(Washington, D.C.): On Monday, the Director of Central Intelligence took an unusual, if not unprecedented, step: He issued a public defense of a CIA operation. The fact that George Tenet felt obliged to write an op.ed. column in the New York Times on behalf of President Clinton's decision -- as part of his recent Mideast "Wag the Dove" peacemaking gambit -- to put the Agency formally and squarely betwixt the Israelis and Palestinians is but the most recent cause for concern about this initiative. If allowed to go forward, Americans and their friends around the world are likely to look back on this decision as one of the most insidious of the Clinton Administration's counterculture attacks on the integrity and capability of U.S. intelligence.
Over the years, the Center for Security Policy has warned about many of the previous manifestations of this counterculture campaign.(1) Among the most worrisome of these have been: the politicization of intelligence(2); a disregard for the most fundamental information and personnel security practices(3); the purposeful compromise of sensitive information -- even where doing so jeopardizes perishable "sources and methods"(4); and dubious appointments to key posts.(5)
Given this appalling track record, the Clinton Administration's present intelligence initiative is especially troubling for, among others, the following reasons:
The 'Dumbing Down' of U.S. Intelligence
The "honest broker" role the Wye deal contemplates for the CIA will exacerbate the problem of getting honest intelligence. After all, history suggests that a simple axiom is at work: To the extent sensitive information suggests the failure of policy, it will be unwelcome by those responsible for the policy. Recognizing this reality, the intelligence community sometimes becomes self-censoring; rather than submit unwelcome data, it is suppressed or presented in a way that its political masters deem acceptable. In other instances, when the intelligence community does speak truth to power, policy-makers choose to suppress the unwanted intelligence, or to ignore its ominous implications. Consider illustrative examples of this phenomenon over the past three decades:
The Clinton Administration has repeatedly politicized the U.S. intelligence community's products -- and even the processes by which they are developed.
· Item: Denying the Missile Threat. For example, in December 1995, the CIA injected into a Senate debate on missile defenses a highly controversial National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the ballistic missile threat to the United States. In order to reach a preposterous, but politically desired, conclusion -- namely, that the U.S. would face no threat of missile attack for at least fifteen years -- the intelligence community permitted three, highly debatable assumptions to drive its analysis: 1) Russia and China would not pose such a threat; 2) neither they nor anyone else would assist rogue states to acquire missile-related technology and know-how; and 3) only the threat to the continental United States would be addressed since the states of Alaska and Hawaii were inconveniently located too close to potential adversaries with access to shorter-range missiles.
When this study received the criticism it deserved on Capitol Hill, the Clinton Administration tapped former CIA Director Robert Gates to head up a panel to review the Estimate. The Gates commission arrived at the astounding conclusion that the NIE was seriously flawed but that none of these flaws were attributable to political considerations.(6) A bipartisan commission subsequently mandated by Congress and led by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld properly tore the NIE to pieces and, at least implicitly, repudiated what was widely perceived to be a whitewash by Gates and Company.(7) (In light of his earlier performance, it would be a good idea to treat with some skepticism Mr. Gates' assertion, published in an op.ed. in the New York Times yesterday, that the CIA's role in the Wye deal is no significant departure from past practice and should not be a problem to its future mission.)
· Item: Ignoring Chinese Proliferation. Other prime examples of the Clinton team's manipulation of U.S. intelligence have arisen in connection with Chinese sales of sensitive technology to Pakistan. Despite hard evidence to the contrary, the State Department insisted in 1996 that "there is not a sufficient basis" to charge Beijing with proliferation of nuclear-related equipment "to warrant a determination that sanctionable activity occurred." Having determined that the Chinese had not done anything sanctionable, the Administration added insult to injury: It declared that Secretary of State Warren Christopher had extracted a promise from the Chinese government that they would not engage in such activities again!(8)
In addition, numerous press reports after 1994 have revealed intelligence information indicating that China transferred complete M-11 missiles to Pakistan -- in violation of its assurances to adhere to the Missile Technology Control Regime. Such violations require, under U.S. law, the imposition of sanctions against both Pakistan and China. Here again, despite a preponderance of evidence, including satellite photos of M-11 missile canisters in Pakistan, the Clinton Administration concluded there is insufficient evidence to invoke sanctions.(9)
An interesting permutation on the phenomenon of self-censorship of intelligence occurred during the Reagan Administration. Despite the President's demonstrated willingness to speak candidly about the dangers posed by potential adversaries and a CIA Director of impeccable integrity, William J. Casey, elements of the U.S. intelligence community consistently balked at reaching warranted determinations which would support the policy finding that the USSR was in violation of key arms control obligations. In particular, the CIA's Arms Control Intelligence Staff (ACIS) proved adept at finding ambiguity and uncertainty in virtually every instance where common sense and the totality of the evidence pointed to a systematic Soviet program of deception and cheating. (Remarkably, the Agency has continued to exhibit a willingness in Mr. Gates' words "to hedge, soften or otherwise alter its assessments" about such violations even after the breakup of the Soviet Union led to revelations confirming the validity of charges that, for example, the Kremlin had deployed an illegal territorial defense against ballistic missiles and maintained an active biological warfare program.)
Particularly relevant to a discussion of the implications of the Wye deal for U.S. intelligence is an episode of politicized dumbing down of intelligence during the Nixon Administration. As Dr. Irving Moskowitz recounts in a monograph published in 1993:
"...Sporadic Egyptian assaults on Israel, beginning in late 1968, gradually escalated until, by mid-1969, a full-fledged War of Attrition was underway. Egyptian missile attacks and bombing raids launched from the western side of the Suez Canal were met in kind by the Israeli forces stationed on the eastern bank on the canal. A diplomatic initiative by the Nixon Administration resulted in an August 7, 1970 ceasefire agreement according to which Egypt promised not to place any missiles within an area extending twenty miles westward from the canal. The agreement included American 'assurances' to Israel 'that the U.S. would use all its influence to maintain the ceasefire.'
"Within days of the ceasefire, however, General Aharon Yariv, head of Israeli military intelligence, reported to the government that 'the Egyptians had begun to move their missiles forward as soon as the ink was dry on the cease-fire agreement.' Hundreds of Sam-2 and Sam-3 surface-to-air missile batteries were rushed to the canal; the Egyptians, who had been unable to construct missile sites near the canal because of Israeli firepower, now did so under the cover of the ceasefire. Yet the Nixon Administration, which had sponsored the ceasefire talks and pressured the Israelis to accept the terms of the agreement, was reluctant to acknowledge the Egyptian violations. After ten days of official U.S. silence, Defense Secretary Melvin Laird declared that it was 'impossible to prove or disprove Israeli charges" about the missiles. He said that the U.S. would undertake a 'study' of the Israeli allegation. America's "refusal to accept the inconvenient facts of the Egyptian breach of the standstill has undermined Israeli faith in American intentions more than any watering-down of earlier commitments or expressions of goodwill that could be interpreted as commitments," a Jerusalem Post editorial noted.
"State Department officials whose sympathy for Israel had always been thin took advantage of the situation, responding to Israeli complaints with hostile leaks to the press. 'Washington sources' told reporters that the Egyptian missiles may have been moved up, but 'only in completion of movement started earlier -- the Egyptians simply having missed the deadline.' All that really mattered, the 'sources' insisted, was that with the ceasefire in place, Israel should agree to broader Arab-Israeli negotiations sponsored by U.N. Secretary General Gunnar Jarring. The U.S. officials charged that Israel's complaint had become 'a more central cause for the delay' in Jarring's mission, and berated [then-Foreign Minister Abba] Eban for engaging in 'overkill' by publicly criticizing the Egyptian action. State Department spokesman Robert McCloskey asserted that the Administration's 'primary interest' was the Jarring talks, not the missile crisis, to which Israeli officials responded that if facilitating the talks 'means overriding Israel's legitimate concerns, it will undermine Israeli confidence in American guarantees.'
"Finally, on August 19, the U.S. announced the completion of its 'study.' There had indeed been 'forward deployment of missiles by the Egyptians around the time the cease-fire went into effect,' the State Department announced, but the evidence that the movement continued after the deadline was 'not conclusive.' Rather than offer to take action against that portion of the 'forward deployment' which it acknowledged, the U.S. offered a vague assurance that it 'would not permit any development to occur in the Suez Canal zone to shift the military balance against Israel.'...Three years later, when Egypt launched it Yom Kippur invasion of Israel, the proximity of those missiles to the canal enabled the Egyptians to inflict severe casualties on Israel's front-line forces.
"The problem was not that the U.S. had acted in bad faith, nor that it was indifferent to the threat posed to Israel by the Egyptian violations. The problem was that by injecting itself between the Arabs and the Israelis, the U.S. was soon compelled to balance conflicting global interests that quickly dragged it into a conflict with an ally. The administration's desire to help Israel was challenged by its desire to avoid a conflict with Egypt's Soviet sponsors. The dilemma inevitably led to tension between the U.S. and Israel and left the Jewish State in a weaker position." (Emphasis added throughout.)
Violating the Most Basic of Intelligence Security Practices
The insertion of U.S. intelligence personnel into a situation where such conflicting global interests are once again virtually sure to arise is doubly reckless since it may prove to be hazardous to their health. At a minimum, the covers will be blown of CIA officers charged with interfacing with the Palestinian secret service. This is especially troublesome since there is every reason to believe the United States will, in the future, have an increasing need for the services of skilled professionals with the experience and language abilities able to operate effectively in the Middle East. Worse yet, such an arrangement may jeopardize the lives of liaison officers in circumstances where their true identities are known to people whose commitment to fighting what the U.S. and Israel may regard as "terrorists," but Arafat and his lieutenants routinely describe as martyrs and comrades, is -- at best -- uncertain.
Not least, the need will only grow for intelligence about the danger posed by terrorists operating in, from or through areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. While the official line is that close working relations with the PA will give the U.S. intelligence community access to more and higher quality information than the latter could otherwise acquire, this strains credulity. Just as it is ludicrous to believe that the successor to the KGB -- which has spawned and is intimately connected to much of the Russian mafia -- can be a reliable partner in combating international organized crime,(10) the price of doing business with PLO/PA is likely to be relying upon their sources and methods and compromising any independent ones the U.S. may have. On net, this is a formula for less, and certainly less reliable, intelligence about the evolving capabilities of the terrorist threat to American and Israeli interests.
Finally, Israel has grounds for concern that its intelligence capabilities will be degraded -- not just those of the Americans. The Clinton Administration's penchant for sharing sensitive information, including that provided by Israel, without regard for the effect such sharing might have on the future availability of such information was clearly demonstrated late last year.
Deeply concerned that the United States was not taking seriously the strategic implications of Russian assistance to Iran's ballistic missile program, the Israeli government shared intelligence its secret services had obtained. This information pointed to an intimate involvement on the part of senior officials in Russia's Space Agency and related organizations with transfers of missile-relevant technology to Tehran. The American response was to dispatch a special envoy to confront at least one of those implicated, Yuri Koptyev, head of the Russian Space Agency, with this intelligence in the interest of persuading him to cease and desist. Not surprisingly, while Russian assistance to Iran does not appear to have stopped, information about it has become harder to acquire.(11)
In a way, even more outrageous is the role the Clinton Administration reportedly played when Israel shared intelligence with the UN Special Commission on Iraq -- intelligence former chief inspector Scott Ritter has described as "invaluable" to his effort to penetrate Saddam Hussein's efforts to conceal ongoing Iraqi weapons of mass destruction activities. According to Ritter, the CIA and State Department objected to his cooperation with the Israelis. Not content with interfering with the "Operation Shake the Tree" snap inspections made possible by such Israeli-supplied intelligence,(12) the Clinton team has taken to impugning Scott Ritter's integrity and loyalty by smearing him as an Israeli spy. The hard feelings, not to say distrust, engendered by such behavior is poisonous for effective intelligence cooperation with the "partner" that counts -- Israel's intelligence services.
The Bottom Line
The business of collecting intelligence is an art, not a science. Those involved in this task -- and in analyzing its products -- are overwhelming conscientious, courageous and patriotic individuals. Their job of providing support to policy-makers in a way that contributes to the adoption of sound and realistic security policy decisions is all-too-often a thankless one. The foregoing critique is intended to recognize these realities and to discourage courses of action that will greatly complicate the business of intelligence collection -- and perhaps make it substantially more dangerous -- in an important part of the world. It is also intended to warn that, by so doing, the quality of U.S. intelligence stands to suffer and, with it, the contribution the CIA and its sister agencies can make to this country's national security and that of its most important and reliable friend in the Middle East, Israel.
1. Unfortunately, American intelligence has not been the only target of the Clinton Administration's counterculture agenda. The U.S. military has been a special target as evidenced by the combined effects of: sustained and draconian budget cuts; social experimentation and other assaults on the armed forces' culture, esprit de corps and code of conduct; and a leadership crisis in the uniformed services thanks to the systematic promotion of officers in whom their subordinates often lack confidence by dint of a perceived, undue willingness to hew to a dishonest, but politically correct, party line.
2. See, for example, the Center's Decision Briefs entitled It Walks Like a Duck...: Questions Persist That Clinton C.I.A.'s Missile Threat Estimate Was Politically Motivated (No. 96-T 122, 4 December 1996) and Well Done, Weldon: Senior Legislator Refuses to Accept Factually Incorrect 'Political Correctness' From Gen. Lyles (No. 97-D 167, 6 November 1997).
3. See, for example The Clinton Security Clearance Meltdown: 'No-Gate' Demonstrates 'Its the People, Stupid (No. 94-D 32, 25 March 1994), Sex And Insecurity: Is Clinton's Misconduct Endangering More Than His Presidency? (No. 98-D 27, 10 February 1998) and An 'Environmental' Disaster: Clinton Insecurity Policies Are Creating Conditions That Invite Intelligence Fiascos (No. 96-T 116, 21 November 1996).
4. See, for example S.O.S.: Save Our Space Station -- and More Tax-Dollars -- From Being Squandered in Al Gore's 'Russian Cooperation' Scam (No. 98-D 164, 21 September 1998) and Good News, Bad News For U.S. Intelligence: State I.G. Clears The Gatis; Rep. Solomon Asks FBI Investigation of John Huang (No. 97-D 12, 23 January 1997).
5. See, for example, In Lake's Wake, A Higher Standard For D.C.I. (No. 97-D 41, 18 March 1997), 'In Lake We Trust'? Confirmation Make-Over Exacerbates Senate Concerns About D.C.I.-Designate's Candor, Reliability (No. 97-T 4, 8 January 1997), and The Intelligence Failure In Iraq: What Did George Tenet Know -- And When Did He Know It? (No. 97-D 62, 5 May 1997).
6. See It Walks Like a Duck...: Questions Persist That Clinton C.I.A.'s Missile Threat Estimate Was Politically Motivated (No. 96-T 122, 4 December 1996).
7. See the Center's Decision Briefs entitled So There Is A Missile Threat, After All: Clinton Pentagon Confirms Rumsfeld Commission's Central Finding (No. 98-D 169, 6 October 1998) and Critical Mass # 2: Senator Lott, Rumsfeld Commission Add Fresh Impetus to Case for Beginning Deployment of Missile Defenses (No. 98-D 133, 15 July 1998).
8. See the Casey Institute's Perspective entitled Clinton's Flim-Flam on Chinese Proliferation: Even the Washington Post Can't Conceal Its Contempt (No. 96-C 46, 14 May 1996).
9. See the Center's Decision Brief entitled 'There You Go Again': More Chinese Proliferation, More Clinton Politicization Of Intelligence (No. 96-D 56, 12 June 1996)
10. Incredibly, just such a scheme is being pursued by the Clinton Administration's FBI.
11. See The Buck Stops With Al Gore: Veep-Approved Rip-Off By Russia of U.S. Taxpayer, Technology Now Threatens An Americans Life (No. 97-D 89, 27 June 1997).
12. See the Center's Decision Brief
entitled Sauce For The Goose: Madeleine Albright's
Lies About Iraq Make Her Another Candidate For Resignation, Impeachment
(No. 98-D 153, 27 August 1998) and Bipartisan Initiative
to Liberate Iraq Offers Effective Alternative to Clinton's Unraveling
Containment 'Strategy' (No. 98-D 168, 1 October 1998).