Robert Gates: another ex-Saddam symp takes helm at Pentagon

In this Nov. 8 commentary for Truthout, Jason Leopold saves some salient facts about the incoming Defense Secretary from the Orwellian Memory Hole. It seems that like the outgoing Rumsfeld, he was instrumental in building US intelligence and military links with the Saddam Hussein dictatorship in the 1980s. Life’s little ironices. However, we are not as optimistic as Leopold that these facts “are bound to come up again.” We can only hope…:

Gates Has History of Manipulating Intelligence

Robert Gates, the former director of the CIA during the presidency of George H.W. Bush who was tapped Tuesday by the president to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense, is part of Texas’s good ol’ boy network. He may be best known for playing a role in arming Iraq’s former dictator Saddam Hussein with American-made weapons in the country’s war against Iran in the 1980s.

Gates, who currently is president of Texas A&M University, came under intense fire during confirmation hearings in the early 1990s for being unaware of the explosive situation in Iraq in the 1980s, and the demise of the Soviet republic.

Gates joined the CIA in 1966, and spent eight years there as an analyst before moving over to the National Security Council in 1974. He returned to the CIA in 1980, and a year later was appointed by Ronald Reagan to serve as deputy director for intelligence. Five years later, he was named deputy director for the agency, the number two post in the agency. In 1989, he was appointed deputy director of the National Security Council and in 1991, when the first Bush administration was in office, he was named director of the spy shop.

During contentious Senate confirmation hearings in October 1991 – which are bound to come up again – Gates’s role in cooking intelligence information during the Iran-Contra scandal was revealed. It was during those hearings that senators found out about a December 2, 1986, 10-page classified memo written by Thomas Barksdale, the CIA analyst for Iran. That memo claimed that covert arms sales to the country demonstrated “a perversion of the intelligence process” that is staggering in its proportions.

The Barksdale memo was used by Gates’s detractors to prove he played an active role in slanting intelligence information during his tenure at the agency under Reagan. Eerily reminiscent of the way CIA analysts were treated by Vice President Dick Cheney during the run-up to the Iraq war three years ago, when agents were forced to provide the Bush administration with intelligence showing Iraq was a nuclear threat, Barksdale said he and other Iran analysts “were never consulted or asked to provide an intelligence input to the covert actions and secret contacts that have occurred.”

Barksdale added that Gates was the pipeline for providing “exclusive reports to the White House,” intelligence that was “at odds with the overwhelming bulk of intelligence reporting, both from U.S. sources and foreign intelligence services.”

In testimony before the Senate on October 1, 1991, Harold P. Ford, former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council, described an aspect of Gates’s personality that mirrors many of the top officials in the Bush administration today.

“Bob Gates has often depended too much on his own individual analytic judgments and has ignored or scorned the views of others whose assessments did not accord with his own. This would be okay if he were uniquely all-seeing. He has not been …” Ford said.

At the hearing, other CIA analysts said Gates forced them to twist intelligence to exaggerate the threat posed by the former Soviet Union. Analysts alleged a report approved by Gates overstated Soviet influence in Iran that specifically led the late President Ronald Reagan into making policy decisions that turned into the Iran-Contra scandal.

Jennifer Glaudemans, a former CIA analyst, said at the 1991 Gates confirmation hearings that she and her colleagues at the CIA believed “Mr Gates and his influence have led to a prostitution of [Soviet] analysis.”

Melvin Goodman, Glaudemans’s former boss at the CIA, also said that under Gates, the CIA was “trying to provide the intelligence analysis … that would support the operational decision to sell arms to Iran.”

Gates testified at his confirmation hearing in October 1991 that he was aware the United States was selling arms to Iran in exchange for hostages. But he denied that he had any knowledge that Oliver North, the former National Security aide, was diverting money from arms sales to Iran to secretly aid the Nicaraguan contras.

But White House memos released at the time showed that North and John Poindexter, the national security adviser at the time, engaged in classified briefings with Gates on numerous occasions about Iran-Contra. Poindexter testified that he discussed the situation with Gates, but Gates said at his Senate confirmation hearings he had “no recollection” about those conversations.

Alan Fiers, a former CIA officer who served as an agency liaison along with North and met weekly with Gates, testified at Gates’s confirmation hearings that he discussed specific details of the covert operation with Gates.

“Bob Gates understood the universe, understood the structure, understood that there was an operational – that there was a support operation being run out of the White House,” and “that Ollie North was the quarterback,” Fiers said at Gates’s confirmation hearing in 1991. “I had no reason to think he had great detail, but I do think there was a baseline knowledge there.”

If confirmed, Gates would arguably be overseeing a war that removed a dictator he personally helped to prop up. Tom Harkin, a senator from Iowa, described Gates’s role in intelligence sharing operations with Iraq during a time when the United States helped arm Saddam Hussein in Iraq’s war against Iran.

“I also have doubts and questions about Mr. Gates’s role in the secret intelligence sharing operation with Iraq,” Harkin said during Gates’s confirmation hearings on November 7, 1991. “Robert Gates served as assistant to the director of the CIA in 1981 and as deputy director for intelligence from 1982 to 1986. In that capacity, he helped develop options in dealing with the Iran-Iraq war, which eventually evolved into a secret intelligence liaison relationship with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Gates was in charge of the directorate that prepared the intelligence information that was passed on to Iraq. He testified that he was also an active participant in the operation during 1986. The secret intelligence sharing operation with Iraq was not only a highly questionable and possibly illegal operation, but also may have jeopardized American lives and our national interests. The photo reconnaissance, highly sensitive electronic eavesdropping, and narrative texts provided to Saddam may not only have helped him in Iraq’s war against Iran, but also in the recent gulf war.”

See our last post on the politics of the GWOT.

  1. Looks like he’ll fit right in…
    James Ridgeway writes for Mother Jones (emphasis added):

    Rumsfeld’s Replacement: The Robert Gates File
    Iran-Contra figure, regime-change enthusiast, alleged intelligence manipulator — meet Robert Gates, the man who’s poised to be the next Secretary of Defense.

    WASHINGTON—While Donald Rumsfeld was Ronald Reagan’s errand boy to Saddam Hussein in the mid-1980s, Robert Gates, the man named yesterday to succeed him as Secretary of Defense, was at the very heart of the American intelligence apparatus, actively planning and carrying out covert operations in Central America and the Middle East.

    Gates, a 26-year CIA veteran and the agency’s director between 1991 and 1993, has long been accused of undermining competent, unbiased intelligence analysis at the agency during his tenure, opening the way for its role in partisan politics, a reality brought to the fore again as the Bush administration made its flawed and phony case for war with Iraq. Gates was a high official at the CIA at a time when the U.S. intelligence community experienced one of its most humiliating debacles: the failure to predict the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Instead, under CIA director William Casey the U.S. concocted evidence showing the expansion of Reagan’s “evil empire.”

    Casey and his protégé Gates were fervent Cold Warriors. On December 14, 1984, in a five page memorandum for then Director of Intelligence Casey, Gates, then serving as deputy director of intelligence, set forth his views: “It is time to talk absolutely straight about Nicaragua,” the memo begins. “The Nicaraguan regime is steadily moving toward consolidation of a Marxist-Leninist government, and the establishment of a permanent and well-armed ally of the Soviet Union and Cuba on the mainland of the western hemisphere. Its avowed aim is to spread further revolution in the Americas.

    Gates goes on to say this is an “unacceptable” course, arguing that the U.S. should do everything “in its power short of invasion to put that regime out.” Hopes of causing that regime to reform itself for a more pluralistic government are “essentially silly and hopeless,” he wrote. (The ironic upshot of this sort of thinking can be found in the recent election of the former Sandanista leader Daniel Ortega as president of Nicaragua.)

    Nicaragua wasn’t the only place Gates wanted to take action. In 1985, sounding very much like one of today’s neoconservative hawks, the then head of intelligence analysis at the CIA drafted a plan for a joint U.S.-Egyptian military operation to invade Libya, overthrow Col. Muamar Ghaddafi, and “redraw the map of North Africa.” On the basis of this idea, CIA Director Casey, sometimes said to be the man who invented Gates, ordered up a list of Libyan targets and the National Security Council developed a plan to have Egypt attack Libya with U.S. air support and seize half the country. The Joint Chiefs drew up plans for a military operation involving 90,000 troops. Alarmed, the State Department subsequently succeeded in downsizing Gates proposal to “contingency” status.

    According to Robert Parry, a reporter who has closely tracked this period in the CIA’s history, during this time the Reagan administration was “pressing the CIA to adopt an analysis that accepted right-wing media reports pinning European terrorism on the Soviets. The CIA analysts knew that these charges were false, in part because they were based on ‘black’ or false propaganda that the CIA itself had been planting in the European media. But the ‘politicization’ tide was strong.” And Gates, he writes, led an effort to implicate the Soviets in the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. “In 1985, Gates closeted a special team to push through another pre-cooked paper arguing that the KGB was behind the 1981 wounding of Pope John Paul II. CIA analysts again knew that the charge was bogus, but could not block the paper from leaving CIA.”

    Critics have long thought Gates was heavily involved from the very beginning in putting together and implementing the secret Iran-Contra war. In his book, Firewall: The Iran/Contra conspiracy and Cover-Up, Lawrence E. Walsh, the independent counsel in the Iran-Contra investigation, wrote that he was skeptical of Gates’ repeated denials of having been aware or involved with the details of the Iran-Contra operations with Oliver North. According to the National Security Archive’s chronology of the day-by-day happenings in Iran-Contra, on October 1, 1985 the CIA’s National Intelligence Officer, Charles Allen, informed then deputy director Gates of his suspicion that funds were being diverted to the Contras. Gates, for his part, has insisted he first learned of the diversion one year later. “Whenever questioned, Gates had always claimed that he had first learned of Allen’s concern about the diversion on the day after Eugene Hasenfus was shot down over Nicaragua on October 5, 1986,” writes Walsh, referring to the lone survivor on board a CIA cargo plane that was shot down over Nicaragua while on a mission to supply the Contras. “Gates said that he and Allen had then reported this to Casey, who told them that he had just received much the same information from another source.”

    In blunt terms, Walsh thought Gates was a liar. It was only for a lack of evidence that he eventually gave up trying to indict him.

    In November 1991, years after Iran-Contra messily unraveled, the Senate deliberated on the nomination of Gates to succeed William H. Webster as the next director of Central Intelligence. Democrats, including former Senator Tom Daschle, Jay Rockefeller, and the late Paul Wellstone spoke forcefully, vowing to vote against the nominee. “Robert Gates became the Deputy Director of the CIA in April, 1986, after a meteoric rise in the Agency,” Wellstone said. “His confirmation hearings provided ample and credible evidence that, as the Deputy Director, he repeatedly skewed intelligence to promote the world view of his mentor and his boss, William Casey. Analysts specializing in the Soviet Union, Latin America, Africa, and scientific affairs, came forward–some at risk to their careers in the agency–to provide examples. The record further strongly suggests that Robert Gates supported–passively or actively–terribly misguided or illegal covert operations, including the diversion of funds to the Nicaraguan Contras obtained through the sale of arms to Iran. He also had a hand in hiding some of the details of these covert operations from Congress. Lastly, the record showed that Robert Gates crossed the line from independent intelligence-gathering into high-profile policymaking when he gave speeches advocating an unyielding line toward the Soviet Union and deployment of a star wars missile defense system.”

    “My questions regarding whether or not Robert Gates participated in the politicization of intelligence culminate in my deep concern about what we can expect from Robert Gates if he is confirmed as the next Director of Central Intelligence,” Daschle said. “Again, I ask my colleagues, if Robert Gates cooked the books to advocate the ideological position of the administration while serving as Deputy Director for Intelligence and Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, is it possible that U.S. intelligence under his guidance will continue to politicize intelligence? My answer is, ‘We cannot afford to take that chance.'”

    Gates, who is a member of the Iraq Study Group, which is preparing an assessment of the situation on Iraq that may well inform the nation’s policy going forward, has been hailed as the man who may bring order to a disastrously waged war. His nomination, some say, indicates a policy shift that is already in motion. Many of the nation’s problems now stem from the fact that politics and ideology have seeped into nearly every crevice of the federal bureaucracy. And Congress must now decide whether it can afford to take another chance on Robert Gates.

  2. This says a lot
    Adjacent pieces on the New York Times op-ed page Nov. 15: one by ex-CIA chief John Deutch in defense of Gates, another by Maureen Dowd, who trenchantly observes:

    The foreign affairs fur is flying.

    I’m talking about the catfight between the Idealists and the Realists.

    After an election that spurned ideology, and the triumphant return of the Bush 41 pragmatists James Baker and Robert Gates, the self-proclaimed Idealists are reduced to hissing from the sidelines.

    The Vulcans and neocons had grandiose plans to restore trumpets, morality and spine to foreign policy, to establish America as a hyperpower with a duty to export democracy — by force and on its own, if necessary. But now the grandiose experiment of Iraq is in a sulfurous shambles, and the Realpolitik crowd is back cleaning up.

    In The Wall Street Journal, Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute railed against the evils of “chardonnay diplomacy,” recalling that in 1983, Donald Rumsfeld, President Reagan’s Middle East envoy, met with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, hoping to restore relations out of a concern over growing Iranian influence. He didn’t bother to mention Hussein’s use of chemical weapons.

    “Mr. Gates was the CIA’s deputy director for intelligence at the time of Mr. Rumsfeld’s infamous handshake, deputy director of central intelligence when Saddam gassed the Kurds, and deputy national security adviser when Saddam crushed the Shiite uprising,” Rubin wrote. “Mr. Baker was as central.”

    Rummy, he said, “worked to right past wrongs.” By contrast, the neocons fear, Gates and Baker are back winking at dictators. Already they’re talking about cozying up to the evil leaders of Iran and Syria and perhaps dreaming of more concessions to the Palestinians. (Israel and its supporters among Christian evangelicals are having conniptions.)

  3. Better and better…
    From the LA Times, Nov. 25:

    Gates pushed for bombing of Sandinistas
    His 1984 memo called for ‘hard measures’ against Nicaragua.

    WASHINGTON — Robert M. Gates, President Bush’s nominee to lead the Pentagon, advocated a bombing campaign against Nicaragua in 1984 in order to “bring down” the leftist government, according to a declassified memo released by a nonprofit research group.

    The memo from Gates to his then-boss, CIA Director William J. Casey, was among a selection of declassified documents from the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal posted Friday on the website of the National Security Archive, http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/ .

    In the memo, Gates, who was deputy director of the CIA, argued that the Soviet Union was turning Nicaragua into an armed camp and that the country could become a second Cuba. The rise of the communist-leaning Sandinista government threatened the stability of Central America, Gates asserted.

    Gates’ memo echoed the view of many foreign policy hard-liners at the time; however, the feared communist takeover of the region never materialized.

    “It seems to me,” Gates wrote, “that the only way that we can prevent disaster in Central America is to acknowledge openly what some have argued privately: that the existence of a Marxist-Leninist regime in Nicaragua closely allied with the Soviet Union and Cuba is unacceptable to the United States and that the United States will do everything in its power short of invasion to put that regime out.”

    Gates predicted that without U.S. funding, the Nicaraguan anti-communist forces known as Contras would collapse within one or two years. But he said that providing “new funding” for the Contras was not good enough. Instead, he advocated that the United States withdraw diplomatic recognition of the Sandinista government, provide overt assistance to a government in exile, impose economic sanctions or a quarantine, and use airstrikes to destroy Nicaragua’s “military buildup.”

    “It sounds like Donald Rumsfeld,” said National Security Archive Director Thomas S. Blanton. “It shows the same kind of arrogance and hubris that got us into Iraq.”

    In the memo, Gates noted he was advocating “hard measures” that “probably are politically unacceptable.”

    Indeed, Blanton said, Gates’ advocacy of military strikes against Nicaragua was extreme.

    “It sure wasn’t a mainstream opinion; most Americans thought we shouldn’t be doing anything in Nicaragua,” Blanton said. “How possibly was our national security interest at stake?”

    Reached late Friday, Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman, said he was not familiar with the memo. Stanzel said Gates would not be available for comment because it was standard practice for nominees to reject interview requests before Senate confirmation hearings.

    Blanton said it would be wrong to look at a 22-year-old memo as evidence of Gates’ current thinking. Gates seems to have changed after his nomination for CIA director was withdrawn in 1987, Blanton said. When Gates became CIA director in 1991, he was chastened and his earlier “arrogance” diminished.

    “People change,” Blanton said. “And very possibly the Robert Gates nominated for secretary of Defense is the Robert Gates who is the best CIA director we ever had, and not the Robert Gates who was a ‘mini-me’ Rumsfeld.”

    The memo offers some insights into how Gates viewed historical lessons, at least in 1984.

    Gates wrote that the United States wrongly thought in the late 1950s that it could encourage Castro to form a pluralistic government. And he said that in Vietnam the United States took a series of half measures that “enabled the enemy to adjust to each new turn of the screw” by the war’s end, he said, the country was able to tolerate severe bombing campaigns.

    “Half measures, halfheartedly applied, will have the same result in Nicaragua,” Gates wrote.

    It was probably the election of Daniel Ortega to the Nicaraguan presidency in November 1984 that prompted Gates to write his memo of Dec. 14, 1984.

    Ortega was elected again to the presidency this year, although he now presents himself as a moderate.

    In the memo, Gates concluded that the Contra rebels alone would not be able to overthrow the Sandinista regime, even with U.S. money.

    It was the Reagan administration’s attempts to find ways to provide funding for the Nicaraguan rebels even after Congress forbade such support that led to the Iran-Contra scandal, a plan to use the proceeds of arms sales to Iran to fund the Contras.

    The Iran-Contra affair erupted in the public spotlight 20 years ago. Gates’ role in the scandal was investigated by Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh and was the focus of confirmation hearings for Gates’ 1987 nomination for CIA director.

    Gates denied any wrongdoing in the scandal. Most of the debate over Gates’ role centers on what he knew about the plan.

    According to documents released by the National Security Archive and others, Gates seems to have known about Oliver North’s attempts to raise money for the Contras, but opposed the idea and tried to keep the CIA out of it.

    Critics have said Gates failed to make inquiries about the scandal that could have stopped the scheme from going forward.

    Walsh concluded that Gates was “less than candid” but did not bring charges against him.

    Gates’ suggestions for Nicaragua policy were never adopted by the Reagan administration. And, on the whole, Gates’ predictions in the 1984 memo didn’t pan out.

    Nicaragua did not become a communist dictatorship. The Sandinista regime did not lead to the fall of U.S.-backed governments in El Salvador, Honduras or Guatemala. Ortega and the Sandinistas were voted out of office in 1990. A year later the Soviet Union ceased to exist.