CIA at 50, Lost in the 'Politicization' Swamp
By Robert Parry
Through its first three decades, the CIA prided itself on maintaining an
intellectual integrity in its analysis of world events. CIA analysts often
delivered to the White House data that conflicted with what presidents
wanted to hear. President Eisenhower was challenged on the bomber gap and
President Kennedy on the missile gap. Presidents Johnson and Nixon didn't
like many of the discouraging words on the Vietnam war.
The CIA's "operations" branch may have stumbled into bloody controversies
from time to time. But the CIA's "analytical" division maintained a
relatively good -- though by no means perfect -- reputation for supplying
straightforward intelligence to policymakers. Like so much else at the
CIA, however, that tradition changed in the early 1980s, with Ronald
Reagan's determination to enforce his "Evil Empire" vision of the Soviet
The writing was quickly on the wall. The Reagan transition team denounced
CIA career analysts for allegedly underestimating the Soviet commitment to
world domination. "These failures are of such enormity," the report
claimed, "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 more details, see Mark Perry's Eclipse.]
To make Reagan's apocalyptic vision stick -- to blame Moscow for the
world's terrorism, Yellow Rain chemical warfare in Indochina, the Pope
assassination attempt and virtually all revolutionary movements in the
Third World -- Reagan and his CIA director, William J. Casey, set out to
purge the CIA analytical division of those who wouldn't toe the party line,
those who saw the Soviet Union as a declining empire still interested in
detente with the West.
The CIA purge helped Reagan and Casey in another way, too. It cut off the
potential for reliable CIA information reaching Congress and the public
about the overt-covert paramilitary operations in Nicaragua and Afghanistan.
Casey's domestic "perception management" campaigns which sought to
influence the U.S. public debate on these issues would be strengthened by
ensuring only favorable CIA-blessed propaganda. [For details, see Robert
Parry's Lost History.]
So out of view, in the closed community of the CIA, Casey elevated Robert
Gates, one of the hardest of anti-Soviet hard-liners, to head the
Directorate of Intelligence [DI], the analytical side. In this summer
issue of Foreign Policy, former CIA senior analyst Melvyn Goodman
described the effect: "The CIA's objectivity on the Soviet Union ended
abruptly in 1981, when Casey became the DCI -- and the first one to be a
member of the president's Cabinet. Gates became Casey's deputy director
for intelligence (DDI) in 1982 and chaired the National Intelligence
Gates restructured the DI from a subject-matter framework to a geographical
one. That allowed Gates to jump his allies, who became known as "Gates
clones," into key positions. Some of those who rose were David Cohen,
David Carey, George Kolt, John McLaughlin, Jim Lynch, Winston Wiley and
With the Gates regime in place, career analysts in sensitive positions soon
found themselves the victims of bare-knuckle bureaucratic pummelings. Some
were verbally berated into changing their analyses; some faced job threats
and allegations of psychiatric unfitness; others experienced confrontations
with supervisors who literally threw papers in the analysts' faces.
Hyping the 'Evil Empire'
Early on, the Reagan administration pressed the CIA to adopt an analysis
that accepted right-wing media reports pinning European terrorism on the
Soviets. The CIA analysts knew that these charges were false, in part
because they were based on "black" or false propaganda that the CIA itself
had been planting in the European media. But the "politicization" tide was
In 1985, Gates closeted a special team to push through another pre-cooked
paper arguing that the KGB was behind the 1981 wounding of Pope John Paul
II. CIA analysts again knew that the charge was bogus, but could not block
the paper from leaving CIA.
On another ideologically sensitive front, analysts faced pressure to back
off an assessment that Pakistan was violating nuclear proliferation
safeguards. That was sensitive because Pakistan's military government was
aiding the Afghan mujahedeen rebels fighting Soviet troops.
Reagan also wanted analyses that exaggerated Soviet strength and Moscow's
expansionist tendencies. Again, the analysts found the evidence lacking,
but the administration prevailed in hyping threat analyses. Analysts grew
so fearful of reporting on Soviet weaknesses that the CIA fell way behind
the curve in recognizing the coming Soviet collapse.
On many levels, the Casey-Gates assault on the CIA analysts was a dramatic
behind-the-scenes story that contributed to historic developments in the
1980s: the brutal anti-communist tactics in Central America, tolerance of
human rights abusers and drug traffickers among U.S. allies, false CIA
reports about "moderates" in Iran that justified the Iran-contra arms sales,
and scary assessments of Soviet might which bloated U.S. defense budgets.
But this intimidation of the CIA analysts and its consequences are still
little understood in Washington. The story surfaced briefly in 1991 during
Robert Gates's confirmation hearings when a handful of analysts braved the
Bush administration by protesting the "politicization of intelligence."
Led by Goodman, these dissidents fingered Gates as a key player in the
campaign. The "politicization" testimony added more doubts about Gates,
who already was under fire for his dubious testimony on the Iran-contra
scandal. But President Bush lined up solid Republican backing and enough
accommodating Democrats, particularly Sen. David Boren, the Senate
Intelligence Committee chairman, to shove Gates through as CIA director.
There was, however, a brief window for change with Bill Clinton's election --
and the issue was put before Clinton's incoming national security team.
Former CIA analyst Peter W. Dickson explained the problem bluntly in a
two-page memo to Samuel "Sandy" Berger, who is now Clinton's national
Dickson, an analyst who suffered retaliation for refusing to rewrite a
1983 assessment that noted Soviet restraint on nuclear proliferation,
urged Clinton to appoint a CIA director who understood "the deeper
internal problems relating to the politicization of intelligence
and the festering morale problem within the CIA." In this Dec. 10,
1992, memo, Dickson saw a housecleaning at the top as crucial:
Dickson, a creative thinker who also investigates historical mysteries such
as the real backgrounds of Columbus and Shakespeare, recommended that
Clinton focus on "intellectual integrity and accountability" in selecting
a new CIA director. But Clinton instead was focusing "like a laser beam"
on domestic policy, as he promised during the campaign. He seemed to have
little interest in CIA reform.
"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 the 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. ...
"The lack of accountability also became a systemic problem in the 1980s
under Casey and Gates. ... A recent CIA inspector general investigation
confirms the near total breakdown in confidence among employee[s] that
management is willing to deal honestly and objectively with their
complaints. Many of them concern the lack of professional ethics and in
some cases personal abuse at the hands of senior officer managers -- a
group of individuals beholden and therefore loyal to Gates."
Clinton did oust Gates but avoided confronting the problem head-on by
installing James Woolsey, a neo-conservative Democrat who had worked
closely with the Reagan-Bush administrations. Under Woolsey, the Gates
crowd, sans Gates, further consolidated its bureaucratic power. That
trend continued during the brief tenure of Clinton's second CIA director,
The 'Gates Clones'
Now, Clinton's new CIA director, George Tenet, also has chosen to surround
himself with many of Gates's former allies. Tenet did oust Cohen, whom
the analysts considered one of Gates's most aggressive enforcers. But
other Gates-connected officials -- McLaughlin, Carey, Wiley and Gannon --
remain in high positions inside the CIA. Over the past 15 years, the
Casey-Gates allies also have trained a younger generation of analysts who
are now moving into mid-level positions.
Seeing the Casey-Gates crowd still dominating the senior levels of the CIA
has discouraged many of the analysts who went public to protest the
"politicization." In interviews, these former CIA analysts complained that
Clinton has allowed the CIA's drift from the Reagan-Bush years to carry the
analytical division even deeper into a backwater of shoddy scholarship and
"Clinton missed an opportunity to get the CIA on the right track," said
Goodman. "The CIA's in a hell of a lot of trouble."
"He blew it," declared Dickson. "He threw it away. It's too late now."
Dickson predicted that the CIA, just passing its 50th anniversary, will
continue on a path of gradual decline and growing irrelevance.
"I don't see any improvement," added John A. Gentry, an analyst who
resigned in 1991 with a letter that read: "I can no longer work in an
organization in which satisfaction of bureaucratic superiors is more
important than superior analysis."
Gentry, a former Army Special Forces officer and economist, compiled his
criticisms in a 1993 book, Lost Promise: How CIA Analysis Misserves the
Nation. One recommendation stated that "the destructiveness of some
managers' meanness, dishonesty and lack of intellectual integrity is so
great that significant numbers -- including many senior officers -- should
be fired from the Agency."
But Gentry has concluded that Clinton will not reverse the damage.
"You're 15 years into decay," Gentry said. Clinton's CIA appointees have
"fussed around at the margins, but they haven't made the cultural,
leadership and even moral changes that are needed."
Ducking a Fight
Clinton seems to have thought that as long as he pumped money into the
intelligence budget -- about $30 billion a year -- and took no stern
actions against the Langley power structure, the CIA would make no trouble
for him. His attitude apparently was colored by the perception that
President Carter's shake-up of the CIA in the late 1970s drove a small
clandestine army of furious spooks into the Bush and Reagan campaigns of
With Clinton's sensitivity over his Vietnam draft avoidance, he also saw a
messy clash over restructuring the CIA as a distraction from his domestic
agenda. "I see no indication anywhere that Clinton has taken any interest
in anything that has occurred," said Gentry. "Clinton is quite content to
have a weak intelligence community."
Still, Clinton found that his hands-off strategy did not save him from
getting burned in fall 1993 when he was seeking to restore Haitian
president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power. The CIA analytical division,
built by Casey and Gates, sent a report to Congress which claimed,
apparently falsely, that Aristide had undergone psychiatric care in
Canada. The report was seized upon by conservatives in Congress who
considered Aristide a dangerous leftist.
Woolsey's tenure was marred, too, by the discovery that CIA counter-intelligence
officer Aldrich Ames sold secrets to Moscow for almost a decade. Congress
turned on Woolsey for supposedly not acting decisively enough to discipline
senior officers who had supervised Ames.
Deutch, a brilliant but prickly scientist from MIT, succeeded Woolsey but
made few significant changes at the CIA, either. Then after a failed
attempt by Clinton to place his national security adviser Anthony Lake in
the CIA's top spot, the president settled on Tenet, who had served as
Deutch's deputy and before that as Boren's top aide on the Senate
Ironically, Tenet oversaw Boren's half-hearted confirmation review of
Gates in 1991. From the start, that investigation was limited by Boren's
commitment to Gates's confirmation. Boren accepted Gate's excuses about
his less-than-candid Iran-contra testimony. The chairman also failed to
pursue allegations linking Gates to secret U.S.-arranged arms sales to Iraq
in the 1980s and to the so-called "October Surprise" case in which Reagan's
campaign was alleged to have undermined President Carter's attempts to free
52 U.S. hostages held in Iran in 1980.
The failure to vet Gates now may come back to haunt Tenet as the policies
and personnel pushed by Gates continue to dominate the CIA's analytical
division, as CIA morale sags further and its reputation as an intelligence
agency deteriorates more. Because the Boren-Tenet inquiry gave Gates a
pass on the "politicization" charges, along with almost everything else,
the intellectual corruption of the Casey-Gates era at CIA still is not
With no recognition of the rot, Tenet has no mandate to take the radical
steps needed to solve the problem. ~
Copyright (c) 1997
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