May 8, 2008
Books: Former CIA analyst details failures in agency actions
"Failure of Intelligence, The Decline and Fall of the CIA" by Melvin A. Goodman (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008).
In the fall of 1973, Melvin Goodman and some other analysts at the CIA noticed something strange: Intercepted secret communications indicated that the Soviets were removing families and other nonessential personnel from Egypt and Syria.
This kind of evacuation, Goodman said, "is a classic indicator of war."
Goodman and other analysts in the Soviet department brought this up to their supervisors at the CIA, but no one followed up. Goodman -- a CIA analyst from 1966 to 1991 -- said that it was a classic intelligence failure, letting assumptions, rather than facts, drive conclusions, since the intelligence clearly showed something was afoot.
What followed was the Yom Kippur War. Goodman said both U.S. and Israeli leaders "assumed that Egypt and Syria wouldn't attack a stronger power, couldn't work together, couldn't unite.... Sometimes the facts are there, but the assumptions are so strong, so viscerally adhered to, that you can't change anyone's opinion."
A different type of failure also rankles Goodman in his new book, "Failure of Intelligence, The Decline and Fall of the CIA."
This other type occurs, Goodman writes, when the CIA loses sight of its proper function: to gather and analyze intelligence, then provide information and analysis to those in power. During the run-up to the Iraq War, Goodman writes, the CIA acted instead as "the handmaiden to power," telling the Bush administration what it knew they wanted to hear.
"The CIA is not intended to be the personal weapon for the political use of the White House," Goodman writes. "The CIA director has no business taking part in a White House effort to make the public case for war."
Since leaving the CIA in 1991, Goodman -- who's Jewish -- has worked for the Department of Defense and Department of State, been a fellow at think tanks and taught at universities. In an interview, he discussed his book and his experiences as a foreign policy analyst for more than 40 years.
Goodman said that every time he gives a lecture, especially in front of Jewish audiences, he's asked about Jonathan Pollard.
"It always comes up," Goodman said, "and I make people very nervous when I tell them that Pollard is where he belongs because he was stealing documents wholesale.... He was not only giving away intelligence, he was giving away sources and methods for money to Israel. I don't think that ... Zionism had anything to do with what Pollard did. He was buying necklaces and bracelets for his wife."
In the wake of the Pollard case, was there a backlash against Jews working at the CIA?
"No, never," Goodman said. "In fact, I never saw anything like that in my career.... I don't think the Pollard affair created a problem for the Jews working at the CIA; I doubt if it meant anything to recruitment."
Asked about the large number of Jewish neocons pushing for policies that may have prompted the war in Iraq and the unrest in the Middle East, Goodman said, "It's had a personal effect on me. It's something that comes up whenever I speak, because there are a significant number of people in this country who believe that we went to war for Israel. That we went to war to protect Israeli national security, which I don't agree with at all."
"But the fact that you can't run from is that when you look at the list of the leading neoconservatives, there's a huge number of Jews," he said. "I know some of them, and I've debated David Wormser and know where he's coming from. You really feel that [they think] they're advancing Israeli security by using military power in the Middle East."
"I think that what Bush has done is to weaken Israeli national security," Goodman said. "The introduction of that kind of force in the Middle East has made it harder to get Iran back into the community of nations; it's made [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad a very popular figure in Iran. There had been great opposition building against him, but U.S. actions have extended his tenure as leader in Iran."
"It's weakened Iraq, because it's permitted terrorist organizations to operate," he continued. "Before, Iraq never had any ties to Al Qaeda, and this self-fulfilling prophecy that Iraq is the center of the war on terror, it never was until Bush deployed force there."
Goodman believes the Bush administration's attempts to bring democracy to the Middle East have been disastrous. That policy, Goodman said, has "undermined countries like Jordan, where we need a stable monarchy. I think that the emphasis on democracy is totally misplaced. To the extent that places in the Middle East become democratic, they become anti-American, almost by definition.
"Democracy won't lead to stability," he said. "What the U.S. should be concerned about is the stability of these places and predictability of the actions of these places. And we had that to some extent, but once you use military force, you have to start over again, and Israel makes its own unwise decisions about the use of force. To paraphrase Mark Twain, if the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, then all your problems become nails.
"It's ironic to me," Goodman continued, "that if you look at two of the most powerful nations on earth -- Israel in a regional context, the United States in an international context -- it's all about power.... [But] all of their military power and all their arsenal have not given them peace of mind."