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Righting the CIA

THE BALTIMORE SUN

PRESIDENT HARRY S. Truman created the Central Intelligence Agency in 1947 to coordinate the various assessments of the intelligence community and to place the CIA outside the policy community. In this way, Mr. Truman wanted to encourage competitive analysis within the intelligence community and to make sure that policy-makers did not tailor intelligence to suit their interests.

Over the years, there have been many attempts to politicize intelligence. But no government has been so blatant as the Bush administration, which used phony intelligence to justify the war against Iraq and has introduced a new director of central intelligence, Porter J. Goss, to conduct a political housecleaning at the highest levels of the agency.

I joined the CIA in 1966 during the Vietnam War and witnessed a major campaign to ensure that intelligence supported the Johnson administration's troop buildup in Southeast Asia. Working-level analysts correctly estimated the size of the Viet Cong forces and even predicted the Tet offensive in 1966, but time and again, senior officials caved in to Pentagon demands to limit the order of battle for irregular forces and to downplay the strength of Vietnam's military capabilities. After Tet in 1968, the CIA made honest efforts to accurately assess the capabilities and strengths of the enemy.

We are witnessing a similar phenomenon today, with agency analysts trying to improve their Iraqi intelligence reporting after tailoring intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and links to terrorism prior to the war.

As a member of a CIA support team on arms control negotiations in the early 1970s, I had to deal with the efforts of Defense Secretary Melvin R. Laird to block any intelligence that made the case for negotiating the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty and Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty.

Several years after these treaties were negotiated, President Gerald Ford sponsored the infamous Team A/Team B exercise that was designed to toughen the CIA's strategic intelligence and derail dM-itente between the United States and the Soviet Union. Team A was the CIA assessment group on Soviet strategic forces. Team B was a group of hard-line outsiders headed by Harvard Professor Richard Pipes that believed the Soviet Union surpassed the United States in overall military strength and was bent on a first-strike policy. The CIA director at the time, George H. W. Bush, ultimately concluded that the Team B approach set "in motion a process that lends itself to manipulation for purposes other than estimative accuracy."

I resigned from the CIA in 1990 because of the politicization of intelligence on the Soviet Union, which was championed by CIA Director William J. Casey and his deputy for intelligence, Robert M. Gates. The overestimates of the strength of the Soviet Union in the 1980s meant that the policy community was completely surprised by the Soviet collapse and missed numerous negotiating opportunities with Moscow.

When a new CIA director, William H. Webster, finally began to brief Congress on the collapse of Soviet military power in 1990, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney complained that these briefings were making it difficult for him to generate congressional support for the president's defense budget.

Mr. Casey and Mr. Gates also were responsible for politicizing intelligence on Central America, exaggerating the role of the Soviet Union and Cuba in the politics of Nicaragua and in Iran, suggesting that there were moderates in Tehran who were prepared to deal with the United States.

These examples of tailored intelligence led directly to the Iran-contra scandal of 1985 and 1986. The dispute within the State Department over Nicaragua became so bitter that the assistant secretary of state for Latin America, Elliott Abrams, accused the deputy director of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Francis J. McNeil, of disloyalty. Following the independent counsel's investigation of Iran-contra, Mr. Abrams pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress. He was pardoned by President George H. W. Bush on Christmas Eve 1992.

The current situation is the worst intelligence scandal in the nation's history. A specious national intelligence estimate in October 2002 and a CIA-drafted speech that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell delivered to the United Nations in February 2003 made the national and international case for going to war.

The CIA director, Mr. Goss, has warned all hands that they must "support the administration and its policies," and appears to have begun a bureaucratic housecleaning to ensure such support. For the past five months, Mr. Goss and his predecessor have blocked the distribution of a sensitive agency accountability report recording CIA failures that may have contributed to the absence of strategic warning prior to 9/11.

Instead of negotiating the intelligence reform proposals of the Senate and House, it is time for the intelligence committees of the legislature to monitor the political behavior of the CIA director and to ensure that the agency provides objective and balanced intelligence assessments to policy-makers. It is quite possible that no restructuring or reorganization is necessary and that no additional funds are needed for the intelligence community. What is needed, however, is a return to the original mission of the CIA: telling truth to power.

Melvin A. Goodman, a former CIA analyst, is senior fellow of the Center for International Policy.

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