Overtime at Headquarters: The CIA and Manipulation
Interview with Ray McGovern
Former CIA worker Ray McGovern on days and nights when the Vice-President, Secretary of State and the security advisor prepared secret service material for the United Nations
[Normally nothing is publicized about the internal life of the CIA. The initiative of former gaents of the US secret service - the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) - that turned to the general public in January 2003 - is very extraordinary. VIPS-founder Ray McGovern who worked 27 years for the CIA before his discharge explains the breach with the esprit de corps. This interview originally published in: Freitag 38, September 12, 2003 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.freitag.de/2003/38/03380701.php.]
Freitag: What do you hope to accomplish with your organization? Do you understand yourself as a watchdog for the public interest?
Ray McGovern: That's a reasonable description. We have many years of secret service experience. When no one spoke the truth on the eve of the Iraq war and the war was justified with flimsy arguments, someone had to raise his voice. Colleagues active in the machine could hardly criticize.
That the government manipulates or disregards secret service information isn't a new phenomenon.
One director of the CIA - William Casey - was appointed rto the government cabinet during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. This was a disastrous decision because the head of the secret service who should ensure independent assessments of conditions oriented only in facts fell into a political process. Secret service information loses all credibility when assessments and politics are no longer distinguished.
Isn't that happening again with CIA director Tenet who is responsible for formulating political priorities?
Tenet is a strange CIA director. He brought himself into an impossible situation since he was directly responsible for a part of government policy in the Middle East on account of the "Tenet plan".
If he failed, he could hardly be dismissed because he simply knows too much and can extort his boss.
First of all, Tenet is so grateful and loyal to the president that he would do anything for him. On the other hand, you are right. If conflict occurs, Tenet could publicize his information. He has certainly stored all the explosive information somewhere that he gave to the president in the months before September 11, 2001. If the public learns about this, Bush's failure to be equal to the situation may quickly become undeniable. He should at least have alerted the airlines and airports.
We are in a constitutional crisis
What is the present mood in the CIA?
The people are rather demoralized, at least in the departments charged with analyzing conditions. Remember their engagement in examining all the reports about possible connections between Iraq and al Qaeda. The result was very clear after one-and-a-half years of hard work: no evidence existed at all. Then they had to watch as their boss with Colin Powell simply invented these connections.
Why was there no resistance in Washington to these practices?
We are in a constitutional crisis. Only Congress actually has the right to declare war. Our founding fathers insisted on this article. When the president now asks Congress to approve a war with dubious misleading reasons and falsified information, that is a grave violation of the constitution.
The question how this could happen is inevitably raised.
September 11, this incredible trauma for the political class of our nation, is the answer. The PR-machine of the White House could exploit the fear and connect Iraq with the attacks without a word of protest. Congress was deceived with the warning that Saddam Hussein would soon possess nuclear weapons. People shouldn't wait until a mushroom cloud provided the proof. In this atmosphere, the representatives renounced on their constitutional rights and allowed the government to decide for war.
This incredible event can be understood figuratively.
The Bush administration did everything to win the world public for its war course. Secretary of Srtate Colin Powell sought to convince the world public with his speech on February 5, 2003 before the UN Security Council. This was quickly unmasked as pure propaganda. What happened?
Colin Powell spent four days and nights in the CIA headquarters right before this speech. A decision on the war was long overdue. However no convincing justificartion was shown. No well-founded analysis removing all doubt was presented. Thus Powell set out for the CIA seeking this urgently necessary analysis. Normally he would have been ashamed about his predicament. However shame is alien to this administration. Colin Powell was not alone. Condoleeza Rice, the Vice-President and Newt Gingrich (former republican majority leader of the House) reflected with Powell about what could be told the Security Council. This incredible event could be understood figuratively. The highest representatives of the US government conferred, sifted through the secret service material and sought information that could be manipulated into a credible reason for war to the UN.
You were personally responsible for instructing the former Vice-President George Bush - the father of the current president - with CIA information between 1981 and 1985. Can you imagine what the father is thinking when he sees the politics practiced by his son?
I have often asked myself this question. The people who determine our foreign policy today didn't come to their jobs overnight. They were politically active for a long time. In the 80s they were regarded as "mad" or "insane". When people spoke of "the insane" at that time, everyone immediately knew who was meant: Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and their cohorts. The father may have a hard time understanding that Bush junior trusts these people.
Your initiative was too late to influence the war decision. What are your future plans?
We will prevent new adventures. When the American people recognize that the war in Iraq only occurred through falsifications, launching attacks on Syria, Iran or North Korea will be much harder in the future. When colleagues of the secret service publically explain how their information was distorted and their conclusions falsified, we will have made an important contribution to opinion-making.