Try These on
Your CIA Briefer, Mr. President-Elect
a week lecturing at Kansas
and in Kansas
City, Missouri, and environs, I
could not shake the feeling that what Kansas and Missouri
need most is the equivalent of Radio Free Europe, which was so effective in
spreading truth around inside Eastern Europe
during the Cold War. (Truth in
advertising: during the late Sixties, I served for two years as substantive
liaison officer between the RFE and Washington.)
I was amused while still in Kansas to get a call from
Mike Caddell of “Radio Free Kansas”
asking me for an interview. Broadcasting
from rural northeastern Kansas, Caddell does his
own part in spreading truth around and has garnered quite a respectable
of his fellow Kansans are
malnourished on the right-wing media gruel that helps re-elect enablers like
see-no-evil Republican Sen. Pat Roberts.
As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Roberts did President
George W. Bush’s bidding by hiding the fact that the attack on Iraq was based
on “false pretences.” That’s the phrase
used by current chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA) to describe the bogus
intelligence used to “justify” the war, when he announced the bipartisan
findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
called me on Friday, expressing excitement at the beginning of daily
intelligence briefings of President-Elect Barack Obama by the CIA. Aware that I helped prepare the President’s Daily Brief for Presidents
Nixon and Ford, and that I conducted one-on-one PDB briefings of Reagan’s most senior advisers during the latter’s
administration, Caddell asked me to tape a telephone interview to run on his
show this weekend. He suggested that I
focus on what I would tell President-Elect Barack Obama if I were Mike Morell,
CIA’s Director of Intelligence, whom CIA Director Michael Hayden has assigned
to brief Obama daily.
fun, I thought. On more sober
reflection, it seemed more useful to prepare questions of the kind
President-Elect Obama might wish to ask Morell, since the briefings are
supposed to be a two-way street. Obama
is no shrinking violet. Just the same,
it may be useful to warn him not to succumb to the particular brand of “shock
and awe” that can be induced by ostensibly sexy intelligence and color the
reactions of briefees—even presidents. I
have seen it happen.
president-elect needs to start asking hard questions. Now.
are some he might want to select from for the next briefing:
lead story in Friday’s New York Times
undercuts the claims of Georgia’s
President Mikheil Saakashvili that he was acting in self-defense when he
ordered his troops to fire artillery and rockets at the city of Tskhinvali, the capital of South
Ossetia on the night of August 7-8. The Times’
information comes from international monitors of the highly respected
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
and, oddly, is much closer to the Russian version of what happened.
A two page memo on who started the fighting and why
Deadline: Nov 12
you are aware, a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) produced last November
concluded that Iran’s
work on the nuclear-weapons part of its nuclear development program was
suspended in mid-2003. National
Intelligence Council director, Thomas Fingar repeated that judgment publicly on
Sept. 4, 2008.
want to know how that squares—or doesn’t—with the claim by Norman Podhoretz,
just hours after the NIE’s key judgments were made public, that Iran is
“hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons,” and why Podhoretz would go on to
charge that the intelligence community was trying to “undermine George W.
Bush.” I notice, incidentally, that
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has parroted Podhoretz’ “hell-bent” phraseology,
and that your boss, Michael Hayden, has also publicly volunteered his “personal
opinion” that this is so.
Task: A memo updating the judgments of the Nov. 07
NIE, as necessary
Deadline: Nov. 14
aides have been telling me that, when speaking of the recent decrease in
violence in Iraq, I have been mis-overestimating, so to speak, the success of
the “surge” while mis-underestimating factors like the sectarian cleansing in
Baghdad, the decision to pay Sunnis not to shoot at U.S. forces, and the
decision by Muqtada al-Sadr to hold Shia fire pending the withdrawal of U.S.
forces, which the Shia see as just a matter of time.
Task: A memo ranking the reasons for the downturn
in violence in order of relative importance.
It should address all these factors; it should also explain why the U.S. has several thousand more troops in Iraq now than
were there before the insertion and subsequent withdrawal of our “surged”
Deadline: Nov. 19
reigns with respect to what is likely to happen when U.
S. forces withdraw from Iraq. The notion that administration officials know
better what to expect than the Iraqis themselves strains credulity. It has become increasingly clear that the
Iraqi government and people believe they can handle whatever comes, once we
depart, and that they consider the large U.S. troop presence part of the
problem, not the solution. And I
remember Generals Abizaid and Casey testifying to Congress in the fall of
2006—just before the president decided to “surge,” that an infusion of
additional troops would simply postpone the day when Iraqi political leaders
would recognize that they have to work things out among themselves.
Task: A memo addressing why the Iraqis are more
relaxed about a U.S. troop
withdrawal than most U.S.
officials and pundits.
Deadline: Nov. 21
outsiders have been able to prevail in Afghanistan. What makes us think the U.S. can change
Task: A formal National Intelligence Estimate on
prospects for Afghanistan
January 9, 2009
nonproliferation: The UN’s International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently proposed a nuclear-free zone as the best
way to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle
East. I want to know why
this familiar proposal never seems able to get off the ground. What are the obstacles?
Task: A memo addressing this in historical
Deadline: Nov 26
Oil: the juncture at which demand keeps growing sharply while supply
stagnates/recedes. Some say we are
already there. What does the intelligence
community think? Related question: Is it
likely that China, India, and other key countries regard the
invasion of Iraq
as the first resource war of the 21st Century?
Task: A memorandum addressing these questions
Deadline: Dec 1
advisers tell me that senior intelligence officials, including the principal
deputy to National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell, have been briefing the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a creature of the American
Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Task: Please ask McConnell to let my staff know
what other policy advocacy institutes his subordinates have briefed.
Deadline: Nov. 10
one of my aides has read carefully through the memoir of your former boss,
ex-CIA director George Tenet, who speaks very highly of you. The memoir reader got the clear impression
you were one of Tenet’s protégés; for example, he appointed you personal
briefer to President George W. Bush.
next two questions are for you, Mike:
Tenet told his British counterpart, Sir Richard Dearlove, on July 20, 2002 at
CIA Headquarters that the intelligence on Iraq was being “fixed around the
policy” of regime change.” (I refer, of
course, to the so-called “Downing Street Minutes” recording Dearlove’s briefing
of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and others at 10 Downing Street on July
23, 2002. I’m told that Blair himself
has acknowledged that the minutes are authentic.) Did you know, Mike, that the intelligence was
Tenet also says in his memoir that you “coordinated the CIA review” of Colin
Powell’s speech at the U.N. on Feb. 5, 2003.
not take this personally, Mike. But with
all due respect, you will be able to understand why I would like to start with
a fresh slate. Please inform your
management that I would prefer an intelligence briefer untainted by the debacle
on Iraq. Add that I am offended that they would send
me someone so closely associated with George Tenet, the consummate “fixer,”
representing the antithesis of the kind of honest intelligence analysis I shall
not forget to pass along to your successor the requests I have made. Admittedly, some of the tasks carry tight
deadlines, but surely your analysts are already at work on these front-burner
you. And best of luck if we do not meet
McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publications arm of the ecumenical
Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His career as a CIA analyst spanned seven
administrations and included responsibility for chairing NIEs, as well as
preparing and presenting the President’s
Daily Brief. He is now a member of
the Steering Group of Veteran
Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
of this article appeared on Consortiumnews.com.