.
If Bush’s timetable is met, there will be
no time for a serious investigation into Gates’s past.
Fifteen years ago, Gates got a similar
pass when leading Democrats agreed to put “bipartisanship” ahead of
careful oversight when Gates was nominated for the CIA job by President
George H.W. Bush.
In 1991, despite doubts about Gates’s
honesty over Iran-Contra and other scandals, the career intelligence
officer brushed aside accusations that he played secret roles in arming
both sides of the Iran-Iraq War. Since then, however, documents have
surfaced that raise new questions about Gates’s sweeping denials.
For instance, the Russian government sent
an intelligence report to a House investigative task force in early 1993
stating that Gates participated in secret contacts with Iranian
officials in 1980 to delay release of 52 U.S. hostages then held in
Iran, a move to benefit the presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan and
George H.W. Bush.
“R[obert] Gates, at that time
a staffer of the National Security Council in the administration of
Jimmy Carter, and former CIA Director George Bush also took part” in a
meeting in Paris in October 1980, according to the Russian report, which
meshed with information from witnesses who have alleged Gates’s
involvement in the Iranian gambit.
Once in office, the Reagan administration
did permit weapons to flow to Iran via Israel. One of the planes
carrying an arms shipment was shot down over the Soviet Union on July
18, 1981, after straying off course, but the incident drew little
attention at the time.
The arms flow continued, on and off,
until 1986 when the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal broke. [For
details, see Robert Parry’s
Secrecy & Privilege. For text of the Russian report, click
here. To view the actual U.S. embassy cable that includes the
Russian report, click
Gates also was implicated in a secret
operation to funnel military assistance to Iraq in the 1980s, as the
Reagan administration played off the two countries battling each other
in the eight-year-long Iran-Iraq War.
Middle Eastern witnesses alleged that
Gates worked on the secret Iraqi initiative, which included Saddam
Hussein’s procurement of cluster bombs and chemicals used to produce
chemical weapons for the war against Iran.
Gates denied those Iran-Iraq accusations
in 1991 and the Senate Intelligence Committee – then headed by Gates’s
personal friend, Sen. David Boren, D-Oklahoma – failed to fully check
out the claims before recommending Gates for confirmation.
However, four years
later – in early January 1995 – Howard Teicher, one of Reagan’s National
Security Council officials, added more details about Gates’s alleged
role in the Iraq shipments.
a sworn affidavit
submitted in a Florida criminal case, Teicher stated that the covert
arming of Iraq dated back to spring 1982 when Iran had gained the upper
hand in the war, leading President Reagan to authorize a U.S. tilt
toward Saddam Hussein.
The effort to arm
the Iraqis was “spearheaded” by CIA Director William Casey and involved
his deputy, Robert Gates, according to Teicher’s affidavit. “The CIA,
including both CIA Director Casey and Deputy Director Gates, knew of,
approved of, and assisted in the sale of non-U.S. origin military
weapons, ammunition and vehicles to Iraq,” Teicher wrote.
same pro-Iraq initiative involved Donald Rumsfeld, then Reagan’s special
emissary to the Middle East. An infamous photograph from 1983 shows a smiling Rumsfeld shaking
hands with Saddam Hussein.
Gates’s role as far more substantive than Rumsfeld’s. “Under CIA
Director [William] Casey and Deputy Director Gates, the CIA authorized,
approved and assisted [Chilean arms dealer Carlos] Cardoen in the
manufacture and sale of cluster bombs and other munitions to Iraq,”
Like the Russian
report, the Teicher affidavit has never been never seriously examined.
After Teicher submitted it to a federal court in Miami, the affidavit
was classified and then attacked by Clinton administration prosecutors.
They saw Teicher’s account as disruptive to their prosecution of a
private company, Teledyne Industries, and one of its salesmen, Ed
But the questions
about Gates’s participation in dubious schemes involving hotspots such
as Iran and Iraq are relevant again today because they reflect on
Gates’s judgment, his honesty and his relationship with two countries at
the top of U.S. military concerns.
About 140,000 U.S.
troops are now bogged down in Iraq, 3 ½ years after President George W.
Bush ordered an invasion to remove Saddam Hussein from power and
eliminate his supposed WMD stockpiles. One reason the United States knew
that Hussein once had those stockpiles was because the Reagan
administration helped him procure the material needed for the WMD
production in the 1980s.
The United States
also is facing down Iran’s Islamic government over its nuclear
ambitions. Though Bush has so far emphasized diplomatic pressure on
Iran, he has pointedly left open the possibility of a military option.
Beyond the secret
schemes to aid Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, Gates also stands accused of
playing a central role in politicizing the CIA intelligence product,
tailoring it to fit the interests of his political superiors, a legacy
that some Gates critics say contributed to the botched CIA’s analysis of
Iraqi WMD in 2002.
Before Gates’s rapid
rise through the CIA’s ranks in the 1980s, the CIA’s tradition was to
zealously protect the objectivity and scholarship of the intelligence.
However, during the Reagan administration, that ethos collapsed.
confirmation hearings in 1991, former CIA analysts, including renowned
Kremlinologist Mel Goodman, took the extraordinary step of coming out of
the shadows to accuse Gates of politicizing the intelligence while he
was chief of the analytical division and then deputy director.
intelligence officers said the ambitious Gates pressured the CIA’s
analytical division to exaggerate the Soviet menace to fit the
ideological perspective of the Reagan administration. Analysts who took
a more nuanced view of Soviet power and Moscow’s behavior in the world
faced pressure and career reprisals.
In 1981, Carolyn McGiffert Ekedahl of the CIA’s Soviet office was
the unfortunate analyst who was handed the assignment to prepare an
analysis on the Soviet
Union’s alleged support and direction of international terrorism.
Contrary to the desired White House take on Soviet-backed
terrorism, 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
But Gates took the analysts to task, accusing them of trying to
“stick our finger in the policy maker’s eye,” Ekedahl testified
Ekedahl said Gates, dissatisfied with the terrorism assessment,
joined in rewriting the draft “to suggest greater Soviet support for
terrorism and the text was altered by pulling up from the annex reports
that overstated Soviet involvement.”
In his memoirs, From the Shadows, Gates denied politicizing
the CIA’s intelligence product, though acknowledging that he was aware
of Casey’s hostile reaction to the analysts’ disagreement with
right-wing theories about Soviet-directed terrorism.
Soon, the hammer fell on the analysts who had prepared the
Soviet-terrorism report. Ekedahl said many analysts were “replaced by
people new to the subject who insisted on language emphasizing Soviet
control of international terrorist activities.”
A donnybrook ensued inside the
U.S. intelligence community.
Some senior officials responsible for analysis pushed back against
Casey’s dictates, warning that acts of politicization would undermine
the integrity of the process and risk policy disasters in the future.
Working with Gates, Casey also undertook a series of institutional
changes that gave him fuller control of the analytical process. Casey
required that drafts needed clearance from his office before they could
go out to other intelligence agencies.
Casey appointed Gates to be director of the Directorate of
Intelligence [DI] and consolidated Gates’s control over analysis by also
making him chairman of the National Intelligence Council, another key
“Casey and Gates used various management tactics to get the line of
intelligence they desired and to suppress unwanted intelligence,”
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.
Largely outside public view, the CIA’s 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.
Gates made clear he intended to shake up the DI’s culture,
demanding greater responsiveness to the needs of the White House and
In a speech to the DI’s analysts and managers on
Jan. 7, 1982, Gates berated
the division for producing shoddy analysis that administration officials
didn’t find helpful.
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.
Gates declared that a new Production Evaluation Staff would
aggressively review their analytical products and serve as his “junkyard
Gates’s 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
“It was a kind of chilling speech,” recalled Peter Dickson, an
analyst who concentrated on proliferation issues. “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.”
A chief Casey-Gates tactic for exerting tighter control over the
analysis was to express concern about “the editorial process,” Dickson
“You can jerk people around in the editorial process and hide
behind your editorial mandate to intimidate people,” Dickson said.
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.
Though Dickson’s 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.
When Dickson stood by his evidence, he
soon found himself facing accusations about his fitness
and other pressures that eventually caused him to leave the CIA.
Dickson also was among the analysts who raised alarms about
Pakistan’s development of nuclear weapons, another sore point because
the Reagan-Bush administration wanted Pakistan’s 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, including 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
“There was a distinction made to say that the possession of the
device is not the same as developing it,” Dickson told me. “They got
into the argument that they don’t quite possess it yet because they
haven’t turned the last screw into the warhead.”
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 produce nuclear weapons. Pakistani
scientists also shared their know-how with “rogue” states, such as North
Korea and Libya.
“The politicization that took place during the Casey-Gates era is
directly responsible for the CIA’s loss of its ethical compass and the
erosion of its credibility,” Goodman told the Senate Intelligence
Committee 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.”
To push through Gates’s nomination to be CIA director in 1991, the
elder George Bush lined up solid
Republican backing for Gates and enough accommodating Democrats –
particularly Sen. Boren, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman.
In his memoirs, Gates credited his friend, Boren, for clearing away
any obstacles. “David took it as a personal challenge to get me
Part of running interference for Gates
included rejecting the testimony of witnesses who implicated Gates in
scandals beginning with the alleged back-channel negotiations with
Iran in 1980 through the arming of
Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in the mid-1980s.
Boren’s Intelligence Committee brushed
aside two witnesses connecting Gates to the alleged schemes, former
Israeli intelligence official Ari Ben-Menashe and Iranian businessman
Richard Babayan. Both offered detailed accounts about Gates’s alleged
connections to the schemes.
who worked for Israeli military intelligence from 1977-87, first
fingered Gates as an operative in the secret Iraq arms pipeline in
August 1990 during an interview that I conducted with him for PBS
At the time,
Ben-Menashe was in jail in New York on charges of trying to sell cargo
planes to Iran (charges which were later dismissed). When the interview
took place, Gates was in a relatively obscure position, as deputy
national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush and not yet a
candidate for the top CIA job.
In that interview and later under oath to Congress, Ben-Menashe said
Gates joined in meetings between Republicans and senior Iranians in
October 1980. Ben-Menashe said he also arranged Gates’s personal help in
bringing a suitcase full of cash into Miami in early 1981 to pay off
some of the participants in the hostage gambit.
Ben-Menashe also placed Gates in a 1986 meeting with Chilean arms
manufacturer Cardoen, who allegedly was supplying cluster bombs and
chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein’s army. Babayan, an Iranian exile
working with Iraq, also connected Gates to the Iraqi supply lines and to
steadfastly denied involvement in either the Iran-hostage caper or the
Iraqgate arms deals.
“I was accused
on television and in the print media by people I had never spoken to or
met of selling weapons to Iraq, or walking through Miami airport with
suitcases full of cash, of being with Bush in Paris in October 1980 to
meet with Iranians, and on and on,”
Gates wrote in his memoirs. “The allegations of meetings with me around
the world were easily disproved for the committee by my travel records,
calendars, and countless witnesses.”
But none of Gates’s supposedly supportive evidence was ever made public
by either the Senate Intelligence Committee or the later inquiries into
either the Iran hostage initiative or Iraqgate.
Not one of
Gates’s “countless witnesses”
who could vouch for Gates’s whereabouts was identified. Though Boren
pledged publicly to have his investigators question Babayan, they never
Perhaps most galling for those of us who tried to assess Ben-Menashe’s
credibility was the Intelligence Committee’s failure to test Ben-Menashe’s
claim that he met with Gates in Paramus, New Jersey, on the afternoon of
April 20, 1989.
The date was
pinned down by the fact that Ben-Menashe had been under Customs
surveillance in the morning. So it was a perfect test for whether Ben-Menashe
– or Gates – was lying.
When I first
asked about this claim, congressional investigators told me that Gates
had a perfect alibi for that day. They said Gates had been with Senator
Boren at a speech in Oklahoma. But when we checked that out, we
discovered that Gates’s Oklahoma speech had been on April 19, a day
earlier. Gates also had not been with Boren and had returned to
Washington by that evening.
So where was Gates the next day? Could he have taken a quick trip to
northern New Jersey? Since senior White House national security advisers
keep detailed notes on their daily meetings, it should have been easy
for Boren’s investigators to interview someone who could vouch for
Gates’s whereabouts on the afternoon of April 20.
committee chose not to nail down an alibi for Gates. The committee said
further investigation wasn’t needed because Gates denied going to New
Jersey and his personal calendar made no reference to the trip.
investigators couldn’t tell me where Gates was that afternoon or with
whom he may have met. Essentially, the alibi came down to Gates’s word.
Boren’s key aide who helped limit the investigation of Gates was George
Tenet, whose behind-the-scenes maneuvering on Gates’s behalf won the
personal appreciation of the senior George Bush. Tenet later became
President Bill Clinton’s last CIA director and was kept on in 2001 by
the younger George Bush partly on his father’s advice.
Now, as the
Bush Family grapples with the disaster in Iraq, it is turning to an even
more trusted hand to run the Defense Department. The appointment of
Robert Gates suggests that the Bush Family is circling the wagons to
save the embattled presidency of George W. Bush.
whether Gates can be counted on to do what’s in the interest of the
larger American public is another question altogether.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra
stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from
Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at
secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine,
the Press & 'Project Truth.'