Intelligence sources question Gates' independence from Cheney, Rumsfeld

Larisa Alexandrovna
Published: Tuesday November 14, 2006

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Many current and former intelligence experts, officers, and policy makers are questioning the rationale for the seemingly unexpected nomination of Robert M. Gates to the post of Secretary of Defense, RAW STORY has learned.

Gates was named as President Bush's chosen replacement for the beleaguered Donald Rumsfeld just one day after the Democrats swept the midterm elections last week to win majorities in both houses of Congress.

The argument has been made by many pundits and experts that the removal of Rumsfeld and the nomination of Gates, planning for which numerous sources indicate began roughly one month ago, will have the effect of marginalizing Vice President Dick Cheney, seen by most to be the driving force behind US involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Baker's man or Cheney's man?

Sources say that what is at stake here is preserving the Bush family legacy, which is of far greater concern to Bush loyalists than any other factor. The choice of James Baker III, former Secretary of State during the Bush 41 presidency, to head a probe of current Iraq strategy only serves to reinforce this belief. As many see it, Baker is respected first and foremost for his loyalty to the Bush family and his protection of their mutual business interests.

One former senior intelligence officer, who served during the Bush 41 presidency, believes that by and large the Gates appointment is simply buying time and providing cover, while allowing Rumsfeld to take the fall for the execution of a now-unpopular war. This source also believes that the fall of Rumsfeld might serve as notice for Cheney to curtail his inner hawk.

"Cheney cannot be removed, except by feigning ill health, as he is an elected official," said this official, "but he can be marginalized."

But the Baker vs. Cheney argument does not stand up to scrutiny. Simply put, when Gates served in the administration of President George H.W. Bush, he had far more in common with Cheney than he did with other members of that administration, including those currently involved in attempts to intervene in Iraq policy.

The same source, however, cautions that the real action to watch is the newly arrived Democratic majority. The bottom line, the source insists, is that regardless of what Cheney does it will be Congressional oversight, not Gates, that will stand in his way.

Politicizing intelligence

But others are not so optimistic that the most powerful vice president ever can be reined in, or that Gates will be a straight shooter with Congress.

The question of independence is an issue for Melvin A. Goodman, a former CIA senior analyst and National War College intelligence specialist who testified against Gates when he was first nominated to head the CIA in 1987, causing him to withdraw from the nomination.

Part of this opposition had to do with Gates' alleged involvement in the Iran Contra scandal under President Reagan. At that time, the United States violated its own edict and sold weapons to its enemy, Iran, diverting the funds to pay for a guerrilla war fought by the Contras against the democratically elected, socialist Sandinistas of Nicaragua.

However, an even greater area of concern for Goodman and others interviewed for this article was the politicizing of intelligence. As investigative reporter Robert Parry wrote recently:

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.

In 1981, Carolyn McGiffert Ekedahl of the CIA's Soviet office was the unfortunate analyst who was handed the assignment to prepare an analysis on the Soviet Union's alleged support and direction of international terrorism.

Contrary to the desired White House take on Soviet-backed terrorism, Ekedahl said the consensus of the intelligence community was that the Soviets discouraged acts of terrorism by groups getting support from Moscow for practical, not moral, reasons....

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."

These allegations, critics would argue, could have easily been written about Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld's Office of Special Plans, which sources say was created to find an immediate threat posed by Iraq, regardless of the facts. Prior to the Iraq War, Cheney made countless visits to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, where sources have indicated intelligence analysts were brow-beaten into finding the evidence Cheney believed supported his case.

Since then, the OSP has been replaced by the Iranian Directorate (ID), largely led by the same people, who continue the same approach for their intelligence gathering on Iran, such as allegations that Iran has been attempting to purchase uranium.

One current intelligence contract employee, a former intelligence official who worked with Gates, indicated to RAW STORY that he believes there is much more commonality than discord between Cheney and Gates. The many connections and parallels between the two men over the years suggest that, contrary to current folklore, Cheney may in fact have been involved in the choosing of Gates, in an effort to rein in Pentagon near-mutiny.


Certainly Gates' business activities might make it difficult for him to push back against the formidable Cheney.

Gates has been on the board of directors for Parker Drilling Company since 2001. A major client-partner of Parker is Halliburton. In 2004, for example, Halliburton landed the Iride-Samaria Project in Mexico for $275 million, and Parker was brought into the project to provide the rigs and crews.

Serving on the Parker board with Gates is John W. Gibson, who until 2004 served as chief executive officer of Halliburton Energy Services and who acknowledges having gone hunting with Vice President Cheney.

Another member of the Parker board is Robert E. McKee III, who is currently the chairman of Eventure, a Shell-Halliburton joint project, as well as being the senior adviser to the Iraqi Oil Ministry

In addition to this, Gates serves with Donald Rumsfeld on the steering committee of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). CSIS is described in general as a neoconservative think tank, and in particular as a largely far-right funded institution, founded with Richard Scaife funds. During the 1970's, when George H.W. Bush was CIA director, the group was involved in an intelligence experiment called Team B, which manufactured or misrepresented intelligence to magnify the Cold War Soviet threat.

But some of Gates' former CIA colleagues make the argument that neither Gates nor Cheney is really an ideologue or a neoconservative. Nor, they insist, are they pragmatists or realists, as some have taken to describing the Bush 41 administration, in comparison to the current Bush administration. Essentially, as one former high ranking CIA official tells it, the idealogues have been booted, and those remaining are all corporatists.

This official cautioned that major changes in Iraq should not be expected from Gates. Mel Goodman concurs, adding that he believes that Gates will add troops, not reduce the number.

'A solid administrator'

However, other sources believe that regardless of Gates' past, the change is a necessary one, and that Gates will carry out the job effectively.

Retired US Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who most recently served as Secretary of State Powell's chief of staff and who has been a harsh critique of the Bush administration, believes that Gates will do well.

"[Gates is] a solid guy who has made his way through the bureaucracy largely by doing what he was asked to do -- and in present circumstances, I believe that will be a positive," said Wilkerson.

"Rumsfeld's greatest failing was that he thought he was always right and acted accordingly," he continued, "in spite of even the President's directions. Gates will follow the rules and the direction. And one hopes the President will listen to Baker-Hamilton and make their recommendations the "rules and the direction."

Others point out, too, that for all of his flaws and allegations ranging from his involvement with Iran Contra to his politicizing of intelligence, Gates showed his critics that he was a solid administrator when he finally became CIA Director in 1991.

A source close to the Senate Intelligence Committee summarized Gates' CIA Directorship thusly:

"Despite the concerns when he went through the confirmation process, his tenure as DCI was well regarded."

One former senior aide to the National Security Council, who wished to remain anonymous, offered a different perspective, saying "They are doing cartwheels in the E ring and could not care who was nominated so long as Rumsfeld resigned. They would not care if Satan replaced him."

The "E Ring" is Defense Department lingo for the outermost offices of the Pentagon.

Part II in the Gates series will focus on policy toward Iran

Related Raw Story articles:

Cheney has tapped Iranian expatriate, arms dealer to surveil discussions with Iran, officials say

Conversations with Machiavelli's ghost: Denials mark neoconservative's account of past and present scandal

Intelligence officials doubt Iran uranium claims, say Cheney receiving suspect briefings

Spurious attempt to tie Iran, Iraq to nuclear arms plot bypassed U.S. intelligence channels

Larisa Alexandrovna is managing investigative news editor for Raw Story and regularly reports on intelligence and national security matters. Contact Larisa Alexandrovna

Muriel Kane contributed to the research for this article.