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Is the CIA Reformable?

Thursday, July 20, 2017 By Melvin A. Goodman, City Lights Books | Book Excerpt
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The CIA symbol is shown on the floor of CIA Headquarters, July 9, 2004 at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The CIA's mission has gone dangerously and lethally astray, argues Melvin A. Goodman, former CIA intelligence analyst.  (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)The CIA symbol is shown on the floor of the agency's headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The CIA's mission has gone dangerously and lethally astray, argues Melvin A. Goodman, former CIA intelligence analyst. (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

Whistleblower at the CIA tells the story of the corruption Melvin A. Goodman observed within the intelligence agency and what he did to expose it. NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake says this book "serves in the public interest as a warning and wake-up call for what's at stake and why we cannot trust the CIA or the intelligence establishment to do the right thing." Click here to order a copy today by making a donation to Truthout!

In this excerpt, , former CIA intelligence analyst Melvin A. Goodman ponders the meanings of the words whistleblower, dissident and contrarian, how they apply to himself and others, and whether the CIA can ever be repaired or rebuilt.

Whistleblowers. Dissidents. Contrarians.

The terms are used synonymously by pundits and the public, and I've been all three at one time or another in order to expose improprieties and illegalities in the secret government, and to inform the American public of policies that compromise the freedom and security of US citizens and weaken US standing in the global community.

I have never liked the terms contrarian or dissident. I've always believed that my criticism should be conventional wisdom. The term whistleblower is more complex because it often raises questions of patriotism or sedition. Chelsea Manning received commutation from her 35-year prison sentence for revealing so-called secrets that documented the terror and violence of the baseless US war in Iraq. Members of the Bush administration who launched the invasion of Iraq in 2003 are considered honorable members of our society, although their acts involved the corruption of intelligence; caused the death of thousands of US soldiers and foreign civilians; terrorized civilian populations; perpetrated the criminal use of torture and abuse; sanctioned use of secret prisons and extraordinary rendition; and caused the destabilization of the region that has set the stage for strategic advances by Al Qaeda and ISIS.

Edward Snowden, if he had remained in the United States, would have faced an even longer prison sentence because he revealed the massive NSA surveillance program that was illegal and immoral, and that violated the Fourth Amendment protection against illegal seizures and searches. Manning and Snowden admit to breaking US laws, but their actions were never as serious as the law-breaking, including massive violations of privacy, that they exposed.

The debate over whether Snowden was a traitor is fatuous. As a result of Snowden's revelations, we learned that the National Security Agency logged domestic phone calls and emails for years, recorded the metadata of correspondence between Americans, and, in some cases, exploited the content of emails. The case against Private Manning was similarly fatuous. Manning provided evidence of the US cover-up of torture by our Iraqi allies; a US Army helicopter opening fire on a group of civilians, including two Reuters journalists; and the use of an air strike to cover up the execution of civilians. Some of these acts were war crimes.

There is no more compelling evidence of the unconscionable behavior of US personnel in Iraq than the callous dialogue between the crew members of the helicopter regarding the civilian deaths and particularly the firing on those Iraqis who came to recover the dead bodies of Iraqi civilians. Manning's documents exposed this behavior, but her efforts were ridiculed by former secretary of defense Robert Gates, who described it as examining war by "looking through a straw."

To make matters worse, American journalists have criticized their colleagues (Julian Assange of WikiLeaks and Glenn Greenwald [then of The Guardian]) who brought the Snowden-Manning revelations to the attention of the public. David Gregory, then host of the venerable "Meet the Press" on NBC, asked Greenwald "to the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden ... why shouldn't you ... be charged with a crime?" Jeffrey Toobin, a lawyer who labors for CNN and The New Yorker, called Snowden a "grandiose narcissist who belongs in prison" and referred to Greenwald's partner, David Miranda, who was detained by British authorities for nine hours under anti-terror laws, the equivalent of a "drug mule."

The king of calumny is Michael Grunwald, a senior correspondent for Time, who wrote on Twitter that he couldn't "wait to write a defense of the drone strike that takes out Julian Assange." The New York Times also targeted Assange, although the paper cooperated with WikiLeaks in 2010 in publishing reams of information from Private Manning's revelations. Of course, if Time or the New York Times had broken these stories, they would have built new shelves to hold their Pulitzer Prizes. Their hypocrisy was exposed by David Carr of the New York Times, who expressed shock at finding Assange and Greenwald "under attack, not just from a government bent on keeping its secrets, but from friendly fire by fellow journalists."

I didn't reveal abuses as great as those revealed by Manning and Snowden or Daniel Ellsberg, but I do claim status as a whistleblower because of my revelations before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during confirmation hearings for Bob Gates, who was nominated by President George H.W. Bush in 1991 to be director of central intelligence. According to US law, the term "whistleblower" applies to anyone who "reasonably believes" he or she is disclosing a violation of law or gross mismanagement, gross waste, or abuse of authority. My testimony documented for the first time the intentional distortion of intelligence by CIA director William Casey and Deputy Director Gates in order to serve the agenda of Ronald Reagan and his administration.

Bob Gates was an old friend, but the friendship ended when he routinely distorted intelligence throughout the 1980s as deputy director for intelligence and deputy director of the CIA. In destroying the political culture of the CIA, he created a toxic and corrupt environment at the Agency, and the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on CIA detention and torture reminds us that the Agency hasn't recovered.

Being a contrarian was easy and natural for me. In fact, no one should think about entering the intelligence profession without good contrarian instincts. Such instincts would include an innate skepticism, the doubting of conventional wisdom and a willingness to challenge authority, which translates to an ability to tell truth to power. These contrarian instincts are essential to the success of any intelligence organization. As Rogers and Hammerstein would have it, it was "doing what comes naturally!"

My book The Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA was the first insider account from an intelligence analyst regarding the skewed and politicized assessments of the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence -- the Agency's analytic arm. I also exposed the strategic failure of covert actions that were never intended to be a part of President Harry Truman's CIA. I wrote the book for many reasons, including the need to describe the inability of journalists to take into account, let alone understand, the dangers of politicization and the actions of CIA directors such as Casey, Gates, and more recently Goss and Tenet. The political pliancy of these directors fully compromised the intelligence mission of the CIA, and it was political pliancy that made directors such as Gates and Tenet so attractive to Presidents Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II.

Truthout Progressive Pick


Whistleblower at the CIA: An Insider's Account of the Politics of Intelligence

"Urgent, timely, and deeply recommended." -- Daniel Ellsberg.

Click here now to get the book!


For the past quarter century, my testimony and writings have exposed the failure to honor President Truman's purpose in creating a CIA to provide policymakers with accurate, unbiased accounts of international developments, and have highlighted the CIA's readiness to cater to the White House. This view is not original with me; in fact, it was President Truman who first acknowledged that the CIA he created in 1947 had gotten off the tracks under Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy in the 1950s and early 1960s.

In December 1963, less than a month after the assassination of President Kennedy, Truman wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post to document the wrongs of the CIA. He concluded that his efforts to "create the quiet intelligence arm of the Presidency" had been subverted by a "sinister" and "mysterious" agency that was conducting far too many clandestine activities in peacetime. I lectured at the Truman Library in the summer of 2014, and found a note in Truman's hand that stated the CIA was not designed to "initiate policy or to act as a spy organization. That was never the intention when it was organized."

In The Failure of Intelligence, I documented the CIA's resistance to reform and the corruption in both the analytical and operational directorates. I made a case for starting over at the CIA, not dissimilar from the case made by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan 25 years ago as a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Not every agency or department of government can be reformed, and it is possible that the intricate web of habits, procedures, and culture places the CIA in the non-reformable category. Once the political culture of an institution such as the CIA has been broken, it is extremely difficult -- if not impossible -- to rebuild or repair it.

Copyright (2017) by Melvin A. Goodman. Not be reprinted without permission of the publisher, City Lights Books.

Melvin A. Goodman

Melvin A. Goodman served as a senior analyst and Division Chief at the CIA from 1966 to 1990. An expert on US relations with Russia, his writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Harper's and many others. He is author of six books on US intelligence and international security.

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Is the CIA Reformable?

Thursday, July 20, 2017 By Melvin A. Goodman, City Lights Books | Book Excerpt
  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
  • Print

The CIA symbol is shown on the floor of CIA Headquarters, July 9, 2004 at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The CIA's mission has gone dangerously and lethally astray, argues Melvin A. Goodman, former CIA intelligence analyst.  (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)The CIA symbol is shown on the floor of the agency's headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The CIA's mission has gone dangerously and lethally astray, argues Melvin A. Goodman, former CIA intelligence analyst. (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

Whistleblower at the CIA tells the story of the corruption Melvin A. Goodman observed within the intelligence agency and what he did to expose it. NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake says this book "serves in the public interest as a warning and wake-up call for what's at stake and why we cannot trust the CIA or the intelligence establishment to do the right thing." Click here to order a copy today by making a donation to Truthout!

In this excerpt, , former CIA intelligence analyst Melvin A. Goodman ponders the meanings of the words whistleblower, dissident and contrarian, how they apply to himself and others, and whether the CIA can ever be repaired or rebuilt.

Whistleblowers. Dissidents. Contrarians.

The terms are used synonymously by pundits and the public, and I've been all three at one time or another in order to expose improprieties and illegalities in the secret government, and to inform the American public of policies that compromise the freedom and security of US citizens and weaken US standing in the global community.

I have never liked the terms contrarian or dissident. I've always believed that my criticism should be conventional wisdom. The term whistleblower is more complex because it often raises questions of patriotism or sedition. Chelsea Manning received commutation from her 35-year prison sentence for revealing so-called secrets that documented the terror and violence of the baseless US war in Iraq. Members of the Bush administration who launched the invasion of Iraq in 2003 are considered honorable members of our society, although their acts involved the corruption of intelligence; caused the death of thousands of US soldiers and foreign civilians; terrorized civilian populations; perpetrated the criminal use of torture and abuse; sanctioned use of secret prisons and extraordinary rendition; and caused the destabilization of the region that has set the stage for strategic advances by Al Qaeda and ISIS.

Edward Snowden, if he had remained in the United States, would have faced an even longer prison sentence because he revealed the massive NSA surveillance program that was illegal and immoral, and that violated the Fourth Amendment protection against illegal seizures and searches. Manning and Snowden admit to breaking US laws, but their actions were never as serious as the law-breaking, including massive violations of privacy, that they exposed.

The debate over whether Snowden was a traitor is fatuous. As a result of Snowden's revelations, we learned that the National Security Agency logged domestic phone calls and emails for years, recorded the metadata of correspondence between Americans, and, in some cases, exploited the content of emails. The case against Private Manning was similarly fatuous. Manning provided evidence of the US cover-up of torture by our Iraqi allies; a US Army helicopter opening fire on a group of civilians, including two Reuters journalists; and the use of an air strike to cover up the execution of civilians. Some of these acts were war crimes.

There is no more compelling evidence of the unconscionable behavior of US personnel in Iraq than the callous dialogue between the crew members of the helicopter regarding the civilian deaths and particularly the firing on those Iraqis who came to recover the dead bodies of Iraqi civilians. Manning's documents exposed this behavior, but her efforts were ridiculed by former secretary of defense Robert Gates, who described it as examining war by "looking through a straw."

To make matters worse, American journalists have criticized their colleagues (Julian Assange of WikiLeaks and Glenn Greenwald [then of The Guardian]) who brought the Snowden-Manning revelations to the attention of the public. David Gregory, then host of the venerable "Meet the Press" on NBC, asked Greenwald "to the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden ... why shouldn't you ... be charged with a crime?" Jeffrey Toobin, a lawyer who labors for CNN and The New Yorker, called Snowden a "grandiose narcissist who belongs in prison" and referred to Greenwald's partner, David Miranda, who was detained by British authorities for nine hours under anti-terror laws, the equivalent of a "drug mule."

The king of calumny is Michael Grunwald, a senior correspondent for Time, who wrote on Twitter that he couldn't "wait to write a defense of the drone strike that takes out Julian Assange." The New York Times also targeted Assange, although the paper cooperated with WikiLeaks in 2010 in publishing reams of information from Private Manning's revelations. Of course, if Time or the New York Times had broken these stories, they would have built new shelves to hold their Pulitzer Prizes. Their hypocrisy was exposed by David Carr of the New York Times, who expressed shock at finding Assange and Greenwald "under attack, not just from a government bent on keeping its secrets, but from friendly fire by fellow journalists."

I didn't reveal abuses as great as those revealed by Manning and Snowden or Daniel Ellsberg, but I do claim status as a whistleblower because of my revelations before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during confirmation hearings for Bob Gates, who was nominated by President George H.W. Bush in 1991 to be director of central intelligence. According to US law, the term "whistleblower" applies to anyone who "reasonably believes" he or she is disclosing a violation of law or gross mismanagement, gross waste, or abuse of authority. My testimony documented for the first time the intentional distortion of intelligence by CIA director William Casey and Deputy Director Gates in order to serve the agenda of Ronald Reagan and his administration.

Bob Gates was an old friend, but the friendship ended when he routinely distorted intelligence throughout the 1980s as deputy director for intelligence and deputy director of the CIA. In destroying the political culture of the CIA, he created a toxic and corrupt environment at the Agency, and the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on CIA detention and torture reminds us that the Agency hasn't recovered.

Being a contrarian was easy and natural for me. In fact, no one should think about entering the intelligence profession without good contrarian instincts. Such instincts would include an innate skepticism, the doubting of conventional wisdom and a willingness to challenge authority, which translates to an ability to tell truth to power. These contrarian instincts are essential to the success of any intelligence organization. As Rogers and Hammerstein would have it, it was "doing what comes naturally!"

My book The Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA was the first insider account from an intelligence analyst regarding the skewed and politicized assessments of the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence -- the Agency's analytic arm. I also exposed the strategic failure of covert actions that were never intended to be a part of President Harry Truman's CIA. I wrote the book for many reasons, including the need to describe the inability of journalists to take into account, let alone understand, the dangers of politicization and the actions of CIA directors such as Casey, Gates, and more recently Goss and Tenet. The political pliancy of these directors fully compromised the intelligence mission of the CIA, and it was political pliancy that made directors such as Gates and Tenet so attractive to Presidents Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II.

Truthout Progressive Pick


Whistleblower at the CIA: An Insider's Account of the Politics of Intelligence

"Urgent, timely, and deeply recommended." -- Daniel Ellsberg.

Click here now to get the book!


For the past quarter century, my testimony and writings have exposed the failure to honor President Truman's purpose in creating a CIA to provide policymakers with accurate, unbiased accounts of international developments, and have highlighted the CIA's readiness to cater to the White House. This view is not original with me; in fact, it was President Truman who first acknowledged that the CIA he created in 1947 had gotten off the tracks under Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy in the 1950s and early 1960s.

In December 1963, less than a month after the assassination of President Kennedy, Truman wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post to document the wrongs of the CIA. He concluded that his efforts to "create the quiet intelligence arm of the Presidency" had been subverted by a "sinister" and "mysterious" agency that was conducting far too many clandestine activities in peacetime. I lectured at the Truman Library in the summer of 2014, and found a note in Truman's hand that stated the CIA was not designed to "initiate policy or to act as a spy organization. That was never the intention when it was organized."

In The Failure of Intelligence, I documented the CIA's resistance to reform and the corruption in both the analytical and operational directorates. I made a case for starting over at the CIA, not dissimilar from the case made by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan 25 years ago as a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Not every agency or department of government can be reformed, and it is possible that the intricate web of habits, procedures, and culture places the CIA in the non-reformable category. Once the political culture of an institution such as the CIA has been broken, it is extremely difficult -- if not impossible -- to rebuild or repair it.

Copyright (2017) by Melvin A. Goodman. Not be reprinted without permission of the publisher, City Lights Books.

Melvin A. Goodman

Melvin A. Goodman served as a senior analyst and Division Chief at the CIA from 1966 to 1990. An expert on US relations with Russia, his writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Harper's and many others. He is author of six books on US intelligence and international security.