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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 1/29/11

Reagan's 'Tear Down This Wall' Myth

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Under Gates, CIA intelligence analysts increasingly found themselves the victims of a bureaucratic pummeling. According to several former CIA analysts whom I interviewed, analysts faced job threats; some were subjected to allegations of psychiatric unfitness; one described having his analytical paper literally thrown in his face.

The Gates leadership team made sure that respectful attention was given to right-wing propaganda from around the world.

For instance, Reagan and his hierarchy wanted the CIA to back media claims pinning European terrorism on the Soviets, but the CIA analysts knew the charges were bogus because they were based on "black" or false propaganda that the CIA's operations division had been planting in Europe.

The White House saw the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981 as another opportunity to make propaganda points against what Reagan called the "Evil Empire."

Though the attack had been carried out by a neo-fascist extremist from Turkey, right-wing U.S. writers and journalists began to promote allegations of a secret role by the Soviet KGB. In this case, CIA analysts knew the charges were false because of the CIA's penetration of East Bloc intelligence services.

But responding to persistent White House pressure in 1985, Gates closeted a special team to push through an administration-desired paper linking the KGB to the attack. Though many analysts opposed what they believed to be a dishonest intelligence report, they couldn't stop the paper from leaving CIA and being circulated around Washington.

Reagan's politicizing of intelligence had other consequences, such as blinding the U.S. government to emerging national security threats.

For instance, CIA analysts learned that Pakistan was violating nuclear proliferation safeguards with the goal of building an atomic bomb. However, at the time, Pakistan was assisting the Reagan administration's anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan, so the analysts on Pakistan were pressured to back off their assessment.

Yet, a dire consequence of giving Pakistan a pass on proliferation was that Pakistan did succeed in developing nuclear weapons, which have contributed to an escalating arms race with India in South Asia. It also has created the potential for Islamic extremists to gain control of the Bomb by taking power in Pakistan. [See Robert Parry's Secrecy & Privilege.]

Missing the Collapse

Under pressure to exaggerate the Soviet threat, analysts had no incentive to point out what was becoming more obvious -- that the Soviet Union was a decaying, corrupt and inefficient regime tottering on the brink of collapse. To justify soaring military budgets and interventions in Third World conflicts, the Reagan administration always needed the Soviets to be 10-feet tall.

Ultimately, this systematic distortion of the CIA's Soviet assessments turned out to be a political win-win for Reagan and his supporters. Not only did Congress appropriate hundreds of billions of dollars for military projects favored by the Right, the U.S. news media largely gave Reagan the credit when the Soviet Union "suddenly" collapsed in 1991.

The neocons also had the satisfaction of seeing their old nemesis, the CIA's analytical division, take another hit in the news media -- for having "missed" the Soviet collapse.

The truth, of course, was that honest CIA analysts had been silenced in their efforts to do their job, which in this case was to tell Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush something they didn't want to hear, i.e. that the Soviet bogeyman wasn't the terrifying threat that the White House was selling to the American people.

Yet, with the bravest analysts sidelined, the CIA failed to do its job. But it wasn't as much a CIA "failure" as a "victory" for politicization. (Some neocons even spun the CIA's "failure" to detect the Soviet collapse as further proof that the CIA analysts were sympathetic to the Soviet Union and thus were blinded to the weaknesses of the communist system.)

By the early 1990s, one of the Right's top priorities was to consolidate the idea that Reagan had "won the Cold War," a recognition that would elevate Reagan and his right-wing policies into an iconic status that would endure for decades.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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