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Open Letter to Carl Levin: No Free Pass to Gates

An Open Letter to Carl Levin: No Free Pass to Gates

By Ray McGovern
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Saturday 11 November 2006

Dear Senator Levin:

The humiliation you felt was palpable when, as the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, you were unceremoniously diddled by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputies Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, chief architects of the fiasco in Iraq. They all but thumbed their noses at you, and you often complained about their "lack of candor." In two short months, you will chair Armed Services and will no longer have to tolerate such behavior. Indeed, you can start practicing now by not letting the nomination of Robert Gates be a "slam dunk."

One need not be politically astute to see that the White House is again using its cat's paw Senator, patrician gentleman from Virginia John Warner, who now chairs the committee, to force through the nomination of Gates this year, while the lame-duck Republicans still hold the majority. That, of course, is par for the course. What is far more disturbing is press reporting that you intend to acquiesce in that maneuver. You don't have to do that any more.

I am having a hard time believing that you would give Gates a pass, since I have so much admired your courage in the past. But I fear that the many recent years in minority exile may have dulled your edge and that you have gotten too used to unsavory compromises. I have in mind the deal you worked out with South Carolina Republican senator Lindsay Graham curtailing some of the rights of "detainees." Not to mention your sudden cave-in, in the aftermath of 9/11, on funding for the National Missile Defense program, which you earlier recognized as obscenely expensive, of unproven reliability, and of dubious utility given the changing nature of the threats to our security.

A lot is riding on whether you step up to the plate on the Gates nomination. Your decision will be one of the earliest tangible signs of whether the November 7 election has injected some spine into Democrats - whether they still have it in them to act like winners. You have had a running dispute with the Bush administration over the way its representatives have misrepresented so much on Iraq in testimony before your committee. If you bow to Republican pressure to allow the Gates nomination to sail through without a thorough investigation of his record, you will be giving a fresh nihil obstat to the practice of no-fault dissembling before Congress.

In 1991, you joined 30 other senators in voting against Gates's confirmation as CIA director because Gates was a good deal less than candid about his role in Iran-Contra and unconvincing in his denials that he had politicized intelligence. A few days ago you said that you wanted to give Gates a "fair and fresh look; a lot of time has passed."

Fair enough. If you want to know what has happened in the interim, you can start with the fresh, documentary evidence adduced in award-winning investigative reporter Robert Parry's recent article, "The Secret World of Robert Gates". Parry's article contains unique and highly damaging information on Gates's role in the original "October Surprise" - the unconscionable but successful Republican effort to prevent the release of the 52 American hostages imprisoned for 14 months in the US embassy in Tehran until Ronald Reagan had won the election in 1980. Parry also provides fresh detail on Gates's involvement in the illegal sale of weapons, including cluster bombs, to Iraq in the early eighties.

Another excellent source on Gates's involvement in the secret arming of Saddam Hussein (yes, the same Saddam) and the Iran-Contra scandal is Amy Goodman's interview of Parry and former CIA analyst Mel Goodman on Democracy Now, November 9th.

As you suspected when you voted against his nomination in 1991, Gates knew about many of Oliver North's illegal activities but, under oath, he just couldn't remember. Gates has been able to escape close scrutiny of his own involvement in extralegal and illegal activities largely because there are far too few journalists with the enterprise, talent, and courage of Robert Parry.

All the above-mentioned escapades are enough to derail Gates's nomination, but the corruption of intelligence should be given priority attention, given the huge role this played in 2002 in deceiving Congress into voting for an unnecessary war. The record shows that Gates is the archetypal intelligence fixer, employing all the tricks of that dishonorable trade - including memory loss, when caught. Indeed, it was the malleable managers who prospered at CIA during Gates's tenure there who caved in to White House pressure to "lean forward" on the issue of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Those commenting on the Gates nomination so far seem largely unaware of this history. The exception is Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ), who worked in the State Department's intelligence bureau and now sits on the House Intelligence Committee. Pointing out Gates's reputation for putting pressure on analysts to shape their conclusions to fit administration policies, Holt called the nomination "deeply troubling" and stressed that the confirmation hearings "should be thorough and probing." Good advice.

The question, Senator Levin, boils down to whether you will stand up and say, "Never Again." Even before you formally become chair of the committee, you have the power to require a serious vetting of Gates's past behavior and to make "Never Again" stick.

I am reminded that, at a hearing on his first (abortive) nomination to be CIA director in 1987, Gates kept denying that he had tailored intelligence to please his superiors; at one point he added, curiously, "Sycophants can only rise to a certain level." Whether that was an unintentionally prophetic observation now depends largely on you and your newly empowered, but apparently not yet emboldened, fellow Democrats.

Yours truly,

Ray McGovern
Steering Group
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity


Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. He was a CIA analyst from the administration of John F. Kennedy to that of George H.W. Bush.

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