This week's stories | Home Page
Issue Date:  October 29, 2004

By Anonymous
Brassey’s Inc., $27.50, 309 pages
Moral cowardice at the CIA

Author asserts U.S. policies are recruiting terrorists

Reviewed by RAY McGOVERN

Reading Imperial Hubris by Michael Scheuer (alias “Anonymous”) is enough to make the most hardened veteran intelligence analyst weep -- particularly those, like me, who saw the effects of imperial hubris among U.S. leaders that caused the deaths of 58,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam. Not to mention the 2 million to 3 million Vietnamese who lost their lives in that war.

On the subjects of “terrorism,” Iraq and Afghanistan, we again see the victory of what historian Barbara Tuchman has called “cognitive dissonance,” preventing U.S. policymakers, who are committed to an ill-advised, ruinous course, from listening to and being guided by intelligence analysts with a wealth of expertise on which to draw. Scheuer is the quintessential analyst. His book is a good example of what we analysts used to do:

  • Research the “checkables” and commit them to memory;
  • Be thoroughly familiar with the findings of serious scholars in academe and the press;
  • Give sustained scrutiny to the primary source of data on any issue or country by applying the proven tools of the endangered-species discipline of media analysis, supplementing that scrutiny with data from classified sources;
  • Get a sanity check from colleagues in the field;
  • Write it all up without fear or favor.

Unfortunately, this process can be -- and has been -- prostituted by senior careerists driven by what Scheuer calls “moral cowardice.”

The whole idea of having a Central Intelligence Agency is that there be one place in government without a policy agenda -- one place to which the president can go and say “give it to me straight,” with full trust that he will get an honest answer and not what a CIA director thinks the president wants to hear. I worked in that place for 27 years and, with a few significant exceptions, we were able to do precisely that. Indeed, we had career protection for doing precisely that.

Scheuer knows his subject; he led the analysis of al-Qaeda for many years. His bottom line is that Osama bin Laden and his followers are motivated by the Quran-based concept of “defensive jihad,” which Scheuer says is “wildly popular” in the Islamic world. Why so popular? He quotes British journalist Robert Fisk saying in 2002: “Amid Israel’s brutality toward Palestinians and America’s threats toward Iraq, at least one Arab is prepared to hit back.”

Scheuer notes that U.S. policy has been the “most effective recruiting tool imaginable” for bin Laden, and that the invasion and occupation of Iraq were “icing on the cake,” sweetened still more by President George W. Bush’s awarding to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon the epithet “man of peace.”

Scheuer adds that in addressing the likelihood of large civilian casualties resulting from al-Qaeda attacks, cleric supporters and bin Laden himself offer a defense. This is how bin Laden puts it:

Each American is “free” to select leaders ... [and] give consent to the policies the government adopts. This includes the support of Israel manifesting itself in many ways including billions of dollars in military aid. By electing these leaders, the American people have given their consent to the incarceration of the Palestinian people, the demolition of Palestinian homes and the slaughter of the children of Iraq. ... Polls show the American people support the policies of the elected government. ... This is why the American people are not innocent. The American people are active members in all these crimes.

So why do they hate us? The administration continues to insist, “They hate our freedom.” Small wonder that real experts like Scheuer have been dissed.

If there be any good news in all this, it is only that Scheuer was allowed to publish his critique of ignorant ideologues running U.S. policy and sycophants at senior intelligence and military levels who “go along to get along.” This occurs despite the fact that young Americans are dying every day in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Scheuer is an analyst, not an undercover agent, for the CIA. Because of the political sensitivity of his topic, he was asked to publish his book anonymously. Since its release, Scheuer has been widely interviewed and his identity revealed.

It was perhaps a mercy to Scheuer that his book appeared before the appointment of Porter Goss as George W. Bush’s director of central intelligence. Goss, as head of the House Intelligence Committee for eight years and a staunch supporter of CIA director George Tenet until Bush decided to dump him, is as responsible as Tenet for the debacle that has befallen U.S. intelligence through politicization and its handmaiden, incompetence.

It will be a boon for the country if Goss ends up being the director of central intelligence with the shortest tenure in the CIA’s history and if a thorough housecleaning of the U.S. intelligence community can begin early next year.

Ray McGovern worked as an analyst for the CIA for 27 years. He is cofounder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

National Catholic Reporter, October 29, 2004

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to: