consortiumnews.com

The CIA, a Bush Family Fiefdom

By Robert Parry
May 9, 2006

Since the 9/11 terror attacks, the U.S. government has tried both structural and personnel changes to fix the nation’s intelligence services – including now the ouster of CIA Director Porter Goss – but the remedies have failed because they’ve missed the core problem.

What’s wrong with the U.S. intelligence community is that over the past three decades its ethos of telling truth to power has been corrupted by politics to such a degree that George W. Bush now sees the Central Intelligence Agency as virtually his family’s fiefdom, with the Langley, Virginia, headquarters even named for his father, George H.W. Bush, a former CIA director.

So, when analysts at the CIA were viewed as undercutting George W. Bush’s case for war with Iraq, the White House launched a counter-attack against these intelligence professionals for perceived disloyalty.

During the buildup to the Iraq War, Vice President Dick Cheney personally went to CIA headquarters to bang heads with intelligence analysts who doubted White House claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. While some analysts resisted, many mid-level bureaucrats acquiesced to Cheney.

Paul Pillar, the CIA’s senior intelligence analyst for the Middle East, said the Bush administration didn’t just play games with the principle of objective analysis, but “turned the entire model upside down.”

After quitting the CIA in 2005, Pillar wrote an article in Foreign Affairs magazine stating that “the administration used intelligence not to inform decision-making, but to justify a decision already made.”

“The Bush administration deviated from the professional standard not only in using policy to drive intelligence, but also in aggressively using intelligence to win public support for its decision to go to war,” Pillar wrote. “This meant selectively adducing data – ‘cherry-picking’ – rather than using the intelligence community’s own analytic judgments.”

After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq failed to find WMD, the White House put much of the blame on the spy agency. Some of the suppressed CIA doubts then began to surface, embarrassing Bush during Campaign 2004.

At that delicate political moment, Bush installed Goss, a partisan Republican congressman recruited by Cheney, to take over the CIA. The Goss appointment on Sept. 24, 2004, reflected Bush’s determination to bring the agency’s analytical division into line with his policies both before and after the November 2004 presidential election.

Loyal Henchmen

Like a Medieval ruler punishing a rebellious province, Bush sent in loyal henchmen to root out perceived traitors. Bush’s attitude toward CIA analysts who disagreed with his pre-war assertions about Iraq’s WMD was much like his anger toward the French for cautioning him about his Iraq invasion plans.

Being right was no protection from Bush’s wrath; indeed, it appeared to make him madder. Though Bush has continued to this day to stress how much he values accurate intelligence as vital for the nation’s security, his real record has been one of insisting on getting information that fits his preconceptions.

So, rather than reward the CIA analysts who had resisted White House pressure to cook the WMD intelligence on Iraq, Bush set out to remove them. (He also took aim at the State Department, another bastion of WMD dissent, where he moved to replace the diffident Colin Powell with the enthusiastic loyalist Condoleezza Rice.)

At the CIA, Bush’s intelligence purge gained momentum in the weeks after he secured his second term. Bush saw his victory as almost a mystical validation of his view that the “war on terror” was a conflict between good and evil in which people were either with Bush or with the terrorists. Bush called the election his “accountability moment.”

CIA intelligence professionals got the message that they could either get behind Bush’s policies or get out. The loyalty demands led to an exodus of senior CIA officials, including deputy CIA chief John E. McLaughlin and deputy director of operations Stephen R. Kappes.

In whipping the remaining intelligence analysts into line, Bush was helped by powerful conservative news personalities – from AM talk radio to Fox News, from right-wing newspaper columnists to Internet bloggers – who conjured up conspiracy theories about a CIA plot to destroy the President.

Conservative columnist David Brooks was among those pushing the argument that the CIA’s only rightful role was to serve the President.

“Now that he’s been returned to office, President Bush is going to have to differentiate between his opponents and his enemies,” wrote Brooks in the New York Times. “His opponents are found in the Democratic Party. His enemies are in certain offices of the Central Intelligence Agency.”

To Brooks, the justification for Bush going after the CIA was the release of information that made Bush look bad.

“At the height of the campaign, CIA officials, who are supposed to serve the President and stay out of politics and policy, served up leak after leak to discredit the President’s Iraq policy,” Brooks wrote.

“In mid-September [2004], somebody leaked a CIA report predicting a gloomy or apocalyptic future for the region. Later that month, a senior CIA official, Paul Pillar, reportedly made comments saying he had long felt the decision to go to war would heighten anti-American animosity in the Arab world.” [NYT, Nov. 13, 2004]

On the Mark

Nearly 18 months later, those CIA assessments seem to have been right on the mark, as violence in Iraq continues to spin out of control and the Middle East seethes with hatred toward the United States.

But in November 2004, the victorious President and his conservative allies were set on throttling those intelligence professionals who still believed that their job was to get the information right, not just tell Bush what he wanted to hear.

Bush’s counterinsurgency campaign to stamp out disloyalty at the CIA also was more paranoia than recognition of an actual threat. Though the White House selected Goss to lead the purge, the supposed CIA “cabal” never really existed. “He came in to clean up without knowing what he was going to clean up,” one former intelligence officer told Washington Post reporter Dana Priest.

Nevertheless, Goss and his lieutenants from his old congressional staff drove out a number of mid- and senior-level officers caught up in the search for disloyalty. “The agency was never at war with the White House,” former CIA operations officer Gary Berntsen told Priest.

“Eighty-five percent of them are Republicans,” said Berntsen, a self-described Republican and Bush supporter. “The CIA was a convenient scapegoat.” [Washington Post, May 6, 2006]

Plus, the claim from Bush’s media supporters that the CIA only existed to “serve the President” was not historically accurate.

While it may be true that the CIA’s operations directorate was created as a secret paramilitary arm for the U.S. executive, the CIA’s analytical division was established to provide objective information to both the President and other parts of the U.S. government, including Congress.

Even at the height of the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s, the CIA’s analytical division took pride in telling presidents what they didn’t want to hear – such as debunking Eisenhower’s “bomber gap” or Kennedy’s “missile gap” or Johnson’s faith in the air war against North Vietnam.

Though never perfectly applied, the ethos of objective analysis continued through the mid-1970s. Then, CIA analysis began to come under sustained attack from conservatives and a new group called neoconservatives, who insisted that the Soviet Union was a rapidly expanding military menace with its eye on world conquest.

The CIA analytical division held a more nuanced assessment of the Soviet threat, viewing Moscow as a declining superpower struggling to keep pace with the West while coping with fissures inside its own empire.

This CIA analysis was the background for the “détente strategy” followed by President Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who sought to negotiate arms control and other agreements with the Soviet Union.

Reagan’s Emergence

But Nixon’s ouster over the Watergate scandal in 1974 and Ronald Reagan’s entrance on the national political stage in 1976 altered the political dynamic.

Scared by Reagan’s successes in the Republican primaries, President Gerald Ford ordered the word “détente” dropped from the White House lexicon and let then-CIA Director George H.W. Bush open up the CIA’s analytical division to an unprecedented challenge from right-wing intellectuals, known as “Team B.”

The “Team B” assessment, bringing in old-time Cold Warriors and young neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz, accused the CIA analytical division of systematically underestimating the growing Soviet threat.

In late 1976, to accommodate this powerful conservative wing of the Republican Party, CIA Director Bush adopted a more alarmist CIA estimate of Soviet power.

When Reagan became President in 1981, with Bush as his Vice President, the assault on the CIA’s analytical division resumed in earnest. Analysts who balked at the new administration’s ideological vision of the Soviet Union as a 10-foot-tall behemoth were shunted aside or forced out of the CIA.

The CIA’s once proud Soviet division took the brunt of the attacks. The surviving analysts began ignoring the mounting evidence of a rapid Soviet decline, so as not to contradict the Reagan-Bush justification for an expanded U.S. military budget and for bloody interventions in Third World conflicts from Nicaragua to Afghanistan.

In reality, Moscow couldn’t even keep control along its own borders. But the Reagan-Bush pressure on the U.S. intelligence process proved so effective that CIA analysts filtered out the evidence of a Soviet crackup.

Ironically, when the Soviet Empire collapsed in the late 1980s, the CIA took the blame for “missing” one of the most important political events of the Twentieth Century. Ironically, too, Reagan, who had built up the Soviet straw man, got the most credit when it fell down. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

Since then, I have talked with CIA veterans who acknowledged that the politicized agency overstated the Soviet threat despite reliable intelligence from their own agents inside the Soviet bloc who were describing the internal problems.

This “intelligence failure” was not just one of misjudgments; it was one of ideological pressure that distorted the Soviet reality to fit with White House policies.

Whipping Boy

In the second Bush administration, which brought back many of the Reagan-Bush neoconservatives, the same pattern recurred. Intelligence was “cherry-picked” to justify policy, rather than letting objective analysis inform the policy.

In effect, Bush made his decisions on “gut” instincts and had evidence compiled to justify his decisions. When Bush’s “gut” failed him – such as when he ignored CIA warnings about the 9/11 attacks or when he pushed bogus intelligence on Iraq’s WMD – the CIA stood in as the whipping boy, taking the worst of the institutional blame.

By 2005, the CIA was stripped of its role as the lead agency in the U.S. intelligence community, when Congress created the new position of Director of National Intelligence on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission.

However, the new post of DNI – directly under the President – didn’t address the question of politicization. Nothing was done to rebuild the lost ethos of objective analysis or to reject the notion that the CIA “serves the President.”

Bush appointed John Negroponte, a career diplomat considered a Cold War hard-liner, to fill the new position as DNI in April 2005.

Negroponte had served as ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s when the CIA was organizing the contra war against Nicaragua and he represented the United States as U.N. ambassador when the false Iraq WMD case was presented in 2002-2003. In 2004-2005, he was U.S. ambassador in Iraq as sectarian “death squads” emerged as a new threat.

Despite his prominent roles in the Bush administration, Negroponte wasn’t viewed as part of the neoconservative inner circle that had pushed the Iraq War. Rather, he fell more into the traditional Cold War camp of hard-nosed operatives who would carry out orders, even ones that stretched the limits of morality.

When Negroponte became DNI, Goss had to face the fact of his diminished role in the intelligence community. Instead of being called Director of Central Intelligence, he became just the CIA director.

Perhaps trying to demonstrate his intense loyalty to George W. Bush, Goss created more turmoil in the CIA by ordering polygraphs of CIA officials in an investigation into who leaked the secret of clandestine CIA prisons in Eastern Europe where terror suspects were interrogated and allegedly tortured.

The polygraphs led to the ouster of veteran CIA officer Mary McCarthy, though she denied leaking the information.

Prostitute Probe

Goss ran into more controversy when his hand-picked executive director, Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, became embroiled in the investigation of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-California, who was sentenced in March to more than eight years in prison for accepting $2.4 million in bribes from military contractors.

Foggo was a longtime friend of Brent Wilkes, a contractor mentioned in the Cunningham indictment. Foggo also attended poker games that Wilkes organized at the Watergate and the Westin Grand hotels in Washington.

According to press reports, federal investigators are looking into allegations that the bribery by the military contractors may have included payments for limousines, poker parties and prostitutes. [NYT, May 7, 2006]

Between the disarray from CIA departures and the hint of scandal around Foggo, Goss saw his political stock decline. Negroponte also reportedly felt that Goss was not adapting well to his new subordinate position as just one of many intelligence directors.

Meanwhile, Negroponte faced opposition himself from aggressive neoconservatives who objected to his more tempered assessment of the threat from Iran’s nuclear program and his hiring of some intelligence analysts who had objected to Bush’s Iraq WMD claims.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. an original signer of the neoconservative Project for the New American Century, called for Negroponte’s firing because of his Iran assessment and his “abysmal personnel decisions.”

In an article for Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Washington Times, Gaffney attacked Negroponte for giving top analytical jobs to Thomas Fingar, who had served as assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, and Kenneth Brill, who was U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which debunked some of the U.S. and British claims about Iraq seeking enriched uranium from Africa.

The State Department’s Office of Intelligence and Research led the dissent against the Iraq WMD case, especially over what turned out to be false claims that Iraq was developing a nuclear bomb. Gaffney specifically faulted Fingar for his testimony against neoconservative favorite John Bolton to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

“Given this background, is it any wonder that Messrs. Negroponte, Fingar and Brill … gave us the spectacle of absurdly declaring the Iranian regime to be years away from having nuclear weapons?” wrote Gaffney, who was a senior Pentagon official during the Reagan administration.

Gaffney accused Negroponte of giving promotions to “government officials in sensitive positions who actively subvert the President’s policies,” an apparent reference to Fingar and Brill.

Iran Cold Water

In an interview with NBC News on April 20, Negroponte had cited Iran’s limited progress in refining uranium and their use of a cascade of only 164 centrifuges.

“According to the experts that I consult, achieving — getting 164 centrifuges to work is still a long way from having the capacity to manufacture sufficient fissile material for a nuclear weapon,” Negroponte said. “Our assessment is that the prospects of an Iranian weapon are still a number of years off, and probably into the next decade.”

Expressing a similar view about Iran in a speech at the National Press Club, Negroponte said, “I think it’s important that this issue be kept in perspective.”

In effect, the DNI was splashing cold water on the more fevered assessment of Iran’s nuclear intentions favored by the neoconservatives around Bush.

Still, Negroponte appears to have come out on top in this latest power struggle. On May 5, Bush announced Goss’s abrupt resignation, and on May 8, Bush named Negroponte’s current deputy, Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, to become CIA chief.

While Negroponte’s bureaucratic victory may represent a defeat for the neoconservatives, it’s not likely to solve the larger problem of a politicized intelligence community. Though considered more professional than Goss, Negroponte and Hayden still have shown themselves to be loyal to Bush’s edicts.

Negroponte sold Bush’s Iraq WMD case at the United Nations and sat behind Secretary of State Colin Powell during his infamous presentation to the Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003. While running the National Security Agency, Hayden implemented Bush’s warrantless wiretaps of Americans.

Yet, until the larger question of politicization is addressed – until Bush’s sense of entitlement over the intelligence community is ended – the problem of the U.S. government’s misuse of intelligence is likely to continue.

[For more on the history of CIA politicization, see Consortiumnew.com’s “Why U.S. Intelligence Failed, Redux.”]


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.'

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