Getting Smart about Intelligence

With the announcement that CIA Director George Tenet is resigning earlier than expected, it's a good time to launch a national discussion on reforming the American intelligence community.

The president told us Tenet is resigning for "personal reasons" -- a claim doubted by many insiders but one that will probably be swallowed whole by the true believers who never seem to chew and think over any of the many doubtful claims fed to us by the president.

But for those who suspect that the Bush administration has been "cooking intelligence" to fit its ideology, you might find Ray McGovern's analysis on Tenet's tenure worth serious consideration.

McGovern worked as a CIA analyst for 27 years and is now on the steering committee for Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. He also co-authored the article "Cooking Intelligence for War," which among other things called on intelligence officials in the days before the Iraq invasion to have the integrity to turn state's evidence and "stop a misguided march to war."

Last week, McGovern pointed out that the Senate was just about to come out with a report highly critical of Tenet's tenure at the CIA.

"He's clearly being served up as a sacrificial lamb. The irony is that he did everything he could to help the administration in its drive for war in Iraq, so there's some poetic justice here," McGovern said.

"Clearly, the problem wasn't really 'intelligence failures' -- the decision for war was made well before the National Intelligence Estimate. Rather, the intelligence was made to fit what the administration wanted," he said.

Reform solutions? Another ex-CIA fellow who called me about a month ago had one. He said one of the biggest intelligence problems we face today is an over-reliance on what CIA insiders call "sigint," which is shorthand for signals intelligence -- code-breaking, for example. What is needed, he said, is more "humint" - on-the-ground human intelligence. The same point was made by retired CIA agent Robert Baer in his book "See No Evil."

William Christison, former director of the CIA's Office of Regional and Political Analysis has another solid suggestion.

"It's a good thing that Tenet resigned, with one major proviso -- Tenet should not become a scapegoat for others above him. What Tenet essentially did was allow himself to be co-opted, making it a practice to tell the administration what they wanted to hear rather than to be an independent check," Christison said.

"There is a need to split the covert operations half from the analytical half of the CIA. To have one person in charge of both creates enormous conflicts," he told the Institute for Public Accuracy.

And I know this will ruffle the feathers of those who think there's a "liberal" conspiracy behind the mainstream American press, but pressure for such reforms will never happen without an informed citizenry -- a responsibility that the "liberal" media have done a woefully poor job of with regards to U.S. foreign policy in Iraq.

Example: In McGovern's "Cooking Intelligence" paper addressing the misguided mission in Iraq, he and co-author David MacMichael lamented the "embarrassment" of "the gaffes made by Secretary of State Colin Powell in his debut as imagery analyst before the UN Security Council, and his praising as 'exquisite' a graduate school paper masquerading as top secret intelligence from the UK -- to name just a few.

"Embarrassments of this kind receive little play among those American TV commentators who are helping the administration beat the drums for war." (Would "liberal" media do such a thing?) Such stories usually hit the cutting room floor.

Similarly, McGovern and MacMichael wrote, "no airtime in this country is provided to veterans of the US Intelligence Community, unless some can be ferreted out who march to the same drumbeat. Some of us have had the extraordinary experience of been erased at the last minute from the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal and invited-then-disinvited to TV programs like Jim Lehrer and Fox News" -- the conservative bastion of "fair and balanced" reporting.

"Many of our former colleagues and successors are facing a dilemma all too familiar to intelligence veterans -- the difficult choices that must be faced when the demands of good conscience butt up against deeply ingrained attitudes concerning secrecy, misguided notions of what is true patriotism, and understandable reluctance to put careers and mortgages on the line."

"In the face of impending catastrophe we feel a responsibility to speak out -- if only to remind the present generation of intelligence officers that they do have choices and that in the longer run their consciences will rest easier if they face squarely into those choices."

For those truly concerned about U.S. national security and integrity, don't be distracted by those cry "unpatriotic" to anyone who dares to utter legitimate and necessary criticism of the present administration's "intelligence failures."

Sean Gonsalves writes for Cape Cod Times.

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