When former CIA Director George Tenet departed this weekend, he left behind an agency on life support -- an institution staffed by sycophant managers and thoroughly demoralized analysts. The findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee released Friday are a sharp blow to those of us who took pride in working in an agency where we could speak truth to power, with career protection from retribution from the powerful.
Although it was clear to many that much of the intelligence on Iraq had been cooked to the recipe of policy, not until the Senate report did we know that the skewing included outright lies. We had heard of ''Joe,'' the nuclear weapons analyst in CIA's Center for Weapons Intelligence and Arms Control, and it was abundantly clear that his agenda was to ''prove'' that the infamous aluminum tubes sought by Iraq were to be used for developing a nuclear weapon. We did not know that he and his CIA associates deliberately falsified the data -- including rotor testing ironically called ``spin tests.''
The Senate committee determined that ''Joe'' deliberately skewed data to fit preconceptions regarding an Iraqi nuclear threat. ''Who could have believed that about our intelligence community, that the system could be so dishonest?'' wondered the normally soft-spoken David Albright, a widely respected veteran expert on Iraq's work toward developing a nuclear weapon.
It's shocking to realize that former colleagues have lacked the moral courage needed to stave off the effort to enlist them as accomplices in deceiving our elected representatives into giving their blessing to an ill-conceived, unnecessary war. Even Republican stalwart Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has conceded that, had Congress known before the vote for war what his committee has now discovered, ``I doubt if the votes would have been there.''
It also turns out that only one U.S. analyst had met with the Iraqi defector appropriately codenamed ''Curveball,'' the source of the scary tale about mobile biological weapons factories. This analyst, in an e-mail to the deputy director of the CIA's task force on weapons of mass destruction, raised strong doubt regarding Curveball's reliability before Colin Powell highlighted his claims at the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003. This was the cynical response from the deputy director of the task force:
``As I said last night, let's keep in mind the fact that this war's going to happen regardless of what Curveball said or didn't say, and the powers that be probably aren't terribly interested in whether Curveball knows what he's talking about.''
With respect to Iraq, Tenet's rhetoric about ''truth'' and ''honesty'' in his valedictory last week has a distinctly Orwellian ring. Worse still, apparently ''Joe Centrifuge,'' the above-mentioned deputy director, and other co-conspirators will get off scot-free.
Sen. Roberts says he thinks ''It is very important that we quit looking in the rearview mirror and affixing blame and, you know, pointing fingers.'' And Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin has told the press that he sees no need to dismiss anyone as a result of what he portrayed as honest, limited mistakes.
I would like to hear Roberts and McLaughlin explain all this to the families of the almost 900 U.S. servicemen and women already killed and the many thousand seriously wounded in Iraq.
Roberts seemed at pains to lay the blame on a ''flawed system,'' but a close reading of the committee report yields the unavoidable conclusion that CIA analysis can no longer be assumed to be honest -- to be aimed at getting as close to the truth as one can humanly get. For those of you cynics about to smirk, I can only tell you -- believe it or not -- that truth was in fact the currency of analysis in the CIA in which I was proud to serve.
The analysis directorate was widely known as the unique place in Washington where one could usually expect to get a straight answer unencumbered by any political agenda. And we were hard into some very controversial -- often critical -- national-security issues. It does not stand to reason that any president could expect to be able, without that capability, to make intelligent judgments based on unbiased fact.
It is said that truth is the first casualty of war. In the case of Iraq, even before the war truth took a back seat to a felt need to snuggle up to power -- to stay in good odor with a president and his advisors, all well known to be hell-bent on war on Iraq.
Ray McGovern, a CIA analyst for 27 years, is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. An expanded version of this article is posted on TomPaine.com
Copyright 1996-2004 Knight Ridder.