Eric Alterman / Prospect.org & Ray McGovern / Tom Paine.com – 2006-11-15 23:40:14
An Iran-Contra Episode Robert Gates Might Prefer to Forget.
Eric Alterman / Prospect.org
(November 8, 2006) — The president announced his pick to replace Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense today: former CIA director Robert Gates. Bound to surface in the coming national scrutiny of Gates is his role in the Iran-Contra affair.
One of the great misconceptions of the Iran-Contra scandal is the widely-held belief that when then-Attorney General Meese called a press conference on November 25, 1986, to announce his discovery of the famous “diversion” of funds from the weapons sales to Iran to pay for weapons for the Nicaraguan contras, he was finally revealing the truth of what took place.
As Oliver North pointed out in his memoir, the administration had much to gain by focusing on the diversion:
This particular detail was so dramatic, so sexy, that it might actually — well, divert public attention from other, even more important aspects of the story, such as what else the President and his top advisers had known about and approved.
And if it could be insinuated that this supposedly terrible deed was the exclusive responsibility of one mid-level staff assistant at the National Security council (and perhaps his immediate superior, the national security adviser), and that this staffer had acted on his own (however unlikely that might be), and that, now that you mention it, his activities might even be criminal — if the pubic and the press focused on that, then maybe you didn’t have another Watergate on your hands after all.” 1
The story of the arms sales broke, originally, in al-Shiraa, on November 3, 1986. The Iranian Speaker of the Parliament, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, confirmed it in a speech to the Iranian Parliament the following day, adding the details about National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane’s delivery of a Bible and a chocolate cake as thank-you gifts for the meeting.
At this point, Chief of Staff Donald Regan told the president that the time had come to finally “go public” about the effort. But John Poindexter disagreed and carried the day.
The president went forth to assure reporters it was a story that “came out of the Middle East and that, to us, has no foundation.” 2 Presidential Press Secretary Larry Speakes later admitted that Reagan “knew [this remark] was wrong at the time.” 3
Six days later, the president changed his story in a televised address to the nation, when he admitted to shipping some missiles to Iran; but he lied once again by insisting that, “taken together, [the missiles] could easily have fit into a single cargo plane.” With the crisis continuing to build, Reagan went before the press eight days later, on November 19, and stuck to his incredible story. He perpetuated the falsehood that the United States “had nothing to do with other countries or their shipments of arms to Iran, including Israel.” 4
By this time, however, Poindexter had already briefed the press about the US negotiations with Israel to provide the weapons, and so the falsity of Reagan’s account was transparent to everyone but the president himself.
The pressure for a credible explanation of the affair continued to increase. Congress demanded testimony from CIA director William Casey and Poindexter. It was at this point that the two men joined with North — and CIA Deputy Director Robert Gates — to construct a false chronology of the “enterprise,” in order to cover up their illegal deeds and protect their president.
In this document, they perpetuated Reagan’s earlier set of lies by arguing that no one in the CIA knew that anything but oil-drilling equipment had been delivered to Iran. North further tailored the chronology to suggest that no one in the entire US government had been aware of the truth of the matter, when, in fact, George Shultz had contemporaneous notes proving that he, McFarlane, and Reagan were all fully briefed about the true nature of the shipments.
Shultz then queried State Department legal adviser Abraham Sofaer regarding the extent of his legal responsibility to tell the truth about this, and Sofaer told him that yes, he was legally bound to do so.
So informed, Shultz threatened to resign if the chronology was not corrected. Casey died of a brain hemorrhage before he could be asked about the false chronology, but both North and Poindexter later testified that he was aware that the chronologies were deliberately “inaccurate.” 5
In his own memoir, Gates later noted that “[t]he first ingredient in the Contra time bomb was an administration unwilling to make a major national political issue of Nicaragua and live with the results, yet so committed to the Contra cause that it would thwart the obvious will of Congress and, unprecedentedly, run a foreign covert action out of the White House funded by foreign governments and private citizens.” True, but a second ingredient was a CIA willing to go along with it. Let’s hope he’s learned something about the value of institutional independence in the interim.
Nation media columnist and CUNY Journalism Professor Eric Alterman is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and Media Matters, where his blog Altercation recently moved from MSNBC.com. He is also the author of six books, including When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences and What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News.
1. Oliver North with William Novak, Under Fire, An American Story (New York: HarperCollins, 1991), 2, 7-8.
2. The Iran-Contra Scandal: The Declassified History, Peter Kornbluh and Malcolm Byrne, eds. (New York: The New Press, 1993), 305.
3. Jane Mayer and Doyle McManus, Landslide: The Unmaking of the President, 1984-1988 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988), 295
4. Cited in The Iran-Contra Scandal: The Declassified History, Peter Kornbluh and Malcolm Byrne, eds. (New York: The New Press, 1993), 304-6.
5. Theodore Draper, A Very Thin Line: The Iran Contra Affairs (New York: Hill and Wang, 1991) 490.
The Cheney-Gates Cabal
Ray McGovern / Tom Paine.com
Ray McGovern, a CIA analyst from 1963 to 1990. His acquaintance with Robert Gates goes back 36 years.
(November 09, 2006) — As the Iraq war goes from bad to worse, President George W. Bush jettisoned “stay the course” in favor of “necessary adjustments.” Yesterday he showed how quickly he can adjust to the mid-term election results, when he jettisoned Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, barely a week after telling reporters Rumsfeld was doing a “fantastic job” and that he wanted him to stay on for the next two years.
It had been clear for weeks that the election would be a referendum on the war in Iraq and that Republican losses would be substantial. And Rumsfeld and Bush had every intention of avoiding the embarrassment likely to come of the grilling of Rumsfeld by congressional committees chaired by Democrats. Besides, who better to try to blame for the “long, hard slog” in Iraq than the fellow who coined the expression, and then implemented it with dubious distinction?
I have the sense that Rumsfeld offered himself as scapegoat for Iraq, not only to avoid another acrimonious tangle with Sen. Hillary Clinton, but also to help Bush project an image of flexibility and decisiveness to cope with the imminent sea change in Congress.
Neoconservatives Eat Their Own
Former allies are among those now denouncing him. The abandonment is enough to pin down even an old wrestler like Rumsfeld, but perhaps the most unkindest cut of all came from longstanding supporter “Cakewalk Ken” Adelman who, like other neoconservatives, have turned mercilessly on their old, now discredited friend.
In an interview for David Rose’s “Neo Culpa” in Vanity Fair, Adelman came across as feeling jilted.
We’re losing in Iraq… I’ve worked with [Rumsfeld] three times in my life. I’ve been to each of his houses in Chicago, Taos, Santa Fe, Santo Domingo, and Las Vegas. I’m very, very fond of him, but I‚m crushed by his performance. Did he change, or were we wrong in the past? Or is it that he was never really challenged before? I don’t know. He certainly fooled me.
As the saying goes, with friends like that, who needs Hillary? …Or a pummeling by the Army-Navy-Air Force-Marine Corps Times?
I almost feel sorry for Donald Rumsfeld (and I‚m not just saying that because, with the “Military Commissions Act” now signed into law, he can declare me — or anyone — an unlawful enemy combatant and “disappear” me into some black hole for the rest of my days). What betrayal. What disingenuousness. Et tu , Cakewalk Ken?
The neoconservatives are attempting to push the blame onto Rumsfeld for the debacle they authored. Parallel attempts by administration officials to scapegoat Rumsfeld will be equally transparent and unconvincing.
The “Cheney-Rumsfeld Cabal “ may now be down to one. But there is every sign that Cheney will continue to be the dominant force in the White House, and he recently asserted:
You cannot make national security policy on the basis of [elections]. It may not be popular with the public. It doesn’t matter, in the sense that we have to continue the mission [in Iraq].
Granted, Cheney made those comments before the election. But it is virtually certain that Bush vetted with Cheney the nomination of Robert Gates to succeed Rumsfeld and, if past experience is precedent, it is a virtual certainty that Gates will continue to earn an A+ for “loyalty.” Look for a “Cheney-Gates cabal.”
Gates has been getting unduly positive press treatment since the announcement of his nomination. This is in part due to his participation in the realist-led Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel tasked with devising plans to stabilize Iraq. There’s hope that Gates will help push through the group’s recommendations.
It is always possible that Gates really will bring, in the president’s words, “a fresh perspective and new ideas on how America can achieve our goals in Iraq,” but to those of us who have watched Gates parrot and implement White House policies˜not create new ones — this seems a long shot. And as noted yesterday by Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., who will probably chair the House International Affairs Committee:
You can’t unscramble the omelet and the tremendous mistakes that were made after major military operations; I don’t see any magical solutions.
It seems only fair at the outset to give Gates the benefit of the doubt. He can hardly match the disaster Rumsfeld wrought with his fancy language and fanciful ideas, but that is damning with faint praise.
Unless Gates‚ years outside the Beltway have wrought major behavioral change, Gates will bend to the wishes of Cheney and Bush and avoid taking stands on principle. While it is one thing to give him the benefit of the doubt; it is quite another to be oblivious to the considerable baggage he brings with him from past service.
An Intelligence ‘Fixer’
Those of us who had a front-row seat to watch Gates‚ handling of substantive intelligence can hardly forget the manner in which he cooked it to the recipe of whomever he reported to. A protégé of William Casey, President Ronald Reagan’s CIA director, Gates learned well from his mentor.
In 1995, Gates told The Washington Post‘s Walter Pincus that he watched Casey on “issue after issue sit in meetings and present intelligence framed in terms of the policy he wanted pursued.” Gates followed suit, cooking the analysis to justify policies favored by Casey and the White House. And the cooking was consequential.
I was amused to read this morning in David Ignatius‚ column in The Washington Post that Gates “was the brightest Soviet analyst in the [CIA] shop, so Casey soon appointed him deputy director overseeing his fellow analysts.” He wasn‚t; and Casey had something other than expertise in mind.
Talk to anyone who was there at the time˜except the sycophants Gates co-opted to do his bidding˜and they will explain that Gates‚ meteoric career had most to do with his uncanny ability to see a Russian under every rock turned over by Casey. Those of Gates‚ subordinates willing to see two Russians became branch chiefs; three won you a division. I exaggerate only a little.
To Casey, the Communists could never change; and Gorbachev was simply cleverer than his predecessors. With his earlier training in our branch, and with his doctorate in Soviet affairs, Gates clearly knew better. Yet he carried Casey’s water, and stifled all dissent. One result was that the CIA as an institution missed the implosion of the Soviet Union˜no small oversight.
Another result was a complete loss of confidence in CIA analysis on the part of then-Secretary of State George Shultz and others who smelled the cooking. In July 1987, in the wake of the Iran-Contra affair, he told Congress: “I had come to have grave doubts about the objectivity and reliability of some of the intelligence I was getting.”
And well he might. For example, in the fall of 1985 there was an abrupt departure from CIA’s analytical line that Iran was supporting terrorism.
On November 22, 1985 the agency reported that Iranian-sponsored terrorism had “dropped off substantially” in 1985, but no evidence was adduced to support that key judgment. Oddly, a few months later CIA’s analysis reverted back to pre-November 1985 with no further mention of any drop-off in Iranian support for terrorism.
The U.S. illegally shipped Hawk missiles to Iran in late November 1985. When questions were raised about this in the summer of 1987, Stephen Engelberg of The New York Times quoted senior CIA official Clair George: “There was an example of a desperate attempt to try to sort of prove something was happening to make the policy [arms Iran for hostages] look good, and it wasn‚t.”
Also in 1985 Gates commissioned and warped a National Intelligence Estimate suggesting that Soviet influence in Iran could soon grow and pose a danger to US interests. This also formed part of the backdrop for the illegal arms-for-hostages deal with Iran.
More serious still was Gates‚ denial of awareness of Oliver North’s illegal activities in support of the Contra attacks in Nicaragua, despite the fact that senior CIA officials claimed they had informed Gates that North had diverted funds from the Iranian arms sales for the benefit of the Contras. The independent counsel for the Iran-Contra investigation (1986-93), Lawrence Walsh, later wrote in frustration that Gates “denied recollection of facts thirty-three times.”
In 1991, when President George H. W. Bush nominated Robert Gates for the post of Director of Central Intelligence, there was a virtual insurrection among CIA analysts who had suffered under his penchant for cooking intelligence. The stakes for integrity of analysis were so high that many still employed at the agency summoned the courage to testify against the nomination.
But the fix was in, thanks to then-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, David Boren and his staff director, George Tenet. The issue was considered so important, however, that 31 senators voted against Gates when the committee forwarded his nomination. Never before or since has a CIA director nominee received so many nay votes.
Gates is the one most responsible for institutionalizing the politicization of intelligence analysis by setting the example and promoting malleable managers more interested in career advancement than the ethos of speaking truth to power.
In 2002, it was those managers who then-CIA Director George Tenet ordered to prepare what has become known as the “Whore of Babylon”˜the October 1 National Intelligence Mis-Estimate on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He instructed them to adhere to the guidelines set by Vice President Dick Cheney in his infamous, preemptive speech of August 26, 2002, and complete it in three weeks˜in order to force a congressional vote before the mid-term election. To their discredit, the managers complied and issued the worst NIE in the history of American intelligence.
All those quoted in the press yesterday and this morning regarding the Gates nomination seem blissfully unaware of this history˜all, that is, but Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. Pointing out Gates‚ reputation for putting pressure on analysts to shape their conclusions to fit administration policies, Holt told the press yesterday that the nomination is “deeply troubling,” and stressed that the confirmation hearings “should be thorough and probing.”
Ray McGovern, a CIA analyst from 1963 to 1990, is on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. Full disclosure: He is indebted to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld for TV notoriety on May 4, when McGovern’s impromptu questioning after a Rumsfeld speech in Atlanta elicited denials later shown to be false after fact-checks by the TV networks.
McGovern’s acquaintance with Robert Gates, whom the president has picked to succeed Rumsfeld, goes back 36 years to when Gates was a journeyman analyst in the CIA’s Soviet Foreign Policy branch led by McGovern.
People are focusing on Gate’s role as cooker of intelligence to fit policy- he did this early on, before the Bush I invasion in 1991. There’s another, more sinister aspect to his appointment. Remember, Bush’s goal is to become absolute dictator in America.
This is proven by the Military Commissions Act and the parallel act stuck into another bill which extends Bush’s power to declare a national emergency and use the National Guard against the people. Uniting defense and intelligence in one person, the new Secretary of State, would further Bush’s goal.
— Carol Wolman
Rumsfeld’s “resignation” probably has more to do with a reluctance to testify under a democratic majority held committee. To save face he is taking the fall for the bush-cheney administration. In other words he is being sacrificed. Cheney and Rumsfeld’s decades-long relationship has been the strong influential motivating force behind bush’s foreign policies. Even with rummy gone there is little sign cheney will become irrelevant.
“You cannot make national security policy on the basis of [elections]. It may not be popular with the public. It doesn’t matter, in the sense that we have to continue the mission [in Iraq].”
Apparently Cheney does not believe he works for the voters. Based on past actions neither will Rummy’s replacement Robert Gates whose allegiance will probably be to bush, not the country (according to various articles I’ve read.) Granted MSN paints Gates as a pragmatic, common-sense type of guy, but it was not so long ago when he was testifying in-front of Congress about a possible Iran-Contra cover-up.
Although his participation was not proven he was suspected of fabricating the truth. But we’ll probably never know because Bush 41 pardoned so many people it brought the investigations to a screeching halt.
Without qualms — like bush, rummy, cheney and rice — he cooked intelligence to justify and pursue an agenda. As a “… protégé of William Casey, President Ronald Reagan’s CIA director, Gates learned well from his mentor. In 1995, Gates told The Washington Post ‘s Walter Pincus that he watched Casey on “issue after issue sit in meetings and present intelligence framed in terms of the policy he wanted pursued.” Gates followed suit, cooking the analysis to justify policies favored by Casey and the White House. And the cooking was consequential.
We’ve already been down this road with Iraq and have no need to do so again. How many times will history repeat itself until we “get it.”
In a rare and unusual show of rebellion CIA analysts demonstrated strong opposition after President H W Bush nominated Gates to head the CIA. Well-known for his affinity to cook intelligence, McGovern asserts:
“Gates is the one most responsible for institutionalizing the politicization of intelligence analysis by setting the example and promoting malleable managers more interested in career advancement than the ethos of speaking truth to power. In 2002, it was those [same] managers who then-CIA Director George Tenet ordered to prepare what has become known as the “Whore of Babylon”˜the October 1 National Intelligence Mis-Estimate on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He instructed them to adhere to the guidelines set by Vice President Dick Cheney in his infamous, preemptive speech of August 26, 2002, and complete it in three weeks˜in order to force a congressional vote before the mid-term election. To their discredit, the managers complied and issued the worst NIE in the history of American intelligence.
McGovern also argues:
It seems only fair at the outset to give Gates the benefit of the doubt. He can hardly match the disaster Rumsfeld wrought with his fancy language and fanciful ideas, but that is damning with faint praise. Unless Gates‚ years outside the Beltway have wrought major behavioral change, Gates will bend to the wishes of Cheney and Bush and avoid taking stands on principle. While it is one thing to give him the benefit of the doubt; it is quite another to be oblivious to the considerable baggage he brings with him from past service..
The only noticeable difference between rummy and gates is rummy sees terrorists while gates saw communists lurking in every shadow. Neither seem to give credence to principle or truth. Consequently it suggests gates may not live up to expectation.
With so much at stake, the odds are high as history illustrates, Gates’ may become another Bush-lackey during this crucial time when the need for a divorce between intelligence and politics couldn’t be greater.
Gates’ saving grace, is his seat on the Baker Group (James Baker, Sandra Day O’connor and other credible people) whose collective sole goal is finding a way to extricate the US from Iraq.