With the announcement of CIA Director George Tenet's resignation, we're overdue for a national discussion on reforming the American intelligence community.
President Bush 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 - 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 officers in the days before the Iraq invasion to have the integrity to turn state's evidence and "stop a misguided march to war."
Two weeks ago, 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? William Christison, former director of the CIA's Office of Regional and Political Analysis, has a solid suggestion.
"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 told the Institute for Public Accuracy. "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."
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 has done a woefully poor job of doing with regards to U.S. foreign policy in Iraq.
Example: In McGovern's "Cooking Intelligence" paper, 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."
Similarly, McGovern and MacMichael wrote, "no air time in this country is provided to veterans of the U.S. intelligence community, unless some can be ferreted out who march to the same drumbeat. Some of us have had the extraordinary experience of being 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 who cry "unpatriotic" against anyone who dares to utter legitimate and necessary criticism of the present administration's "intelligence failures."
Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and a syndicated columnist.
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