Why Michael Morell Cannot Be CIA Director
Gross manipulation of CIA analysis under George W. Bush pushed a new generation of “yes men” into the agency’s top ranks and now one of them is being considered by Joe Biden for the top job, writes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.
As President-elect Joe Biden names his cabinet and other chief advisers, what has escaped wide attention is the fact that none of his hawkish national security advisers — except for his nominee for defense secretary, Gen. Lloyd Austin — has served in the military.
Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell, who is reportedly on Biden’s short list for CIA director, shares that non-veteran status, one of the reasons along with other skeletons from Morell’s past that make him singularly unfit to lead the CIA.
During my 27 years at the CIA, I worked under nine CIA directors — three of them (Stan Turner, Bill Colby, and George H.W. Bush) at close remove — and served in all four of the agency’s main directorates.
Having closely followed the past-two-decade corruption of my profession — in particular, what the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee called the “uncorroborated, contradicted, or even non-existent” intelligence manufactured to “justify” the attack on Iraq, I have on occasion offered an suggestions for remediation, particularly during transition periods like this one. (Links to five such efforts in the past appear below.)
Decades of unfortunate experience show that over-dependence on bright, but inexperienced “best and brightest” can spell disaster. War gaming and theorizing at Princeton and Johns Hopkins have yielded knights with benightedly naive, politics-drenched decisions that get U.S. troops killed for no good reason.
Even if Gen. Lloyd Austin is confirmed as secretary of defense, the whippersnappers already appointed by Joe Biden will probably be able to outmaneuver the general and promote half-baked policies and operations bereft of needed military input — not to mention common sense from the likes of Gen. Austin who knows something of war.
The current generation of “whiz kids” — the well-heeled, politically astute chickenhawks Biden has appointed — will always “know better” and — if past is precedent — are likely to pooh pooh what Gen. Austin may advise, assuming he is able to get a word in edgeways.
Moreover, ambitious former generals like David Petraeus — many of them now on the outside of the proverbial revolving door making big bucks in the MICIMATT (Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank) complex — will not hesitate to weigh in with their own self-interested support to the chickenhawks, fostering the notion that military threats from notional enemies warrant still more funding for the defense contractors on whose boards so many alumni generals sit.
Who does not remember the braggadocio accompanying the criminal attack on Iraq, the full-throated support of journalists like David Sanger of The New York Times, and the chest-thumping of Bush/Cheney neocons saying “Real men go to Tehran?” (Sanger is still at it, sitting on the “Judith Miller Chair for Journalism”.)
Clearly, one does not have to go as far back as Vietnam for noxious examples of the harm that can be done by these “best and brightest,” albeit inexperienced advisers — whether out of the myth of American exceptionalism, ignorance of post-WWII military history, or pure arrogance.
It may be helpful to recall that Vice President Dick Cheney, the archdeacon of the chickenhawks, acquired five draft deferments during Vietnam. (So did his successor as vice president, the president-elect.)
Cheney, of course, was the driving force behind the attack on Iraq. He had appointed himself Bush’s principal intelligence officer (usurping the role of CIA Director George Tenet who made not a murmur of protest) and went first and biggest with the Big Lie on (ephemeral) weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Here’s Cheney in his kick-off speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Aug. 26, 2002: “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.”
Simply stated, Tenet dutifully followed White House orders to “fix” the intelligence to support Cheney’s accusations against Iraq. Tenet did so formally in the deceitful National Intelligence Estimate of Oct. 1, 2002 — which earned the sobriquet “The Whore of Babylon.”
It was successfully used to get Congress to enable Bush/Cheney to make war on Iraq, and eventually create havoc in the whole region. In his memoir Tenet gave the laurels to Morell for “coordinating the CIA review” of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s UN speech that let slip the dogs of war. (Details on that below)
Cakewalks and Cubbyholes
Cheney, the quintessential chickenhawk, surrounded himself with advisers of the same bent. One pitiable example was armchair warrior Kenneth Adelman, who had been director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency under President Reagan. In a Washington Post op-ed of Feb. 13, 2002, Adelman wrote: “I believe demolishing Hussein’s military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk.”
Two years later, Adelman wrote an equally pathetic op-ed, insisting that he and his neoconservative friends had been right on everything except Iraq possessing WMD, Iraqi factions cooperating after Saddam Hussein was deposed, and “probably” on close ties between Saddam and al-Qaeda.
As for Cheney himself, he did memorize some weapons nomenclature vocabulary, but could not avoid an occasional faux pas betraying his lack of familiarity with things on the ground. Nine months after the attack on Iraq, when WMD were still nowhere to be found, NPR asked Cheney whether he had given up on finding them.
“No, we haven’t,” he said. “It’s going to take some additional, considerable period of time in order to look in all the cubbyholes and ammo dumps and all the places in Iraq where you’d expect to find something like that.” (The continued, quixoti
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