Try These on Your CIA Briefer, Mr. President-Elect
By Ray McGovern
After a week lecturing at Kansas State University 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.)
So 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 audience.
Most 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.
Caddell 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.
What 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.
The president-elect needs to start asking hard questions. Now.
Here are some he might want to select from for the next briefing:
1—The 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.
Task: A two page memo on who started the fighting and why
Deadline: Nov 12
2—As 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.
I 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
3—My 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” troops.
Deadline: Nov. 19
4—Confusion 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
5—No outsiders have been able to prevail in Afghanistan. What makes us think the U.S. can change that history?
Task: A formal National Intelligence Estimate on prospects for Afghanistan
Deadline: January 9, 2009
6—Nuclear 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 perspective
Deadline: Nov 26
7—Peak 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
8—My 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
9—Mike, 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.
The next two questions are for you, Mike:
(1) 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 being “fixed?”
(2) 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. Your comment?
Do 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 require.
Do 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 issues.
Thank you. And best of luck if we do not meet again.
Ray 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).
The original of this article appeared on Consortiumnews.com.