Wednesday 1 September 2004

Is Porter Goss the Right Man for the CIA?

by Trowbridge H. Ford

Uncle Sam wants YOU to die for big business Everything political in America, and nearly everything is politicized, is constantly in flux. Nothing is ever left alone, though few things ever are properly done. If something doesn't need fixing, there are still efforts to radically reform it or change it in most underhanded ways - like Social Security. If something needs some adjustments, say unemployment insurance, they are only accomplished by the necessary horse-trading of votes which result in all kinds of unexpected outcomes, and in other policies and programs getting affected. If something badly needs help, like health insurance or minimum income support, it is withheld in the hope that the program will simply succumb or the problem will solve itself. Known basket cases like the Central Intelligence Agency are left to molder until something terrible happens, or until election time when their problems can be recklessly exploited for votes because no one wants to admit that they have been a mistake from the very beginning, and they cannot be fixed.

This doesn't happen because Americans are inherently different from other folks, though orneriness, followed closely by hypocrisy, is their outstanding bad habit. The root of the problem is that they live in a kind of political fog - founded upon constitutional myth which the media take advantage of, politicians exploit, the educational system perpetuates, and the various religious denominations legitimize. As a country essentially founded by immigrants, Americans have always favored, in general, as little government as possible for fear that its powers would be used against them, though, of course, they are not opposed to any favors thrown their way, provided that they have no quid pro quos. This means essentially a kind of Adam Smith, night-watchman state, along with some frills, unexpected kickbacks, and weird anomalies.

Of course, the Constitution and its amendments are the basis of the system, but the needs of change have not been able to keep up with the rhetoric of the Founding Fathers. Americans, from the very beginning, have never been comfortable with many, if any, demands of government, as the American Revolution and the Civil War demonstrated. Americans have invariably been utopians who were more interested in establishing some kind of state of grace in their own bit of space rather than decent, predictable government for all, resulting in pockets of separatism and pangs of anarchism throughout the land. Even the most minimal demands for achieving some kind of national unity have only been achieved after considerable, often unnecessary struggle.

The United States has, consequently, only been dragged into the 21th century, screaming and kicking. In no other developed country is the ideology of its founders more honored in practice than in America. The doctrine of the Scottish Enlightenment - especially federalism and the separation of governmental powers - lives in Washington, and the state capitals throughout the country. Even in Britain and France, countries equally proud of their revolutionary traditions, have seen them honored more in the breach than in usual practice. Their complaints now are with President Jacques Chirac and his British counterpart, 'President' Tony Blair, and their cronies, as if the French National Assembly, and the British Monarchy and Parliament have finally become only dignified parts - to use the terminology of Walter Bagehot's English Constitution - of their systems of government.

In no part of the American constitution has there been greater political confusion, organizational conflict, and policy chaos than in the running of Washington's so-called intelligence community - actually a most jerry-built collection of agencies which overlap, needlessly compete, and are so entrenched that nothing can be done about it. While the evolution of the Federal Bureau of Investigation under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover in this regard is notorious, the CIA has had an even more disfunctional history. Created as an essential stop-gap in the perilous, opening days of the Cold War, it has changed functions so many times to suit the moods of the time, the demands of Presidents, and the dictates of its Directors to the point where no one knows what to do with it now.

If anyone doubts this conclusion, he or she should just read the articles and comments about retiring Represenative from Florida Porter Goss becoming the next Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) in an environment in which everyone is engaging in wild 'cherry-picking' about the nation's intelligence needs, how it should be met, the CIA's capability, Goss's intelligence experience, and his political performance. Instead of pausing to reflect deeply upon the problems - doing nothing in the interim - everyone is charging off in different directions about the various possibilities as if they were some kind of Don Quixote, without the assistance even of a Sancho Panza.

Take, for example, the articles and analysis about Goss's chances of being an adequate DCI, the easiest problem to solve apparently of all the intelligence community's difficulties. The media, instead of doing a fair assessment of what Goss did while working as an Agency agent, and as a representative for a posh Florida constituency, has engaged in a most deceiving series of stories about what he apparently has done, and is capable of - set against a most make-believe environment of what a DCI should be doing.

Three former DCIs, Admiral Stansfield Turner, Judge William Webster, and R. James Woolsey, recently provided a list of what one should be capable of, though the Admiral added that he thought that Goss would make for the worst one yet, if confirmed. This would be some performance, given what William Casey, Richard Helms, and even Turner himself had accomplished while at Langley. Casey delegated its responsibilities to other agencies - some even in the private sector, and run by foreigners - and officials, particularly the NSC's Ollie North, so that it could participate in an essentially peaceful, pre-emptive solution to the Cold War against the Soviets. Helms made CIA into a state within a state, and helped direct a litany of devastating assassinations to the American body politic. Even the well meaning Admiral was so out of touch with what was going on behind his back that it was hardly different from when Helms was at the helm.

Still, these three former DICs presented a most unrealistic set of commitments for any DCI - e.g., don't get caught up in politics, just serve up the facts, know your place, don't be afriad to admit ignorance, don't use the metaphors of others like connecting the dots to explain what is being done, don't try to determine the future, and fight for your own people. The idea that anything about collecting, and evaluating intelligence can be free of politics is simply absurd. In choosing what to look for, how to analyze it, and what to do about it, all require making political assumptions to start with, and entail continuing ones as any intelligence agent knows in moving through the process. Otherwise, the process is so massive, and open-ended that no one, no matter what sophisticated signal, photographic and computing equipment he has, can confidently expect to get anywhere.

And the problem is hopelessly exaggerated if the agency is also engaged in covert operations, as both CIA and Britain's MI6 are. Covert operations so lead what they are doing that simple intelligence work and its assessment always play second fiddle. The best evidence of this occurred after the end of the Cold War when it was determined that CIA's National Intelligence Estimates, supposedly its most objective work, overestimated the Soviets' military and industrial by 100%. Along the way, it had lost almost every argument with the hung-ho operators. Little wonder then that George H. W. Bush finally tried to strengthen its independence after he became President.

The real problem is setting your political priorities right all the way through the process - be looking at the right targets, assessing complicated information in a fashion which makes political sense, don't overlook other possibilities from others and higher authorities as one moves forward with one's inquiries, continually check your assumptions and findings, and so on. In any intelligence investigation, the agent makes assumptions about any source, and what he is stating from the outset, and if they turn out to the wrong, he should make the necessary adjustments as soon as possible. And it he doesn't, failing to prevent some great tragedy or embarrassment from happening, he should be punished, along with any superiors who assisted the process through acts of commission or omission.

As for these three gentlemen following their own advice, the record shows that they clearly did not. When Iran-Contra broke, for example, Judge Webster agreed to take over as DCI in order to limit the fallout from it as much as possible. As FBI Director, he knew that the CIA was wildly off constitutional course in Operation Courtship - what resulted in Iran Contra - refusing to allow the Bureau to participate in it. "Webster had reservations not only because of the possibility of failure and embarrassment," Mark Riebling wrote in Wedge, "but because such operations could violate international and even U. S. law." ((p. 369) Still, he agreed to be DCI, and when Iran-Contra broke, he brought back fellow Amherst alumnus and former DDO Richard Stolz to help cover up the whole mess. (For details, see Lawrence E. Walsh, Firewall, pp. 216-7.)

While Webster engaged in high bureaucratic politics to protect the Agency's biggest offenders in its illegal activities, Woolsey gave them a slap on the wrist after the possibly dangerous fallout from the discovery of Aldrich 'Rick' Ames's spying for the Soviets had been contained. While Woolsey wrote letters of reprimand to all kinds of retired officials, including Stolz, for allowing Ames to spy on their watch, he promoted and praised the official most reponsible for causing it - former chief of the Soviet division's CI Group Paul Redmond - making him the new special assistant for counterintelligence. While Woolsey claimed that Redmond had "dogged and determined for seven hard years" (Quoted from David Wise, Nightmover, p. 310.) to catch Ames, he actually had dragged his feet in the hope that his spying would never surface. This, in sum, was a most politicized, unfair way of backing your people, but Woolsey was trying to determine that the Agency had a future by creating a backlash of sympathy for those unfairly treated.

As for Turner's calm, apolitical running of the Agency, one only has to read about how he finally got it behind the campaign to have the Mujahideen oust the Soviets from Afghanistan to have cause to wonder : "Personally, I had to beat people over the head to get the program moving." (Quoted from an interview Christopher Andrew had with him on March 18, 1994.) The Agency's operatives were afraid that the Mujahideen would be left in the lurch, once the politicians decided to attack another convenient target - exactly what happened.

In addition, Turner tried to lay the blame for Carter's failure to rescue the American hostages in Teheran because of his refusals to allow aerial reconnaissance of the country while negotiations were still going on to obtain their release. The Admiral still believes that if the flight had taken place, the administration would have been in a much stronger position to rescue them by force when the negotiations broke down. Actually, instead of fantasizing about the flight, CIA should have recruited some Iranians, beefed up their Persian, and sent them to Teheran to help direct the rescue mission.

Given where we are now in the war on terror, perhaps Turner has already retired the title of the worst DCI.

As for Goss's prospects, they do not seem good right now, but for all the wrong stated reasons. While the press has concentrated upon his performance on the House Select Committee on Intelligence, his education at Yale, and his covert meetings with unsavory characters like Félix Rodríguez, Alder Berriman 'Barry' Seal, and Frank Sturgis, his assignment with Miami's Task Force W, and working for William King Harvey's "assassination bureau" under the code name ZR/RIFLE seem much more damning - what anyone could glean by reading that Goss served in Miami, Haiti, and Mexico City before his Agency career was cut surprisingly short after he contracted some strange bacteriological infection.

Goss's attempts to rein in the intelligence community's budget after disclosure of the Ames scandal seem quite justified. Respected Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan had already introduced a bill terminating the Agency, calling it an "obsolete tool" of the Cold War (Riebling, p. 412), and went on to write a book, denouncing America's culture of secrecy. Under the circumstances, Goss's calling for a 20% reduction in the intelligence budget over 5 years seems quite legitimate. Kerry only wanted to cut the budget 5% over the same period. The Agency, in particular, was still trying to do too much, and spending too much time and effort to hide from the public what it had done.

And Goss's visit, along with Senators Graham and Kyl, with Pakistan's Intelligence Bureau Chief General Mahmoud Ahmal, and the Taliban Ambassador Abdul Salan Zaeev in August 2001 seems quite understandably, given the fact that the Bush administration was still trying to work out an arrangement with Kabul so that oil could flow from the Caspian to the Indian Ocean. Taliban assurances that Al-Qaeda had no intentions to attack America could have been honestly held, as Afghanistan and Pakistan, as was Washington, were truly shocked when the suicide bombers struck on 9/11. Goss should not be attacked for meeting with General Ahmad at the time. The CIA, especially Director Tenet, should be for allowing the flights to go ahead, and without even having properly trained and equipped agents on board when they did.

The attacks on Goss's experience for the job seem quite off the mark, particularly the allusions to Yale's Skull and Bones Club, and his comments to Michael Moore during the making of Fahrenheit 9/11. Goss never belonged to the club, and his comments to Moore have no relevance to the current situation. Goss is not trying to turn the clock back a half-century, and start over at the Agency's bottom. So all his comments about not having the proper language and computer skills are just so much meal for the Bush gristmills. If Goss were starting all over, he certainly would get the necessary qualifications in both areas as Yale has excellent programs in both areas, especially in languages like Tamil, Tibetan, Wolof, Albanian, Dinka, Igbo, Tigrynia, Twi, and Visayan/Cebuano.

Then, there is the famous picture that The New York Times and other leading American papers have printed, showing Goss apparently dining with Rodríguez, Seal, and Sturgis on January 20, 1963 in Mexico City. There is nothing sensational about it. The CIA was still authorized to be dealing with such people, and Goss had been dealing with them ever since preparations for the Bay of Pigs invasion had begun, so the photograph tells us nothing unusual. It is only alarming if the viewer makes all kinds of assumptions about what he is seeing - a cabal apparently plotting the President's assassination.

What is really alarming about Goss's experience with the Agency is when he says this: "I had some very interesting moments in the Florida Straits." Of course, the straits are between the Florida keys and Castro's Cuba. Now this is the area where the CIA sent Mafia-connected agents across to kill the Cuban leader by poisons, rifles, and explosives in the 11 months leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis despite the prohibition of Attorney General Robert Kennedy. They went on to send in commando teams during the Crisis jeopardizing international negotiations for settling it despite orders from the White House.

During the President's assassination, they were trying again to assassinate Castro, to exfiltrate a Red Army Colonel from Cuba who would claim that Moscow had gone back on the terms of the Missile Crisis settlement, and to make it look as if the Cuban dictator had shot down Captain Glenn Hyde's U-2 flight over the straits at the time to confirm it. As a member of the House Assassinations Committee staff said: "Harvey may have been the key in accomplishing the assassination" (Quoted from Anthony Summers, The Kennedy Conspiracy, p. 529), and Goss was working for Harvey.

America, in short, has enough on its plate right now without recalling the Dallas experience in a most charged confirmation hearing. Let the current leadership run the Agency until after the election, and then let the new President decide what to do about the CIA and its DCI.