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Exposing Shabby Intelligence

There is a perception among some of the public and within the alternative media that America’s burgeoning national-security state is a monolith, a collective entity pursuing its own interests regardless of what is good for the country or its people. From both progressives and conservatives who mistrust the government, I often hear comments such as, “Once in the CIA, always in the CIA”—as if onetime employment in the agency forms an unbreakable bond.

Those familiar with both the national-security community and the peace movement are aware that something like the reverse is true. Individuals who were attracted to careers in intelligence, law enforcement, or the military are often sticklers for doing what is right rather than what is expedient. That often puts them at odds with their political masters, leading sometimes to resignations and a resulting overrepresentation of former national-security professionals in the anti-war movement.

One manifestation of this is an organization of former national-security officers, including myself, called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, or VIPS. VIPS was founded in 2003 out of revulsion on the part of many former officials over the shabby intelligence that was driving the decision to invade Iraq. The group includes officials from the whole alphabet soup of national security—CIA, NSA, FBI, FS (Foreign Service), and DOD. VIPS’s emergence and its ongoing letters of protest on national-security policy reflect a reality going back to the early debates surrounding the U.S. government’s stealthy escalation of the Vietnam War and its woeful handling of that conflict, ending in a humiliating defeat.   

The lies that led to that Vietnam experience produced one of the first well-known rebels against intelligence corruption. Sam Adams, a CIA analyst who was assigned to the agency’s Vietnam desk in 1965, observed that the strength estimates for the North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong guerrillas consistently underreported the true strength of the enemy. This led to a prolonged conflict with Army and White House officials, as well as with Adams’s own bosses, all of whom promoted the false notion that the Vietnam challenge was a limited insurgency easily defeated, a fabrication intended to ensure U.S. popular support for the conflict.


Though Adams eventually was forced out of the agency, he continued to expose how intelligence had been hijacked to suit a political agenda. He served as a witness in the trial of Daniel Ellsberg, the man behind the Pentagon Papers revelations. He wrote about the Vietnam “cover-up” and spoke to the House Intelligence Committee’s Pike Commission, which credited his allegations.

Today there are many former national-security officials in the mold of Sam Adams. For many, the disillusionment with the corruption of intelligence and betrayal of national security began with Iraq. CIA officers in the clandestine service such as European Division chief Tyler Drumheller pushed hard against CIA Director George Tenet and the White House, insisting that field reporting demonstrated that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. Drumheller also dismissed “Curveball,” the German-Iraqi source of the false intelligence that Iraq was building mobile biological-weapons labs. The source, said Drumheller, was merely “a guy trying to get his green card essentially, in Germany, and playing the system for what it was worth.”

CIA analysts also sought to expose false claims that Iraqi intelligence officials had met with al-Qaeda. Senior State Department officials John Kiesling, John Brown, and Ann Wright resigned over the march to an avoidable war.

For others, increasing governmental attacks on the Constitution proved decisive. National Security Agency (NSA) officer Tom Drake went through channels after he learned the agency was illegally collecting information on U.S. citizens in violation of the Fourth Amendment. He was joined by former NSA officers William Binney, J. Kirk Wiebe, and Ed Loomis. Their efforts were rebuffed by the government. Despite whistleblower protections, Drake later was charged under the Espionage Act.

The large numbers of former foot soldiers in the national-security establishment who are now opposed to the warfare state should be an eye opener for many Americans, suggesting that there is no “high confidence” among many of those who are actually best positioned to know the truth regarding Washington’s perpetual warfare policies.

Which brings us back to VIPS and the dissident former national-security officers who have found a home there. One is Tom Drake, who was involved from the start, as was Ray McGovern, a former senior CIA analyst and presidential briefer. VIPS has produced 47 memos on national-security policy. Its first official action was a February 2003 memo to President George W. Bush condemning the United Nations speech by Secretary of State Colin Powell that established the pretext for invading Iraq. The memo said, “you would be well served if you widened the discussion beyond … the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.”

More recently, VIPS has raised serious questions about the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered “Russian hacking” designed to destabilize American politics and, if possible, put Donald Trump in the presidency. The group called on President Obama to release solid evidence of this, even if it creates difficulty for ongoing intelligence operations. The former security officials suggested the evidence released by the government thus far “does not pass the smell test,” and they noted particularly the lack of any public evidence linking the Russians to WikiLeaks, which published the bulk of the information in question.

“We urge you to authorize public release of any tangible evidence that takes us beyond the unsubstatianted, ‘we-assess’ judgments by the intelligence agencies,” said the VIPS statement, addressed to Obama. “Otherwise, we … will be left with the corrosive suspicion that the intense campaign of accusations is part of a wider attempt to discredit the Russians and those—like Mr. Trump—who wish to deal constructively with them.”

[1]The VIPS statement didn’t get much attention. Indeed, such warnings from former intelligence, security, law-enforcement, and military personnel are largely frozen out of the establishment media. When VIPS presents its annual Sam Adams award for integrity in intelligence, the recipients get more media attention in Europe than in the U.S. Rarely do the 50-plus associates of VIPS appear in the U.S. mainstream media, although they are frequently interviewed by the foreign press, particularly in Western Europe.

The government also does its best to repress any dissident opinion by requiring many former intelligence and law-enforcement personnel to have their writings reviewed by security officers prior to publication. The reviews can take months, make no effort to accommodate publishing deadlines, and often result in a heavily redacted text that is unreadable. The government sometimes strikes back in less subtle ways. Ray McGovern’s 2006 return of his Intelligence Commendation Medal over reports of CIA torture led to a provision in the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2007 enabling Congress to strip retirees of their pensions.

Pushback from former national-security officials is a good thing for the country and the agencies once served by these dissidents. Just as the Founders envisioned a citizen army so the defense of the nation would be in the hands of the people, a national-security structure responsive to responsible dissent should be cherished. The Obama administration, to its discredit, routinely punished legitimate whistleblowers and covered up its misdeeds through invocation of the state-secrets privilege. We can hope that the new Trump administration will have the wisdom and confidence to call off the dogs.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

7 Comments (Open | Close)

7 Comments To "Exposing Shabby Intelligence"

#1 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 22, 2017 @ 11:28 pm

“Ray McGovern’s 2006 return of his Intelligence Commendation Medal over reports of CIA torture led to a provision in the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2007 enabling Congress to strip retirees of their pensions.”

Disgusting can’t convey the level of contempt for the unaccountable establishment that such revenge driven retaliatory actions against truth tellers produce.

#2 Comment By Kurt Gayle On March 23, 2017 @ 9:44 am

VIPS (Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity), of which Philip Giraldi is a founding member, “includes officials from the whole alphabet soup of national security—CIA, NSA, FBI, FS (Foreign Service), and DOD.” Over the years VIPS has posted “ongoing letters of protest on national-security policy.”

Philip quotes from the 41st and most recent memorandum of VIPS – this one sent to President Obama:

“We urge you to authorize public release of any tangible evidence that takes us beyond the unsubstantiated, ‘we-assess’ judgments by the intelligence agencies,” said the VIPS statement, addressed to Obama. “Otherwise, we … will be left with the corrosive suspicion that the intense campaign of accusations is part of a wider attempt to discredit the Russians and those—like Mr. Trump—who wish to deal constructively with them.”

Links to the full text of this important VIPS memorandum – and to the full texts of the 40 other memorandums before it — are linked to here and are well worth spending some time with:


VIPS performs a service that is invaluable.

VIPS has credibility on national security issues that cannot be matched.

#3 Comment By Jim Bovard On March 23, 2017 @ 11:25 am

Great piece! This is one of the best analyses I have seen on this subject.

#4 Comment By at the soundcheck On March 23, 2017 @ 1:04 pm

Wow. Thanks for using what you know, for dissenting, for your attempts to call them out for all of us, and for posting this piece.

#5 Comment By Joe the Plutocrat On March 23, 2017 @ 1:49 pm

Without sarcasm, are we discussing shabby Intelligence, or shabby policymaking based on intelligence? Here’s what I mean. There is anecdote from the Vietnam war, fact or fiction, which goes something like this. As we know from history, “body counts” were a large (and useless) part of the “accounting” which governed U.S. (DoD) policy in terms of strategy and tactics in Southeast Asia. In a manner of speaking, body counts were a ‘marketing tool’ to convince policymakers and the public we were winning the war. As such after a press briefing following an engagement, a reporter asked the officer handling the briefing, “how do you know which of North Vietnamese casualties were civilians/non-combatants, and which were Viet Cong?” The officer responded, “The dead ones were VC”. Again, this may be total fiction, but it speaks to how intelligence/classified information is presented at different stages of the “process” (gathering, analysis, reported, and ‘consumed’ – by policymakers). This has nothing to do with experience as an intelligence office or operative. It has to do with human nature in general, and the nature of our elected officials/political appointees in particular. As the author notes, it would appear the “intelligence” gathered and presented to the Executive branch leading up to the Iraq invasion, was not “shabby” at all. In fact, it was spot on. How the Bush administration chose to spin it or present it to the American people (and the United Nations) was how the “shabby” go attached to it. And if memory serves me, when it became apparent the Iraq “Mission” was nowhere near “Accomplished” the very same civilian leaders who ignored the intelligence, threw the analysts/operatives under the bus, citing “bad intelligence”. And lest we forget, the current POTUS, in picking a ‘fight’ with the intelligence community, parroted this same party line (“they couldn’t even get Iraq right…”), even as he flip-flopped on the wisdom of invading Iraq during the campaign, when it became politically beneficial to throw George W. Bush, and by proxy Jeb Bush under the Iraq bus. Fast forward to 2016/17. The following his inauguration, the 45th POTUS authorizes a covert operation in Yemen. The previous administration briefed the current administration on status of the operation; citing incomplete or lack of solid intelligence necessary to give it a green light. The 45th POTUS ignored this (not-shabby), intelligence; and authorized the mission. When the operation produced the death of a Navy SEAL, several civilians (including children) and the demolition of a $75 million aircraft; the Commander-in-Chief, while proclaiming the operation a success; suggested the “generals” in charge of the operation, and of course, the previous administration produced the SNAFU. Let’s face it, intelligence operations are a fact of life, in 21st century geopolitics; whether they originate in Moscow or Langley, Fort Meade, The Navy Yard; and dare I say, even the “deep state”. Speaking of which, it is possible there are nefarious pro-Obama moles waging a cover war against the 45th POTUS. Safe to assume these same subterranean bureaucrats conducted similar operations against the 44th POTUS. But, as recent events are beginning to suggest; in some cases, CONFIRM, there were de facto moles (for foreign powers) on the Trump campaign team, and transition team/current administration). Ergo, perhaps the true “deep state” is “hiding in plain sight” (Bannon, McConnell, Ryan, et al) in the Executive branch. But I digress. At the end of the day, analysts and operatives can/do manipulate and spin ‘intel’ as easily as those to whom the ‘intel’ is presented. And crazy as it seems, I tend to put my trust in the guy with the horn-rimmed glasses and pocket protector or the guy operating in the field (somewhere between Peter Falk in “The In-Laws” and Harrison Ford in “Patriot Games”) before the pandering, loose-lipped, finger in the air, “leaders” in the Executive and Legislative (this intelligence committee, or that) branches of government. So to our author and the other members of VIPS, thanks for your service -even the stuff may have ended up on the “under” side of the “shabby over/under” betting line. As the saying goes, sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you (NPI)

#6 Comment By john cronk On March 23, 2017 @ 2:50 pm

Hear hear!

#7 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 23, 2017 @ 10:40 pm

Well I might as well.

I appreciated this article. It’s encouraging to know that there are members in the fields of intelligence who have provided pushback. Disappointing t hear that they are penalized for doing their due diligence and stating as much.

As noted in a private comment to the author. I was biting my tongue on this matter because my conclusion about whether or not we won the Vietnam War is really at odds from the main. I certainly don’t challenge the misleading, the poor strategic choices and I would certainly agree that a body count is hardly the final determiner in any conflict. The Pentagon Papers was a disaster and didn’t need to happen. But in my view we won nonetheless.

Had Iraq and Afghanistan not collapsed under our occupation, I still would have made the contentions I hold in opposition. But I would have to grant that the effort, even if unnecessary, strategically unwise, etc. a victory.

I remain a unclear however, how an idiot such as myself could view the same data as experienced, elite and well cultured leadership and conclude there’s no case here.

Further, I am remain disgruntled that so many who git so much wrong, even if excuse to a different agenda than publicized are still entrenched in places of influence or power.

I am not talking about putting anyone out to pasture, but how so much failure has resulted in promotions is troubling along with promoting failure.