The CIA goes public.

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JUNE 5, 2006

The CIA goes public.

Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern was en route to Atlanta in early May
when he read that Donald Rumsfeld would be there giving a talk.
McGovern had spent 27 years with the CIA before retiring in 1990.
In the run-up to Colin Powell's now-infamous presentation to the
U.N. Security Council on Saddam Hussein's supposed WMD, McGovern
had enlisted four other former CIA colleagues to form a group they
called vips--Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. The
group had drafted a same-day rebuttal of Powell's case against Iraq.
And, over the next three years, vips kept at it, producing eleven
more communiques and expanding to include some 50 members. Now that
the 66-year-old McGovern finally had the chance to confront the
defense secretary in person, he wasn't going to miss it.McGovern says he didn't really know what he would ask during the
event's Q&A. But, when Rumsfeld responded to a heckler with a
lecture about how lying is a charge "frequently leveled against the
president for one reason or another, and it is so wrong, and so
unfair, and so destructive," something inside McGovern snapped. "I
was appalled at that sanctimonious reaction," he says. "The
president? She didn't say `the president.' She said you!" And so
began a more than four-minute dialogue with the Pentagon chief,
with McGovern asking why Rumsfeld would "lie to get us into a war"
and Rumsfeld denying that he had. At its climax, McGovern simply
cut the seething defense secretary off: "You said you knew where
[Saddam's weapons] were: `Near Tikrit, near Baghdad, and north,
east, south, and west of there.' Those are your words." This
observation earned McGovern jeers from the generally
pro-administration crowd and an elbow to the solar plexus from a
security official, who began ushering him out before Rummy
intervened. But the p.r. damage had been done. Within hours, footage
of the tongue-tied defense secretary was all over cable and the
Internet.

There was a time when seeing a former CIA man publicly dress down a
top administration official would have caused jaws to drop. In an
earlier era, the spook-turned-gadfly would have been declared
persona non grata by his erstwhile colleagues and expelled from the
brotherhood of spies. But, in a stark break with tradition, today's
CIA officials are seamlessly moving on to second careers as authors
of polemics, crusading pundits--even bona fide activists. In the
year before McGovern's outburst, former operative Gary Berntsen
published a detailed book about his experiences in Afghanistan,
which cast the Bush administration in an unflattering light. Paul
Pillar, now a professor at Georgetown University, penned a scathing
article in Foreign Affairs after resigning as a top Middle East
analyst last year. Tyler Drumheller, the head of the Agency's
European operations until 2005, gave a "60 Minutes" interview
denouncing the administration's use of intelligence.

And then there's Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA's bin
Laden analytical unit, who didn't even wait to leave the Agency
before writing a book critical of the Bush administration and the
George Tenet-era CIA. Scheuer initially published his book
anonymously, but he outed himself late in the 2004 presidential
campaign. Just what did Scheuer's colleagues think of this ultimate
violation of CIA omerta? "I must have signed 300 to 400 copies [for
people] within the Agency."

It was no accident that the CIA McGovern joined as a Soviet analyst
in 1963 resembled an Ivy League secret society. As Evan Thomas
writes in The Very Best Men, his account of the CIA's early postwar
years, spymasters like Frank Wisner focused their recruiting
efforts on Ivy League colleges to find men pre- equipped with an
"old-school" ethos. And, of course, the virtue the old CIA hands
prized above all else was discretion. True to their Skull and Bones
pedigree, most CIA men were loath to acknowledge they even worked
for the Agency, much less disclose what they did there. Perhaps the
most vivid personification of this code was Richard Helms, a
longtime Wisner deputy who became CIA director in the mid-'60s.
While testifying before a Senate panel a decade later, Helms
refused to come clean about the CIA's role in undermining the
Chilean government--and was eventually prosecuted for withholding
information from Congress. But, following his sentencing, Helms
returned to the CIA fold a hero. A roomful of retired operatives
greeted him with a standing ovation--and even passed around a
basket to pay his

$2,000 fine.

The flip side of this mentality was swift punishment for anyone who
aired the Agency's dirty laundry. In 1978, a former Angola station
chief named John Stockwell published a book flaying the CIA for its
brutal tactics against the country's rebel groups. Stockwell tried
to distinguish between the hardworking rank and file, whom he
respected, and the Agency as a whole, which he deemed out of
control. But former colleagues ostracized him nonetheless. "He was
perceived as an acidic critic," recalls former CIA counterterrorism
chief Vincent Cannistraro. "People thought it was in poor form."

This is the CIA that shaped McGovern. In 1968, for example, he
learned of a cable by a Vietnam analyst colleague reporting that
U.S. forces faced twice as many Vietcong troops as the Pentagon's
generals were acknowledging. McGovern was tempted to leak the
information to The New York Times in order to expose the futility
of the Johnson administration's war effort. In the end, though, he
kept his mouth shut, too worried about ruining his career.

The end of the cold war eroded the CIA's code of silence in two
important ways. First, it dampened some of the urgency CIA hands
felt in their workaday lives. During the cold war, "the danger to
agents and people operating overseas was clear," says Dick Kerr,
the CIA's deputy director in the early '90s. "Today's world is more
cloudy, ambiguous." Second, the aftermath of the cold war brought
political considerations closer to the CIA's doorstep. The
embarrassment of the Aldrich Ames espionage scandal, congressional
scrutiny of the Agency's shady friends, and a general impatience
with government secrecy all nudged the CIA toward greater
transparency.

This was the backdrop when a former operative named Dewey Clarridge
submitted a manuscript to the Agency's Publications Review Board
(PRB) in the spring of 1996. Clarridge worried that the censors
would force him to delete large chunks of the book, a detailed
account of his CIA glory days. But the changes Langley asked for
were trivial, and people in the intelligence community took note.
"Clarridge raised eyebrows," says Cannistraro, who left the CIA in
1991. "People realized you could write books and retire overtly ...
rather than maintain lifelong cover." Indeed, in the late '90s, the
chairman of the PRB, John Hollister Hedley, conceded he'd
established a new precedent with the Clarridge book--aptly named
the "Clarridge Precedent": Former operatives still couldn't reveal
"sources, cover arrangements, sensitive liaison relationships, or
covert facilities." But they could now disclose where they had
served and speak generally about what they had done there.

If the post-cold-war atmosphere provided the first break in the CIA
code of silence, the Bush administration's epic battles with the
Agency over Iraq--and over assigning blame for flawed
intelligence--came close to obliterating it. In the conservative
telling, the CIA Bush inherited is a cesspool of Democratic
partisans and countercultural liberals. "C.I.A. officials were
betting their agency on a Kerry victory," wrote David Brooks in a
column following the election. The recent deluge of CIA criticism,
say conservatives, is an example of Langley showing its ideological
stripes.

But that's simply not the case. In fact, while the early,
Ivy-dominated CIA really was a bastion of liberalism (albeit one
tempered by devout anti- communism), the demographics of the Agency
shifted dramatically between the late '60s and the late '70s. The
churning over Vietnam made cold war liberals a dying breed; in
their place came a generation of New Left types skeptical of the
CIA's shadowy m.o. "For my generation, the last thing in the world
you would do ... is join the CIA," says Bob Baer, who arrived at
the Agency from Berkeley in 1976. "The view was that it was out
assassinating people.... I wouldn't dare tell some of my liberal
friends."

Increasingly, the CIA has been populated by a kind of nonideological
moderate--a figure too square to be caught up in any countercultural
zeitgeist, and not so ambitious as to frown on a government
payscale. "I was raised by a Marine, educated by Jesuits all my
life," says Scheuer. Probably the easiest way to summarize the
reigning worldview within the CIA these days is pragmatic, heavily
empirical, and tending toward foreign policy realism.

This worldview, not surprisingly, made George H.W. Bush's
administration an ideal one from the perspective of the Agency. The
CIA felt extremely comfortable with everyone from Bush himself--a
former CIA director--to his top national security aides. McGovern,
who was one of then-Vice President Bush's daily CIA briefers during
the early '80s, gushes about the assignment. "It was a delight," he
recalls. After he retired, McGovern and Bush remained in periodic
contact. When the former president delivered the commencement
speech at his son's college graduation, McGovern arranged for a
private meeting in which the three snapped photos and reminisced
about old times.

For former CIA officials, fond memories of Bush 41 led to high
expectations for Bush 43--particularly after eight years in which
the CIA's status had declined along with Washington's interest in
foreign policy. "It started out looking like it was going to be a
Powell-like administration, with a pragmatist in charge," says a
wistful Frank Anderson, former head of the Agency's Near East
division. When I asked Pillar which candidate Langley preferred in
2000, he chuckled as though it were a no-brainer. "I think it's
likely that a lot [of us] voted for Bush."

As it happened, the honeymoon lasted approximately until September
11, when the administration reoriented its foreign policy around
Iraq. And that's when the floodgates burst open. Scheuer wrote his
book Imperial Hubris because he believed the U.S. invasion of Iraq
had made the scourge of jihadi terrorism "geometrically worse." He
was so aggrieved by attacks on the CIA's credibility that,
according to The Washington Post, he once lectured a certain CIA
critic named John McCain in the green room of a network talk show:
"Sir, I'm a Republican, I vote Republican, and I thought your
comments were scurrilous." As for Berntsen, says Baer, 20 years ago
a guy like him "would have gone and lived somewhere remote in
Northern Virginia.... He might go off to lament the decline of the
Agency, but he'd do it in stony silence." Last year, Berntsen's
Jawbreaker bashed the Pentagon for letting Osama bin Laden escape
from Afghanistan.

For his part, McGovern had spent the '90s working at a variety of
charitable foundations in inner-city Washington, largely disengaged
from the major foreign policy debates of the day. But, amid the
rush to war--and the mainstream media's credulity toward the
administration's claims--he felt a duty to get involved: "We'd been
educated and trained at taxpayer expense in the really important
discipline of analysis. We never thought we would be turning the
tools on our own government." He wasn't the only one.

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