Robert Gates, who awaits the Senate to confirm him as United States Secretary of Defense, has been a public servant that often acted to break the public trust and harm the country. As a staffer on the National Security Council during President Carter’s term, Gates had a role in the October Surprise scandal51. In 1980, during the Iran hostage crisis and the U.S. presidential campaigns of Carter and Ronald Reagan, he met with Iranian officials to make a deal where they would hold the American hostages until after the election in exchange for arms once Reagan took office. In the 1980’s, as the head of the CIA‘s analytic division, Gates crippled the agency’s ability to produce factual intelligence reports52. He restructured the analytic division to suppress objective reporting and produce reports skewed to what Reagan wanted to hear – over-stating the strength of the Soviet Union and under-playing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons development. Also in the 1980’s, Gates had a major role in the Iraqgate scandal53. During the Iran-Iraq War, he arranged for arms such as cluster bombs and material for chemical weapons to be secretly shipped from arms dealers to the dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein. As Deputy Director of the CIA, Gates lied to Congress about his knowledge of the Iran-Contra scandal and the agency’s role in it54. The CIA unconstitutionally ignored a ban by Congress and helped supply the Contras with weapons for use against Nicaragua. These acts by Gates have harmed the country by undercutting the government’s diplomacy and likely delaying the release of American hostages, involving the country in the use of chemical weapons and building up a dictator that the U.S. military would later fight, wasting billions in unneeded weaponry aimed at the Soviet Union55, spreading the nuclear bomb to Pakistan and on to North Korea56, and undermining the constitutional power of Congress. If minority Democratic Senators ask Gates pointed questions about these acts of his in the confirmation hearings set to begin Monday, a wave could rise for a filibuster to keep Gates from taking yet another office from which to breach the public trust and damage the republic57.
… the Russian government sent an intelligence report to a House investigative task force in early 1993 stating that Gates participated in secret contacts with Iranian officials in 1980 to delay release of 52 U.S. hostages then held in Iran, a move to benefit the presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
“R[obert] Gates, at that time a staffer of the National Security Council in the administration of Jimmy Carter, and former CIA Director George Bush also took part” in a meeting in Paris in October 1980, according to the Russian report, which meshed with information from witnesses who have alleged Gates’s involvement in the Iranian gambit.
Once in office, the Reagan administration did permit weapons to flow to Iran via Israel.
Ben-Menashe, who worked for Israeli military intelligence from 1977-87, first fingered Gates as an operative in the secret Iraq arms pipeline in August 1990 during an interview that I conducted with him for PBS Frontline.
In that interview and later under oath to Congress, Ben-Menashe said Gates joined in meetings between Republicans and senior Iranians in October 1980. Ben-Menashe said he also arranged Gates’s personal help in bringing a suitcase full of cash into Miami in early 1981 to pay off some of the participants in the hostage gambit.
Before Gates’s rapid rise through the CIA’s ranks in the 1980s, the CIA’s tradition was to zealously protect the objectivity and scholarship of the intelligence. However, during the Reagan administration, that ethos collapsed.
At Gates’s confirmation hearings in 1991, former CIA analysts, including renowned Kremlinologist Mel Goodman, took the extraordinary step of coming out of the shadows to accuse Gates of politicizing the intelligence while he was chief of the analytical division and then deputy director.
The former intelligence officers said the ambitious Gates pressured the CIA’s analytical division to exaggerate the Soviet menace to fit the ideological perspective of the Reagan administration. Analysts who took a more nuanced view of Soviet power and Moscow’s behavior in the world faced pressure and career reprisals.
“We agreed that the Soviets consistently stated, publicly and privately, that they considered international terrorist activities counterproductive and advised groups they supported not to use such tactics,” [Carolyn McGiffert] Ekedahl [of the CIA’s Soviet office] said. “We had hard evidence to support this conclusion.”
Ekedahl said Gates, dissatisfied with the terrorism assessment, joined in rewriting the draft “to suggest greater Soviet support for terrorism and the text was altered by pulling up from the annex reports that overstated Soviet involvement.”
Soon, the hammer fell on the analysts who had prepared the Soviet-terrorism report. Ekedahl said many analysts were “replaced by people new to the subject who insisted on language emphasizing Soviet control of international terrorist activities.”
In a speech to the DI’s analysts and managers on Jan. 7, 1982, Gates berated the division for producing shoddy analysis that administration officials didn’t find helpful.
Gates’s message was that the DI, which had long operated as an “ivory tower” for academically oriented analysts committed to an ethos of objectivity, would take on more of a corporate culture with a product designed to fit the needs of those up the ladder both inside and outside the CIA.
“It was a kind of chilling speech,” recalled Peter Dickson, an analyst who concentrated on proliferation issues. “One of the things he wanted to do, he was going to shake up the DI. He was going to read every paper that came out. What that did was that everybody between the analyst and him had to get involved in the paper to a greater extent because their careers were going to be at stake.”
Gates soon was salting the analytical division with his allies, a group of managers who became known as the “Gates clones.”
One of the effects from the exaggerated intelligence about Soviet power and intentions was to make other potential risks – such as allowing development of a nuclear bomb in the Islamic world or training Islamic fundamentalists in techniques of sabotage – pale in comparison.
While worst-case scenarios were in order for the Soviet Union and other communist enemies, best-case scenarios were the order of the day for Reagan-Bush allies, including Osama bin Laden and other Arab extremists rushing to Afghanistan to wage a holy war against European invaders, in this case, the Russians.
As for the Pakistani drive to get a nuclear bomb, the Reagan-Bush administration turned to word games to avoid triggering anti-proliferation penalties that otherwise would be imposed on Pakistan.
Middle Eastern witnesses alleged that Gates worked on the secret Iraqi initiative, which included Saddam Hussein’s procurement of cluster bombs and chemicals used to produce chemical weapons for the war against Iran.
In a sworn affidavit submitted in a Florida criminal case, [Howard] Teicher[, one of Reagan’s National Security Council officials] stated that the covert arming of Iraq dated back to spring 1982 when Iran had gained the upper hand in the war, leading President Reagan to authorize a U.S. tilt toward Saddam Hussein.
The effort to arm the Iraqis was “spearheaded” by CIA Director William Casey and involved his deputy, Robert Gates, according to Teicher’s affidavit. “The CIA, including both CIA Director Casey and Deputy Director Gates, knew of, approved of, and assisted in the sale of non-U.S. origin military weapons, ammunition and vehicles to Iraq,” Teicher wrote.
Teicher described Gates’s role as far more substantive than Rumsfeld’s. “Under CIA Director [William] Casey and Deputy Director Gates, the CIA authorized, approved and assisted [Chilean arms dealer Carlos] Cardoen in the manufacture and sale of cluster bombs and other munitions to Iraq,” Teicher wrote.
Although Gates was never indicted for the Iran-Contra affair, he was severely criticized for his actions by Judge Lawrence E. Walsh, the Republican Independent Counsel who investigated the Iran-Contra affair. In his report on the scandal, Walsh said that contrary to Gates’ sworn testimony before a grand jury and at a confirmation hearing, “evidence proves” that then-Deputy Director of Central Intelligence Gates knew about the unconstitutional diversion of profits from Iran-bound arms sales to the Contras sooner than he let on.
Walsh also concluded that the CIA continued to support Oliver North’s diversion of funds to the Contras without investigating or telling his bosses at the National Security Council. Finally, Walsh concluded that Gates participated in two briefings of congressional investigators which helped lull them into falsely believing the CIA was not involved in facilitating private flights to resupply the Contras.
Gates’ role in ignoring Congress’s specific ban on assisting the Contras—one of the most dangerous threats to constitutional government in American history—should not be dismissed as merely “old news.” …
Missing the Fall
The politicization of intelligence in the 1980s had other effects. Under pressure always to exaggerate the Soviet threat, analysts had no incentive to point out the truth, which was that the Soviet Union was a decaying, corrupt and inefficient regime tottering on the brink of collapse. To justify soaring military budgets and interventions in Third World conflicts, the Reagan administration wanted the Soviets always to be depicted as 10 feet tall.
Ironically, this systematic distortion of the CIA’s Soviet intelligence assessments turned out to be a political win-win for Reagan and his supporters.
Not only did Congress appropriate hundreds of billions of dollars for military projects favored by the conservatives, the U.S. news media largely gave Reagan the credit when the Soviet Union “suddenly” collapsed in 1991. The CIA did take some lumps for “missing” one of the most significant political events of the century, but Reagan’s success in “winning the Cold War” is now solidly entrenched as conventional wisdom.
The accepted version of events goes this way: the Soviets were on the ascendance before Reagan took office, but thanks to Reagan’s strategic missile defense program and his support for right-wing insurgencies, such as arming contra rebels in Nicaragua and Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union fell apart.
A more realistic assessment would point out that the Soviets had been in decline for decades, largely from the devastation caused by World War II and the effective containment strategies followed by presidents from Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower to Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. The rapid development of technology in the West and the lure of Western consumer goods accelerated this Soviet collapse.
But the U.S. news media never mounted a serious assessment of how the Cold War really was won. The conservative press corps naturally pressed its favored theme of Reagan turning the tide, while a complacent mainstream press offered little additional context.
Finally, the intelligence on the Pakistan Bomb grew too strong to continue denying the reality. But the delay in confronting Pakistan ultimately allowed the Muslim government in Islamabad to produce nuclear weapons. Pakistani scientists also shared their know-how with “rogue” states, such as North Korea and Libya.
All those quoted in the press yesterday and this morning regarding the Gates nomination seem blissfully unaware of this history—all, that is, but Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. Pointing out Gates’ reputation for putting pressure on analysts to shape their conclusions to fit administration policies, Holt told the press yesterday that the nomination is “deeply troubling,” and stressed that the confirmation hearings “should be thorough and probing.”
* * *