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CIA Veteran: How Robert Gates Cooked the Intelligence

An interview with the most interesting witness senators won't hear from this week.

| Mon Dec. 4, 2006 4:00 AM EST

MJ: As you mentioned, Gates has denied having knowledge of Iran-Contra. You were at the agency during that period. Is that plausible?

MG: Now, fortunately, we have documented evidence about what he knew and who told him what and what meetings he sat in on. He was briefed by about three different CIA officers.

Gates denied the meetings he had with [National Security Advisor John] Poindexter, which we know he had. He met regularly with Poindexter, he met regularly with [Oliver] North, he sat in on meetings with North and Casey. I myself think the reason why Casey made Bob Gates his deputy in 1986 is he needed someone who was involved in all the operational matters of Iran-Contra as some security fence within the bureaucracy, someone who knew all of this stuff and could protect it.

In '87 that's why Gates never got to a vote, because no one believed he was telling the truth when he said that he wasn't part of this operation and he knew nothing about it. In '91, they were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, but there were still 31 votes against Bob Gates, which is more than all of the negative votes against all of the CIA directors going back over a 59-year period.

MJ: Back in '91, did you call the Senate Intelligence Committee, or did they call you?

MG: I was on the verge of calling them, but before I could call them they called me and asked me to come over, which led to three separate meetings with staff. There were about 12 to 15 people in the room, including the staff director, George Tenet.

MJ: Some of Gates' former colleagues at the agency seemed to regard him as an intimidating presence. Was that your take as well?

MG: No, you've got to remember I knew him for 20 years. I knew him from his first day in the building. I took him to lunch that day. Our families knew each other, our children were involved in socializing. [But] there was an arrogance about him, the kind of thing you see in the bureaucracy of people who, you know, kiss up and kick down. Bob Gates was certainly one of those people.

MJ: After Gates was confirmed in '91, did his performance at the agency do anything to change your view of him?

MG: No, no. The issues for me were the way he exercised control over the intelligence output of the CIA. He virtually killed the Foreign Broadcasting Intelligence Service, FBIS, which was very independent-minded and sort of off the range on some issues. And Gates wanted to bring a halt to that, and he did. He didn't want controversy with the military, so he started sending areas of tactical military intelligence over to the Pentagon, got the CIA out of the business of order of battle intelligence, which is really an unfortunate setback. He weakened the research bureaus of political, military, and economic reporting. He sent a lot of imagery analysis the CIA used to do over to the Pentagon, a process that [John] Deutch completed when he came in as CIA director several years later. The military, remember, during this period was quite angry about what they considered the inept performance of the CIA around the time of Desert Storm, the intelligence failure with regard to Iraqi strategic capabilities and then the weakness of intelligence support during the war. They had been blasted by [General Norman] Schwarzkopf, and Gates called Colin Powell, the chairman of the joint chiefs, to try to get a two- and three-star general to come over to the CIA as a deputy director to further form links between the military, the Pentagon, and the CIA on intelligence matters. Of course the reason why the CIA was formed was to be independent of policy organizations. But Gates wanted to avoid these disputes. I considered him a rather weak CIA director.

MJ: So essentially you're saying that Gates handles bureaucracy well.

MG: I think Bob in many ways is the consummate bureaucrat, but without any ethical or moral compass. He's cautious; he knows how to protect himself; he knows which documents not to sign; he knows when to appear uninformed, whether it's with colleagues bringing him information which he sort of pretends not to know anything about, or when he goes before the Senate Intelligence Committee in '91 and says, "I don't recollect." That was about 33 different questions. He's not an innovator. He's not strategic minded. He has a very good memory. He's a workaholic. No one is going to work longer hours than Bob Gates, even at the Pentagon where it's legendary what some of these careerist colonels and generals do. Bob Gates will be in there from morning until night. He will serve his master. But his master is George W. Bush, not George Herbert Walker Bush and General Scowcroft.

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