On Tuesday, the first day of 9/11 Commission hearings in Washington, D.C., former Central Intelligence Agency analyst Ray McGovern was scheduled to give a few presentations in Los Angeles. His plans changed that morning at a friends' home, when he broke a fall with his left wrist, shattering the bone.
One of the few benefits of lying in a hospital bed for much of the next 24 hours: He had plenty of free time to watch testimony.
"Despite the interest that has been garnered from (former counterterrorism chief Richard) Clarke's revelations, the commission is hopelessly divided and will come up with very little that will shed light on how things like this can be prevented from happening again," McGovern said. "When you see the (9/11 victims') families sitting there behind the panel, my heart goes out to them."
"I take great umbrage at the fact that this commission is in no way representative of the American people," he said. "They're either lawyers or politicians, some are both. There's only one woman. And everyone looks like me. I was really struck by the clear political bias that was brought to the table by all of them."
McGovern spent 27 years in the CIA, working for seven presidents and leading briefings for Vice President George Bush from 1981 to 1985. Frustrated with what they perceived to be a breakdown in the intelligence process in the months before 9/11 and the current war in Iraq, McGovern and a few former employees of federal intelligence agencies founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. The group now has 35 members. Its first official act was a critique of Secretary of State Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003.
McGovern was recently featured in Robert Greenwald's documentary "Uncovered: The Truth About the Iraq War," which played in Juneau. He will give a free talk, "An Inside Look at Intelligence and the Iraq War," at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 31, at the Dimond Courthouse, across from the Capitol. The speech will be preceded by a 5:30 p.m. reception and is sponsored by the Juneau World Affairs Council.
"What we (the VIPS) have been saying consistently since 2001 and 2002 is that we would give 9/11 the charitable explanation of gross malfeasance, gross ineptitude," McGovern said. "(The administration) had the information, they just didn't know what to do with it. Clarke has outlined his repeated attempts to get the attention of the people in the Bush Administration and to get a rough policy to go against Bin Laden and al-Qaida. It never happened. Instead, a very long policy process was developed, and Iraq was the preoccupation."
McGovern believes the intelligence process has been corrupted to such a degree that it can't be repaired. Fresh out of a graduate program in Russian studies at Fordham University, he joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1963 and began analyzing Soviet foreign policy for President John F. Kennedy.
"What really happened to the CIA was that when Bill Casey and Bobby Gates, his protégé, were directors back in the '80s and early '90s, they made it clear that the analysts would have to dovetail with what they wanted to say to the president," McGovern said. "We always used to tell it like it is without fear. When they came in they intonated that they were going to take a strong-hand policy, and they would not send anything down to the White House that Casey would not agree with."
One case in point, McGovern said, was when Casey was convinced the Soviets and Bulgaria were culpable in a 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II.
"My friend sent Casey a memo and said that (the shooter) was actually acting on his own, not being directed by the Soviets," McGovern said. "Not only that, but he had no Bulgarian connections. What Casey did, he wrapped up the memo, and created a little group of four other analysts who he gave an office to in another part of the building. He gave them all the sources of information on the assassination attempts and told them that he expected them to do better. And guess what, they came up with the right answer."
The modern application, McGovern said, is the war in Iraq.
"The CIA analysts would not agree that there was any evidence of ties between Iraq and al-Qaida," McGovern said. "And so what did (Secretary of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld and (Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul) Wolfowitz do? They set up a little shop in the Pentagon, sort of a parallel analysis to come up with the right answer. And that shop there relied on reports from Iranian émigrés and conjured up a report that they sent directly to the president without showing them to the CIA. It said, 'Yeah, this is a terrible threat. We're in mortal danger. We need to go to war here.' So this is not small potatoes."
"We had a joke around the agency," McGovern said, "that the Soviets were under every rock and even tried to kill the Pope."
Korry Keeker can be reached at email@example.com.