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Bob Gates, He's Back

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Before the media goes overboard extolling the virtues of Bob Gates as the replacement for Don Rumsfeld, it is important to look back at Gates' record and reputation. Gates has some "splaining" to do. The press has forgotten that Bob Gates, during his time at CIA, acquired a reputation for trying to tailor intelligence to satisfy political masters in the Reagan White House. In addition, Bob Gates, a man of enormous intellect and a photographic memory, conveniently forgot salient facts and meetings surrounding the Iran Contra scandal.

The doubts about Gates surfaced during confirmation hearings held in the fall of 1991 to consider his nomination to become the Director of CIA. Ironically, the questions then are still relevant today. Several analysts came out publicly against Gates. These included Melvin Goodman and Harold Ford. Remember Harold Ford? The guy who moved to the Department of State and faced the bullying of John Bolton? A New York Times piece by Elaine Sciolino captured the mood of the 1991 hearings:

Three witnesses testified that Mr. Gates slanted intelligence analysis as a senior agency official in the 1980's, while two others defended him. . . .Mr. Gates's detractors assert that the slanting of intelligence was largely confined to issues involving the Soviet Union, Soviet expansionism and C.I.A. covert operations. . . .

The most dramatic testimony came from Melvin A. Goodman, a former division chief in Soviet affairs. He accused Mr. Gates of imposing his political judgments on intelligence analyses without any evidence to back his views, of suppressing his analysts' conclusions, of corrupting the agency's stringent analytical process and of misusing personnel -- "judge shopping the courthouse," Mr. Goodman called it -- until the desired analysis was produced.

But the more reflective testimony of another witness, Harold Ford, although less explosive than Mr. Goodman's, could carry more weight with the committee. Mr. Ford, a 30-year veteran of the agency who has extensively written and lectured on ethics in public policy, described his personal agony before deciding that out of loyalty to the agency, he could not support the nominee. Adding to the difficulty of his choice, Mr. Ford is a C.I.A. contract employee who would report to Mr. Gates, if he is confirmed.

One of the analysts who spoke in favor of Gates was Lawrence Gershwin. Gershwin, the national intelligence officer for strategic programs, subsequently played a critical role in drafting and promoting the flawed October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.

Mel's experience with Gates is consistent with mine. I remember talking to the South African analyst back in 1988, who told me about the time Bob Gates tried to change the lede on an intelligence piece, which argued that Nelson Mandela was NOT a communist. Gates wanted the lede to say that Mandela was a communist. The analyst kicked back hard and ultimately prevailed, but this behavior was consistent with his reputation as a political animal willing to curry favor with the political masters downtown and sacrifice sound analysis.

There is no denying that Bob Gates has a distinguished resume and, by virtue of experience, is as qualified as any to run the Department of Defense. But it is incumbent on Senators during the upcoming confirmation hearings to insist that Gates fully commit to keep his fingers out of cooking intelligence and promise to tell the President uncomfortable truths even if they are politically inconvenient. He had trouble doing that during his tenure at CIA. Hopefully, with the passage of time, he has grown some spine and learned the importance of integrity.

-- No Quarter

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