Ex-CIA Officers Questioning Iraq Data
by John J. Lumpkin, Associated Press, 14 March 2003
WASHINGTON - A small group composed mostly of retired CIA officers is appealing to colleagues still inside to go public with any evidence the Bush administration is slanting intelligence to support its case for war with Iraq.
Members of the group contend the Bush administration has released information on Iraq that meets only its ends - while ignoring or withholding contrary reporting.
They also say the administration's public evidence about the immediacy of Iraq's threat to the United States and its alleged ties to al-Qaida is unconvincing, and accuse policy-makers of pushing out some information that does not meet an intelligence professional's standards of proof.
"It's been cooked to a recipe, and the recipe is high policy," said Ray McGovern, a 27-year CIA veteran who briefed top Reagan administration security officials before retiring in 1990. "That's why a lot of my former colleagues are holding their noses these days."
A CIA spokesman suggested McGovern and his supporters were unqualified to describe the quality of intelligence provided to policy-makers.
"He left the agency over a decade ago," said spokesman Mark Mansfield. "He's hardly in a position to comment knowledgeably on that subject."
McGovern's group, calling itself Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, includes about 25 retired officers, mostly from the CIA's analytical branch but with a smattering from its operational side and other agencies, he said.
Carrying an anti-war bent, they invoke the names of whistle-blowers like Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, a top secret study on U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Leaking classified national defense information is illegal, and CIA officers take a secrecy oath when they join. Prosecutions of violations are rare, but government personnel caught leaking nondefense information may lose their security clearances, or their jobs.
Federal law also offers protections to whistle-blowers in some cases.
McGovern and his supporters acknowledge their appeal to their colleagues inside the CIA and other agencies is unusual. The CIA's culture tends to keep disputes inside the family, and many intelligence officers shun discussions of American policy - such as whether war on Iraq is justified - saying it is their job to provide information, not to decide how to act on it.
McGovern, who now works in an inner-city outreach ministry in Washington, said of his group's request, "It goes against the whole ethic of secrecy and going through channels, and going to the (Inspector General). It takes a courageous person to get by all that, and say, `I've got a higher duty.'"
Agency spokesman Mansfield said, "Our role is to call it like we see it, to provide objective, unvarnished assessments. That's the code we live by, and that's what policy-makers expect from us."
The administration says its information is sound. During Secretary of State Colin Powell's address to the United Nations Security Council last month, he said, "These are not assertions. What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence."
But other countries have challenged the accuracy of several of Powell's statements. And it is no secret that in the past some people with access to intelligence information - such as members of Congress or a presidential administration - have leaked selected pieces that lend support to a given policy. This can provide the public with a less-than-complete picture of what the CIA and other agencies have learned.
Another member of McGovern's group, Patrick Eddington, resigned from the CIA in 1996 to protest what he describes as the agency's refusal to investigate some of the possible causes of Gulf War veterans' medical problems.
Eddington said would-be whistle-blowers can privately contact members of Congress to get their message out.
"They have to basically put conscience before career," he said.
Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA counterterrorism chief, said he saw little chance of CIA analysts going public to contradict the Bush administration.
"Sure, there's a lot of disagreement among analysts in the intelligence community on how things are going to be used (by policy-makers)," he said. "But you are not going to see people making public resignations. That would mean giving up your career."
Copyright © 2003 Associated Press
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