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Editor's Note: At end of article, see special comments from several former CIA insiders.
As Gen. David Petraeus prepares to take the helm at CIA in September, he can expect unswerving loyalty from his likely deputy, Michael Morell, who has been acting director since July when Leon Panetta left to become Secretary of Defense.
Like many senior CIA officials in recent years, Morell's record is checkered, at best. He held key jobs in intelligence analysis over the past decade as the CIA often served as a handmaiden to the war propagandists.
As for Michael Morell, as with many other successful CIA careerists, his strongest suit seemed to be pleasing his boss and not antagonizing the White House. If past is precedent, his loyalty will be to Petraeus, not necessarily to the truth.
Forgive me if my thinking about loyalty to the facts seems "obsolete" or "quaint" -- or if it seems unfair to expect CIA analysts to put their careers on the line when politicians and ideologues are misleading the nation to war -- but those were the principles that analysts of my generation tried to uphold.
The recent tendency at CIA to give politicians what they want to hear rather than the hard truth is not healthy for the Republic that we were all sworn to serve.
And, if Petraeus's own past is precedent, loyalty to the four-star general will not always be synonymous with loyalty to the truth.
Burnishing an Image
However, you will get no indication of this troubling reality from the flattering, but thin, feature about Michael Morell, "Mr. Insider Will Guide Petraeus at the CIA," by Siobhan Gorman in the Wall Street Journal on Aug. 26.
Gorman is normally a solid reporter; but either she did not perform due diligence and let herself be snookered, or her editors stepped in to ensure her story was consonant with the image Petraeus and the Establishment wish to create for Morell.
Before her "rare" interview with Morell, Gorman should have taken a close look at former CIA Director George Tenet's memoir, At the Center of the Storm, to learn what Tenet says about Morell's record during the last decade's dark days of misleading and dishonest intelligence.
In Tenet's personal account of the CIA's failures around 9/11 and the Iraq War, Morell -- Tenet's former executive assistant -- is generally treated kindly, but Tenet puts Morell at the center of two key fiascoes: he "coordinated the CIA review" of Secretary of State Colin Powell's infamous Feb. 5, 2003 address to the United Nations and he served as the regular CIA briefer to President George W. Bush.
Putting Access Before Honesty
So, Morell was there as Bush blew off early CIA warnings about the possibility of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden being "determined to strike in the US" -- and while Bush and his neoconservative inner circle were concocting intelligence to justify invading Iraq.
Tenet credits Morell with suggesting to analysts that they prepare a report on the terrorist threat, which became the President's Daily Brief that was handed to Bush on Aug. 6, 2001, at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Bush brushed aside the warning with a reported comment to the CIA briefer, "all right, you've covered your ass," and went off fishing.
Though Tenet said Morell got along well with Bush, it appears the President didn't pay much heed to any CIA information coming from Morell, at least not anything that went against what Bush wanted to hear -- nor did Morell seem to risk offending the President by pushing these contrary points.