McGovern Reflects on Truth-Telling
I’m still smarting from Fox News describing me as “an elderly man” who, it was thought, might have had a sign or might have begun to shout out, and thus had to be “escorted out” of the auditorium while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was speaking at George Washington University on Feb. 15.
But maybe there is something to be learned from such indignities. I have decided to take the “elderly” slur as a reminder that, having reached what my father used to call the age of statutory senility, I should make it my business to mark important anniversaries and not allow them to fly by unnoticed.
That goes in spades for 2011. The current three days, from April 17 to 19, represent the 50th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion; in November, Rita and I will mark our 50th anniversary; and 48 years ago this month Rita and our six‐month old daughter had to move again with 2/Lt McGovern ‐‐ for the third time in six months ‐‐ this time to Washington, DC.
We were among those attracted by John F. Kennedy’s call to ask ourselves what we could do for our country. Okay, that probably sounds a bit corny now. It didn’t seem so then.
As a senior in college, I had scouted out the CIA because, with my degrees in Russian, I thought I could make a contribution, and because serving as an intelligence analyst sounded like a dream job.
I was told that a wooden “In-Box” sitting on my desk would be filled several times a day with information from all manner of sources; and my job would involve sifting through that pile to see if it contained the wherewithal for a story the President himself should read the next morning. What I was told turned out to be true.
For President Kennedy, we called the morning report the “PICL,” (the President’s Intelligence Check List). The name was changed to the “PDB” (the President’s Daily Brief) by the time I became senior enough to prepare it (under Nixon, Ford and Reagan).
We PDB briefers had unprecedented personal access to senior administration officials six mornings a week. We were trusted to speak truth to power, one-on-one, and we did.
Moreover, each morning we found ourselves uniquely positioned to learn what was uppermost in the minds of the most senior policy makers and, later that morning, to commission the required collection and analysis for follow up.
In one sense CIA analysts were an oddity in Washington: we had no policy agenda. Better still, we could count on institutional protection from our CIA superiors for telling it like it is – even if our conclusions raised hackles at the Pentagon or State Department (which they often did).
For example, when we told President Lyndon Johnson not to heed our Air Force generals’ claims that they could seal off the Ho Chi Minh trail and force Hanoi to give up, our seniors at CIA faced down very loud complaints from blue suits with stars.
A Changed Environment
Those were the days, my friends. I thought they’d never end.
But they did. Those of you familiar with what Mel Goodman and I have written out of our direct experience with President Reagan’s CIA Director, William Casey, and his protégé Robert Gates know that the two did a good job of corrupting substantive analysis by politicizing it.
The way you politicize an analysis division is a little like ethnic cleansing. You keep ratcheting up the pressure on your targets until they leave.
First, you push honest managers like Mel Goodman to write that the Soviets are the main force behind international terrorism. Then you try to get the analysts to report a Russian under every rock in Nicaragua.
When managers with a conscience, like Mel, refuse to comply, you replace them with malleable careerists, like John McLaughlin and Robert Walpole, who will. And those personnel changes have real consequences.
Two decades later, that pair helped CIA Director George Tenet create evidence to “justify” President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq.
Tenet liked to tout the credibility of McLaughlin (who became CIA Deputy Director) and Walpole (who we now know took orders from Vice President Dick Cheney in creating intelligence on WMD in Iraq). Tenet did so by pointing out that McLaughlin was up from the ranks of CIA analysts and that Walpole was a Mormon bishop.
But it was they, with the help of cowardly careerists like Alan Foley (the substantive manager of the Potemkin Village built with paper-thin intelligence to conceal the falseness of the WMD claims), who enabled the attack on Iraq in March 2003.
It took the Senate Intelligence Committee five years to complete its study of pre-war intelligence. But in announcing its findings, Chairman Jay Rockefeller noted that the invasion was based on intelligence that was “unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.” “Non-existent”…. hmmm.
Back in 2002-2003, my fellow “alumni” of the Analysis Division and I could readily see what was going on and, in the months before the invasion of Iraq, addressed two “Memoranda for the President” from Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, in the same format we used when we were on “’active duty,” so to speak.
We were the first CIA alumni group formed to critique the work of our former employer. We were immediately augmented by retired analysts of conscience from various U.S. and “coalition” intelligence agencies.
But, after some sporadic publicity for our January and March 2003 efforts, the Fawning Corporate Media would not give us the time of day.
Which isn’t how it always was. During the early 1970s, I had read every word of the Washington Post’s Woodward and Bernstein on Watergate, a high-water mark for the Fourth Estate. Perhaps that is why I found myself so outraged at the defunct state of the U.S. news media three decades later.
A Refuge on the Internet
Were any investigative reporters still telling it like it is?
My friend David MacMichael, another exile from the corrupted U.S. intelligence community of the 1980s, answered that question by introducing me to Bob Parry and Consortiumnews.com. For that, I owe David MacMichael big time.
Bob appeared not only willing but eager to give space to those of us finding it difficult to get into ink – or even into the ether.
At first blush, it may seem a bit rare – an intelligence analyst teaming up with an investigative reporter. But if you think about it, the mission is pretty much the same: to spread truth around.
The experience has been much more than a marriage of convenience. I have acquired a deep respect for Bob Parry while, in the process, learning much about investigative reporting. But I hardly need to tell you the story of the Parry of many seasons and much integrity.
Working with Bob has been a lot like the heady, professionally satisfying days of speaking truth to power in the pre-Casey, pre-Bobby Gates era in CIA’s analysis division. With one exception.
There were no analysts – and especially not I – who welcomed the ministrations of the editors who (in our unbiased view) would butcher our carefully chosen prose. Caveat editor, was our common motto: “Beware the editor.”
If anyone told me that one day I would welcome an editor fooling with my prose, I would have said they were crazy. Well, call me the crazy one.
At CIA, I became accustomed to working on short-fuse publications that would see light and dissemination fresh off my typewriter at dawn. That working-in-the-dead-of-night experience, I suppose, is one reason why most of my articles issue from all-nighters.
I cannot tell you how many times I have run completely out of gas at about 6:00 a.m. and sent a sow’s-ear draft through the ether to Bob.
At that point, I customarily take a little nap and check Consortiumnews.com at, say, 9:00 a.m., there to find a silk purse! I kid you not. The guy has prompted me to eat all the cuss words I had applied to editors.
Probably, no one regularly gives Consortiumnews.com articles to President Barack Obama to read. That we have important, influential readers, though, has become clearer and clearer to me as the years go by.
I write this from Oakland, where I have been refreshing my soul playing with two now‐asleep grandchildren over the weekend, after doing a series of lectures in the Los Angeles area. And I find myself reminded of a welcome incident a little more than a year ago during a similar visit with our daughter, her husband, and our two Oakland grandchildren.
That weekend, “The Most Dangerous Man in America” – the poignant documentary about Dan Ellsberg’s heroic efforts to reveal the secret Pentagon Papers’ history of the Vietnam War – was opening in Berkeley.
Though I had already attended two earlier “premiere” showings in Washington, I went to the Berkeley opening on Sunday evening, Feb. 21, 2010, hoping to see Dan and his wife, Patricia. And there they were in the lobby, looking a bit tired but still happy to chat.
In the midst of our conversation, Dan turned to me and gave me a plain manila folder holding about two inches-worth of documents.
“Here, Ray, you should know how much I depend on Consortiumnews,” Dan said, adding, “I took these along to use during the hour and a half of the first showing to catch up on things.”
There they were — printouts of ten or so of our articles from the previous weeks and months. He gave me that broad Ellsberg smile, no doubt knowing what that folder in his hands would mean to me.
It was one of those serendipitous things: Dan had no idea I was coming to the theater that Sunday. Dan added that he had read about our need for funds and said he wished that the contributions he sends could be larger.
I thought to myself, well, if Consortiumnews.com is providing information that’s helpful to someone who values truth as much as Dan Ellsberg does, that’s quite an endorsement – and enough encouragement to keep on keepin’ on.
Friends, the need for funds is even greater now than it was early last year. Bob tells me that at the pace contributions are coming in, it will be difficult to meet our spring fundraising goal of $35,000. It’s a modest goal, and I do think Bob should be able to pay himself, as well as occasional contributors.
These are tight times, and I imagine that some of you are already quite stretched financially. But, those of you who are able to help, please think of the stakes. And please be generous. Thanks.
In Truth, Justice, and (then) Peace,
For four easy ways to help Consortiumnews.com “keep on keepin' on,” just click here.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served as a CIA analyst for 27 years and is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
To comment at Consortiumblog, click here. (To make a blog comment about this or other stories, you can use your normal e-mail address and password. Ignore the prompt for a Google account.) To comment to us by e-mail, click here. To donate so we can continue reporting and publishing stories like the one you just read, click here.
Back to Home Page