You Will Know the Truth… and the Truth Will Set You Free

An interview with CIA veteran Ray McGovern

BustedHalo: How should the U.S. be gathering its intelligence?

Ray McGovern: Gathering intelligence, assuming ethical methods are used, does not pose the kinds of problems that covert action often does, which must be authorized by a presidential “finding.” The methods used to gather intelligence must be consonant with US law, but not necessarily with the laws of target countries.

BH: What is the most pressing concern for the U.S. intelligence community today in order to secure our nation’s safety?

RM: The most urgent requirement is to assess accurately “why they hate us.” It is not our “way of life,” our “freedom,” or our “democracy.” It is our policies, particularly in the Middle East: our unlawful attack on and occupation of Iraq and our lopsided support for an Israeli occupier that is subjecting Palestinians to the kind of pogroms that Jews themselves experienced in Eastern Europe over recent centuries.
Until we can openly acknowledge these results of our policies and change them, terrorism will continue to grow. There are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world. Intelligence has to be free to throw light on what their grievances are and how we can address them. Looking in every shoe, tapping every phone, jailing ever suspect, barricading every building will not keep us safe. People without hope have nothing to lose in resorting to violence. We must keep hope alive for them. Not only to protect ourselves, but also because it is the just thing to do!

I am devoting all my time to spreading some truth around about the profound changes in intelligence, policy making and war making in the current administration. It is an uphill battle.

BH: What do you think the best use of intelligence is for the U.S. today?

RM: To address the big questions: Why do they hate us? What is driving the Iranian nuclear program? What is the likelihood of wars over oil? What effect will global warming have on our national security; what about globalization of the world economy? What is the AIDS epidemic likely to mean for African countries. Why do the Chinese feel it necessary to keep building up their military forces? What is the likelihood of a Sino-Soviet entente? Is Europe inextricably bound to the US, or can it look elsewhere? What is really going on in Cuba?

At the same time, we must address the immediate questions with rigor and honesty. For example, what is our estimate regarding what will happen if we “stay the course” in Iraq; if we withdraw?

BH: What do you think of the intelligence community today, in 2006?

RM: It is broken. Its integrity is lost; to all intents and purposes it is a tool in the hands of the president, with no congressional oversight because the president’s party controls Congress. The virulence of the “malleable manager” virus is shown in the willingness of Gen. Mike Hayden (Deputy Director of National Intelligence and previously considered a man of high principle) to follow the president’s order to violate the FISA law by conducting warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens, and then to take part in the political campaign (which is completely inappropriate for an intelligence official) to defend the president’s program.

As many of us predicted, the intelligence reform legislation passed in late 2004 has created far more problems than it solved, and, besides that, poses additional dangers to the civil liberties of American citizens.

The whole thing is a mess, and a very sad thing for loyal alumni/ae to watch.

BH: What sort of work are you focusing on now?

In late 2002, four other CIA alumni/ae and I saw abundant evidence that intelligence was being politicized to “justify” the launching of a war of aggression on Iraq. In January 2003 we created Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), which now has 54 members from all intelligence agencies of the US government, as well as representatives of those of the UK, Australia, and Denmark.

To us, war on Iraq made no sense at all. Our first memorandum for the President contained a same-day critique of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s disgraceful speech before the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003. In our memo to President Bush, we strongly urged him to widen the discussion “beyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.”

We issued two additional memoranda before the war, “Cooking Intelligence for War” and “Forgery, Hyperbole, Half-Truth: A Problem,” and nine more after the war. (All can be accessed here.)

In memo #8, “Intelligence Unglued,” (July 14, 2003) we laid out the evidence against Vice President Dick Cheney and strongly suggested that President Bush ask for his immediate resignation. At this point we think Bush wishes he had.

BH: How do your old comrades and colleagues look at this organization?

RM: Many are afraid to communicate with us via telephone or email. But we get a lot of very positive feedback when we see former colleagues at concerts or the grocery store. Others are not afraid to give us loud support. If there are some who frown on what we are trying to do we have not heard from them. It’s difficult to object to efforts to spread truth around and unmask duplicity, I suppose.

BH: You’ve been doing a lot of writing and speaking in recent years. Why do you feel called to do this work?

RM: It’s all about “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Besides, the biggest sea change I have witnessed in my 43 years in Washington is the fact that we no longer have a truly free press. So….Who will go for us? Send me…and my colleagues! In VIPS we share the writing and speaking chores.

I have published chapters in two books in recent years, as well as numerous op-eds and other articles. My chapter “A Compromised Central Intelligence Agency: What Can Be Done?” appears in Patriotism, Democracy and Common Sense: Restoring America‘s Promise at Home and Abroad (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004). Another chapter “Sham Dunk: Cooking Intelligence for the President” appears in Neo-Conned Again! (IHS Press, 2005). The text of “Sham Dunk” can be seen here.

As for the speaking, I have been roaming the country (and a little abroad) talking to folks who might listen. I have been thinking that this may be more important than writing.

BH: How has your faith been part of your journey from the CIA to the work you are doing now?

RM: Yes it has…a big part. The greatest irony is that over the past three years I have been working in the inner city and at the same time applying the analytic tools I learned in the CIA at taxpayer expense, in order to piece together what our increasingly secretive, duplicitous government is up to and to get that story out. Little did I ever think that the tools and techniques (primarily of media analysis) that we applied successfully to examine the Soviet Union would prove so very useful in this effort.