Truman was referring to how CIA Director Allen Dulles tried to mousetrap President Kennedy into committing U.S. armed forces to finish what a rag-tag band of CIA-trained invaders of Cuba began by landing at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961, a few months before you were born. Kennedy had repeatedly warned the CIA brass and covert action planners that under no circumstances would he commit U.S. forces. But they were old hands; they knew better; they thought the young President could be had.
Allen Dulles's handwritten notes discovered after his death show how he drew Kennedy into a plan that was virtually certain to require the support of U.S. forces. Dulles wrote that Kennedy would be compelled by "the realities of the situation" to give whatever military support was necessary "rather than permit the enterprise to fail."
Kennedy fired Dulles, a quintessential Washington Establishment figure -- something one does only at one's own peril. As young CIA officers at the time, some of us experienced first-hand the deep reservoir of hate in which many a CIA covert action operator swam. Many could not resist venting their spleen, calling Kennedy a "coward" and even "traitor."
Analysis Also Corrupted
You are fully aware, we trust, that our analysts' vaunted ethos of speaking unvarnished truth to power was corrupted by Director George Tenet and Deputy Director John McLaughlin, who outdid themselves in carrying out the instructions of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. The new ethos boiled down to this: If the President wants to paint Iraq as a strategic threat, it is our job to come up with the "evidence" -- even if it needs to be manufactured out of whole cloth (or forged, as in "yellowcake uranium from Africa" caper).
Honest analysts were admonished not to rock the boat. A concrete example might help to show this in all its ugliness. When the only U.S. intelligence officer to interview "Curve Ball" before the war saw a draft of Powell's Feb. 5, 2003 speech citing "first-hand descriptions" by an Iraqi defector of a fleet of mobile bioweapons laboratories, he strongly questioned the "validity of the information." The interviewer had, from the outset, expressed deep reservations about Curveball's reliability.
Here's what the interviewer's supervisor, the Deputy Chief of the CIA's Iraqi Task Force, wrote in an email responding to his misgivings:
"Let's keep in mind the fact that this war's going to happen regardless of what Curve Ball said or didn't say, and that the Powers That Be probably aren't terribly interested in whether Curve Ball knows what he's talking about. However, in the interest of Truth, we owe somebody a sentence or two of warning, if you honestly have reservations."
This was not an isolated occurrence. Commenting on the results of a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee five-year study of pre-Iraq-war intelligence, Chairman Jay Rockefeller described it as "unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even nonexistent." He was alluding to information (in)famously described as a "slam dunk" by then-CIA Director George Tenet who was singularly responsible for advancing the career of John Brennan.
In a departure from customary diplomatic parlance, then-Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence Carl Ford, speaking to the authors of Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, had harsh words for Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin. Ford said that the evidence and analysis they gave policy makers was "not just wrong, they lied " they should have been shot."
It is unfortunately true that -- short of quitting and blowing the whistle -- there is little one can do to prevent the skewing of "intelligence" when it is directed from the top -- whether by the Bush-Tenet-McLaughlin consequential deceit on the threat from Iraq, or the ideological/careerist conceit of William Casey-Robert Gates in insisting up until the very end of the Soviet regime that the Soviet Communist Party would never relinquish power and that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was merely cleverer than his predecessors.
Thankfully, Not All Gave Up
There is hope to be drawn from those occasions where senior intelligence officials with integrity can step in, show courageous example, and -- despite multiple indignities and pitfalls in the system -- can force the truth to the surface. We hope that you have been made aware that, after the no-WMD-anywhere debacle on Iraq, Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence Thomas Fingar did precisely that during 2007, supervising a watershed National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that concluded unanimously, "with high confidence," that Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon in 2003.
President Bush concedes in his memoir that this put the kibosh on his and Dick Cheney's earlier plan to attack Iran during their last year in office. So, character (as in Fingar) counts, and people of integrity can make a difference -- and even help thwart plans for war -- even in the most politicized of circumstances.
Accordingly, the primary objective in any restructuring should be to make it easier for people of integrity, like Thomas Fingar, to create an atmosphere in which analysts feel free to tell it like it is without worry about possible harm to their careers, should they come up with a politically "incorrect" conclusion -- as the one on Iran clearly was.
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