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Rethinking Intelligence: Interview with Melvin Goodman

Melvin Goodman directs the National Security Project at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for International Policy. From 1966 through 1986 he served as a senior analyst with the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

Published: July 2, 2015

Inter­view Tran­script

Q:  Hi, my name is Mike German; I’m a Fellow with the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU Law School and today I’m with Melvin Good­man. Mr. Good­man spent two decades as a Senior Analyst at the CIA and the State Depart­ment and taught at the National War College, and now is with Johns Hopkins Univer­sity in the Center for Inter­na­tional Policy. You spent a long career in intel­li­gence and writ­ing about intel­li­gence, also the author of Fail­ure of Intel­li­gence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA. What is the appro­pri­ate purpose of an intel­li­gence agency?

GOOD­MAN: Well, I think for the purpose, you have to go back to Harry Truman. He wanted a quiet intel­li­gence agency, to be the place where intel­li­gence was gathered, where it was collec­ted, where it was distrib­uted, but he didn’t want it part of the policy process. So when he went to the intel­li­gence agency for a response to a key ques­tion that was policy-related, it would­n’t be grind­ing a policy axe. It would be the intel­li­gence with the bark on  telling a pres­id­ent what is the best assess­ment, given the fact that you’d never have a complete picture. But I think the emphasis is on a quiet intel­li­gence agency because he later wrote an op-ed attack­ing what the CIA had become under Eisen­hower and Kennedy, who pursued covert action.

Q: And you wrote in 2013, in National Insec­ur­ity – another book of yours – that the United States has one of the most secure geo-polit­ical envir­on­ments of any major nation. And yet, our national defense and intel­li­gence budgets outper­form almost all other poten­tial enemies or poten­tial threats to the United States. What do you think drives that national insec­ur­ity, as you call it?

GOOD­MAN: Well, I think two key events: one was the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, when there should have been a genu­ine debate and discus­sion of what is national secur­ity policy and what should Amer­ican grand strategy be. Not only did that not take place, but there was no attempt to really look at the milit­ary budget and the intel­li­gence budget. But then with 9/11 – I think ever since 9/11 – we’ve been scar­ing ourselves to death and we do it with spend­ing; we do it with so-called Home­land Secur­ity; we do it with milit­ar­iz­a­tion of policy and the creation of a national secur­ity state. So 9/11 was a key turn­ing point, compar­able to Pearl Harbor and the surprise attack.

Q: And give me an idea of the scope of the national secur­ity state; what are we talk­ing about?

GOOD­MAN: When you’re talk­ing about the national secur­ity state, you’re talk­ing about the role of the milit­ary. It builds on what Pres­id­ent Eisen­hower warned about, in terms of the milit­ary indus­trial complex. But it’s the role of the milit­ary in intel­li­gence, the intel­li­gence czars who are general officers, who are flag officers, active duty or retired. It’s too many gener­als who are serving over­seas as ambas­sad­ors. Its gener­als – such as Obama did appoint­ing a retired marine general – to be the National Secur­ity Advisor. It’s putting a General Hayden or a General Petraeus in as Director of the Cent­ral Intel­li­gence Agency. So by milit­ar­iz­a­tion, to me it’s the influ­ence of the Pentagon and too much reli­ance on the milit­ary, which I think Pres­id­ent Obama knows has been wrong – he’s addressed it. But given the global situ­ation, I think he’s limited in how he can address that. After all, the CIA has become a para­mil­it­ary organ­iz­a­tion.

Q: And you’d mentioned in your books that Pres­id­ent Eisen­hower was very skep­tical of milit­ary intel­li­gence and that’s why he relied on the CIA as a civil­ian intel­li­gence agency; why would you be skep­tical of milit­ary intel­li­gence?

GOOD­MAN: Well, I think he knew that milit­ary intel­li­gence was usually worst case analysis. He knew that from his milit­ary exper­i­ence. And Tim Weiner wrote a book on the CIA called Legacy of Ashes, which was a misquote – Eisen­hower said that but he wasn’t talk­ing about the CIA, he was talk­ing about milit­ary intel­li­gence. And what the CIA was supposed to do was to provide intel­li­gence that wasn’t neces­sar­ily worst case analysis which was designed in part to justify a large milit­ary budget and an extens­ive weapons acquis­i­tion budget.

Q: But Pres­id­ent Eisen­hower also empowered the CIA to become a milit­ary – or a para­mil­it­ary – organ­iz­a­tion engaged in secret wars, fund­ing covert oper­a­tions. What does that do to an intel­li­gence agency and the produc­tion of intel­li­gence?

GOOD­MAN: Well, what I don’t think is prop­erly under­stood is when you get into covert action – and it was Eisen­hower who took us in the direc­tion of covert action in 1953 with the over­throw of a demo­crat­ic­ally elec­ted govern­ment in Iran – covert action is policy. It is policy and support of the White House. All of the covert actions are direc­ted – or endorsed or concep­tu­al­ized – at the White House. And when you have intel­li­gence that relates to covert action, it has a policy spin on it. So I think you have an insi­di­ous process where the collec­tion is devoted to clandes­tine oper­a­tions, and it has a policy orient­a­tion because of the role of covert actions. So already you’ve tain­ted the intel­li­gence, which is why I think you have to separ­ate intel­li­gence and intel­li­gence analysis from clandes­tine collec­tion and covert action. There should be two separ­ate agen­cies.

Q: And you’ve been crit­ical of the politi­ciz­a­tion of intel­li­gence. Is this what you mean by the politi­ciz­a­tion that’s involved in policy?

GOOD­MAN: Well, when I talk about politi­ciz­a­tion, I’m talk­ing about the effort of an internal-direc­ted politi­ciz­a­tion or an external-direc­ted politi­ciz­a­tion. And that is putting a spin on the intel­li­gence to have it support a partic­u­lar policy. So when you look at the 1980s and the role that William Casey and Robert Gates played in trying to portray the Soviet Union as ten feet tall, even though they were in the process of collapse, in order to support an unpre­ced­en­tedly large peace time defense budget by Ronald Reagan, you star­ted to get a policy spin on the intel­li­gence. And of course, the worst example is when you go to war, such as the Iraq War, the estim­ate that was done on Weapons of Mass Destruc­tion which didn’t exist. And that was totally politi­cized intel­li­gence, the kind of intel­li­gence that Bush wanted and Vice Pres­id­ent Cheney wanted. The CIA played a heavy role in help­ing to politi­cize that intel­li­gence.

Q: And you also talk about a 1991 defense policy guid­ance that was writ­ten by Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfow­itz and Scooter Libby, that recom­men­ded a unilat­er­al­ist US foreign policy. And you say that that reversed a bipar­tisan policy of moder­a­tion and multi­lat­er­al­ism that had been in place since World War II. What was the effect of that docu­ment and how it’s changed our foreign policy?

GOOD­MAN: Well, the docu­ment itself was writ­ten in the Pentagon. And it was not only Dick Cheney, the Secret­ary of Defense, but it was some of the same char­ac­ters who brought you the Iraq War in 2003– Paul Wolfow­itz, Scooter Libby, Douglas Feith. And the emphasis was on the United States basic­ally going alone, the United States never allow­ing another single actor – or a group of nations – to combine to be in an adversarial situ­ation with regard to the United States. It even legit­im­ized the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear powers which was a repu­di­ation of the Nuclear Non-Prolif­er­a­tion Treaty from 1969. Fortu­nately, General Scow­croft – who was the National Secur­ity Advisor – was opposed to the policy. And Senator Joe Biden and the Foreign Rela­tions Commit­tee, after it was leaked to the Los Angeles Times, put a lid on it. But these same char­ac­ters came back into Wash­ing­ton with the Bush Admin­is­tra­tion in the year 2000. And this is really the key docu­ment – the key paper – to support neo-Conser­vat­ive think­ing which got us into Iraq and which destroyed arms control, and took us down the road of national missile defense and repu­di­at­ing the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Tremend­ous harm was done to Amer­ican national secur­ity policy with unilat­eral think­ing, which was part of Amer­ican Excep­tion­al­ism, part of Amer­ican Triumphal­ism, part of the feel­ing that we won the Cold War and we’re never going to allow another Cold War to confront us again.

Q: And you mentioned the over­throw of a demo­cratic coun­try in Iran, and that obvi­ously had some negat­ive consequences that we’re actu­ally still deal­ing with. Another one in Guatem­ala, you talk about quite a bit. And one of the things you’ve said in your book is that the number of murders in Guatem­ala actu­ally rivals the number of murders happen­ing in Iraq. So that kind of perman­ent unrest in these coun­tries where the purpose of the CIA’s action was to protect our national secur­ity and to create stabil­ity, and yet that does­n’t seem to be the result.

GOOD­MAN: Well, one thing that to me isn’t prop­erly under­stood, when you look at the immig­ra­tion crisis in this coun­try, you have to ask your­self, “How many people decided to leave Cent­ral Amer­ica because of viol­ence that the CIA was partially – or fully – respons­ible for?” So when you think of the key coun­tries that are feed­ing immig­rants into the United States – such as El Salvador, Honduras, Guatem­ala, and Nicaragua – these are the coun­tries where the CIA moun­ted major programs that involved acts of viol­ence and assas­sin­a­tion policy and work­ing with some of the worst secur­ity units of these govern­ments and these milit­ary regimes. And that has – to me – a direct result in lead­ing to immig­ra­tion to the United States.

Q: And yet, you write that the CIA would consider those oper­a­tions successes from their para­mil­it­ary point of view…

GOOD­MAN: From a para­mil­it­ary point of view, the CIA has taken a lot of pride in those oper­a­tions- just as they do in the Afghan Oper­a­tion in the 1980s which helped to create terror­ist groups such as Hekmat­yar’s group, the Haqqani group. Members of Al-Qaida were formerly fight­ers with the Muja­hedeen, and now they’re the toughest enemies that the United States confronts in Afgh­anistan. I don’t believe there has been a covert action that has been a stra­tegic success, but there have been a string of stra­tegic fail­ures

Q: And recently we’ve had a coup in Egypt and the Pres­id­ent of the Ukraine over­thrown. I don’t have any inform­a­tion that the CIA was involved in those, but does that history of activ­ity color the foreign policy options that we have?

GOOD­MAN: Well I believe that it does, because some­thing I do know a good deal about was the early 1980s, and that was the revolu­tion­ary ferment in Poland. That was – solid­ar­ity – Solid­arność – the Labor Union chal­len­ging a Commun­ist govern­ment and the CIA was involved in Poland. They were running covert oper­a­tions in support of solid­ar­ity and in support of Lech Walesa. And of course the Sovi­ets knew that. So when you have a current Russian leader, partic­u­larly one such as Putin who spent his profes­sional – most of his profes­sional career in the KGB – he has a right to assume that the CIA was involved in the Ukraine. And I have to believe that there were prob­ably programs dedic­ated to support the ferment and the oppos­i­tion to the govern­ment. So our hands are not clean, by any means, in this oper­a­tion. Putin is convinced that the United States is trying to weaken him and trying to manip­u­late the very sphere of influ­ence that Putin is very sens­it­ive about. So we – I think – we played a role in this crisis in Ukraine and Crimea. You can’t separ­ate the fact the United States told the Soviet Union that if they got out of East Germany, we would not leapfrog over East Germany to go into East­ern Europe. And then five years later we begin to expand NATO, first under Bill Clin­ton with former members of the Warsaw Pact, and then under George Bush with former repub­lics of the Soviet Union. That is what leapfrog­ging means! Partic­u­larly to someone such as Vladi­mir Putin.

Q: And you mentioned that Pres­id­ents Clin­ton, Bush and Obama have done a lot to milit­ar­ize the intel­li­gence process now.

GOOD­MAN: Well, part of that has been in the people they’ve appoin­ted. If you look at the CIA direct­ors we’ve had over the last twenty years, includ­ing people such as Porter Goss or George Tenet who came from the Hill, who were very weak direct­ors. And of course it was George Tenet who said it would be “A slam dunk, Mr. Pres­id­ent, to get the intel­li­gence that you want.” Then you have two general officers – General Hayden, the same person who was at the National Secur­ity Agency and respons­ible for putting massive surveil­lance into play, an issue that never came up in the Congress when he was being confirmed as Director of the CIA – and General Petraeus. It was wrong to put someone in the CIA who had such strong policy convic­tions at the time. Petraeus was trying to politi­cize intel­li­gence in the short tenure that he had as Director. So there were very weak appoint­ments. Bill Clin­ton star­ted off with Jim Wool­sey to satisfy the right wing within the Demo­cratic Party, which felt you needed a strong hawk­ish indi­vidual in one of the national secur­ity posi­tions. And I don’t think Clin­ton knew much about the CIA – or even cared much about the CIA – and he didn’t know Wool­sey. Wool­sey was a disaster as CIA Director. And now you have the situ­ation with Leon Panetta, who’s just writ­ten a contro­ver­sial – at least it’s contro­ver­sial to me – memoir, Worthy Fights. Well, Panetta didn’t engage with the worthy fights he was confron­ted with at the CIA. He was captured by the oper­a­tional mental­ity from Day One. He had two oper­a­tional fail­ures in his first year and essen­tially he covered up both of them.

Q: And one of the things that I was struck by with the Obama Admin­is­tra­tion is that the lead­er­ship levels of a lot of these agen­cies – the FBI, CIA, the Depart­ment of Defense – it’s the same cast of char­ac­ters; you know, it’s people who were prom­in­ent in the Bush Admin­is­tra­tion who remain prom­in­ent in the follow­ing Demo­cratic Admin­is­tra­tion. Is there kind of like a revolving door? I mean, you can’t expect policy to change if the people are the same.

GOOD­MAN: No, I think that Obama’s prob­lem was a lack of any back­ground in national secur­ity – no back­ground in foreign policy. And he looked at foreign policy as an exten­sion of domestic policy. So at the Pentagon, he left Robert Gates in place because he didn’t want to make waves at the Pentagon. I think he was intim­id­ated by the milit­ary. At the State Depart­ment, he wanted to co-opt the Clin­ton “corpor­a­tion” so that’s why he appoin­ted Hilary Clin­ton. But these decisions were motiv­ated by domestic consid­er­a­tions; then he put a milit­ary man as the National Secur­ity Advisor, General James Jones – and that was a disaster that had to be correc­ted within eight­een months or so. And Leon Panetta was an extremely weak leader. So if you look at the National Secur­ity appoint­ments, this was a very weak team. I think Obama replic­ated the prob­lem that Bill Clin­ton created in 1993 when he also appoin­ted a national secur­ity team that was quite weak. On the other hand, you had someone like George W. Bush who brought back – through this revolving door – essen­tially all of his father’s appoint­ments because he didn’t really know anyone in Wash­ing­ton. This wasn’t a special interest of his. So he brought back the same char­ac­ters who were far to the right of his father. And they had a lot to do with getting us into Iraq and then expand­ing a war in Afgh­anistan, that we should’ve left right after our initial success- which involved four hundred and fifty CIA officers and some special forces from the milit­ary, who over­threw the Taliban, and routed Al Qaida. We could’ve taken the keys to the coun­try, given them back to the Afghans and said, “Here – it’s yours again! Decent­ral­ize it or do whatever you want with it but it’s your coun­try – not ours!” And here we are thir­teen years later.

Q: And you mentioned Sher­man Kent and the fact that he said that CIA should­n’t be part – CIA analysts – should­n’t be part of the policy team yet, today’s intel­li­gence agen­cies see them­selves as serving the policy team.

GOOD­MAN: Well, this is the great battle that took place at the CIA, and it was start­ing when I arrived in the mid-1960s. And Sher­man Kent was a very import­ant indi­vidual to all of us. He was tough-minded; he was rigor­ous; he was analyt­ical; he was totally object­ive and he wasn’t afraid of any fight. But the import­ant thing is, “Don’t get politi­cized by the process!” Then, fifteen years later, William Casey comes in with a totally polit­ical agenda – he was Reagan’s campaign advisor and won some great campaign victor­ies. He wanted to be the Secret­ary of State, that was out of the ques­tion but they gave him the CIA – he had a back­ground in OSS. And essen­tially, he brought in Robert Gates to be his intel­li­gence filter. And Gates’ approach was turn­ing Sher­man Kent on his head – “Don’t stick your finger in the eye of the poli­cy­maker; don’t irrit­ate the poli­cy­maker; find out what the policy agenda is so you can respond to the agenda.” His idea was relev­ance was key. Sher­man Kent didn’t care whether we were relev­ant or not – he wanted us to be right. That was extremely import­ant to Sher­man Kent. And when I was there in the '60s and '70s, that was what the battle was about – getting the intel­li­gence right. With Bill Casey and Bob Gates it was about trying to politi­cize intel­li­gence for the Reagan admin­is­tra­tion. Several of us tried to prevent the worsen­ing of this politi­ciz­a­tion process, but finally I just threw my hands up and went to the National War College, real­iz­ing this was a fight I was never going to win.

Q: And one of the outcomes, or byproducts of the politi­ciz­a­tion you talk about is the embel­lish­ment, or exag­ger­a­tion of the threat assess­ments. And just recently, we’ve seen lead­ers in the Intel­li­gence Community going on Capitol Hill, saying the threat from the Islamic State is greater than anything the US has ever faced before. It sounds as if that’s still part of the prob­lem.

GOOD­MAN: Well, that has been a prob­lem from Day One. And I think we were lucky with Eisen­hower in the '50s, because he knew an exag­ger­ated threat assess­ment when he saw one. So the things that his neo-conser­vat­ives of the day – Allan Dulles at CIA; John Foster Dulles at State; his own Vice Pres­id­ent – trying to push him into Viet­nam or to respond to Hungary or to increase the defense budget – Eisen­hower would­n’t have any part of that. He didn’t believe the Bomber Gap or the Missile Gap – but he was correct about that. But what you’ve had over the years is a steady attempt to find a threat to justify what we do in milit­ary policy and intel­li­gence policy. So it was inter­na­tional Commun­ism as if China and the Soviet Union could be great allies. And then it became the Soviet Union itself. Then in the 1980s – under Casey and Gates – it became inter­na­tional terror­ism. The Sovi­ets tried to kill the Pope; the Sovi­ets were respons­ible for all inter­na­tional terror­ism; they were play­ing the inter­na­tional arena like a Wurl­itzer organ – that was Bill Case­y’s line. And frankly, now, if you pay atten­tion to the hear­ings on the Hill, China is becom­ing that huge threat. And of course as you say, ISIS and the inter­na­tional arena in the Islamic World plays into that because of the instabil­ity and the great disar­ray that we see in the Middle East.

Q: But you also point out that the CIA support for revolu­tion­ary and counter-revolu­tion­ary viol­ence also spreads viol­ence and terror­ism.

GOOD­MAN: Well, a lot of the viol­ence we see is a response to the CIA use of extraordin­ary tech­niques – look at the secret pris­ons that were placed in coun­tries such as Poland that should have avoided that kind of asso­ci­ation, given their years in the Warsaw Pact. Work­ing with the Soviet Union and parti­cip­at­ing in secret facil­it­ies at the command of the Soviet Union – here they are, running secret pris­ons, allow­ing the CIA to do so. The rendi­tions policy of essen­tially kidnap­ping people and then if they don’t have import­ant inform­a­tion, you turn them over to Third World secret services, includ­ing Syria. Syria was an ally in this until Assad became some­what of an enemy. And then you have torture and abuse. And people talk about rendi­tions policy but what about the erro­neous rendi­tions? What about people who were picked up who had noth­ing to do with any of these Islamic organ­iz­a­tions? And there’s never been any account­ab­il­ity; Attor­ney General Eric Holder has not wanted to pursue any of this; Obama said very early on in his first year we want to look ahead, we don’t want to look back. And then in his memoir, Leon Panetta shock­ingly has noth­ing but good things to say about Jose Rodrig­uez, who was the Oper­a­tions Officer who destroyed ninety-two hours of the torture tapes. This was obstruc­tion of justice! This was torture that was begun before the Justice Depart­ment’s memos were even writ­ten, and then exceeded what the Justice Depart­ment memo said was going to be allow­able. Even John Yoo, the co-author of the torture memor­anda, acknow­ledged that the inter­rog­a­tion tech­niques described in the Senate torture report exceeded the limits set by the Depart­ment of Justice.

Q: Another prob­lem that you point to that I think is a newer devel­op­ment – and correct me if I’m wrong – is the increas­ing privat­iz­a­tion of intel­li­gence. Actu­ally 70% of the CIA budget goes to private contract­ors and they fill a lot of the seats that used to be filled by govern­ment agents.

GOOD­MAN: This is a national secur­ity prob­lem – it’s the CIA, it’s milit­ary, it’s Home­land Secur­ity, it’s the Director of National Intel­li­gence – the so-called Intel­li­gence Czar. A lot of that money is going to contract­ors. So there’s no real account­ab­il­ity. There’s no real respons­ib­il­ity. I think there’s been a break­down in respons­ib­il­ity in terms of what organ­iz­a­tions have done, such as Black­wa­ter, over­seas. The private firm that conduc­ted torture and abuse in CIA secret pris­ons earned more than 80 million dollars. And some of the horrors that they’ve commit­ted that are still gradu­ally work­ing their way through the courts. But the contract­ors have allowed the CIA to get beyond over­sight – their internal over­sight – the Office of Inspector General, which Leon Panetta has really comprom­ised – and then the external over­sight, the role that the Senate Intel­li­gence Commit­tee should play. They don’t have enough over­sight over these contract­ors and a lot of harm has taken place there.

Q: And speak­ing of the Congres­sional over­sight, how would you rate their perform­ance over the last fifteen years?

GOOD­MAN: Over the last fifteen years it’s been abysmal and I can say that in a bipar­tisan way. So whether you’re talk­ing about Repub­lic­ans such as Pat Roberts or Dianne Fein­stein, until this recent epis­ode with John Bren­nan over the torture memo, what the Senate Intel­li­gence Commit­tee has done is to make itself an advoc­ate for the Intel­li­gence Community.  John Bren­nan, when he was being confirmed as CIA Director, he even referred to the Commit­tee as an ‘advoc­ate for us’ and Dianne Fein­stein thought this was a compli­ment! This is not what Frank Church had in mind when he created the Senate and House Intel­li­gence Commit­tees in the mid-1970s, and I think for the first fifteen years, up through, I would say, when David Boren was the Chair­man in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. But when he commit­ted himself to the confirm­a­tion of Robert Gates – even though Gates could­n’t be confirmed in 1987 because they assumed he was lying about Iran-Contra, which he was – that was the real turn­ing point. So I would argue since 1991, we haven’t had that junk­yard dog. And in a demo­cracy, to have a secret soci­ety without over­sight – which we didn’t have for the first thirty years – and now we have very weak over­sight – this is a very danger­ous devel­op­ment. The Intel­li­gence Commit­tee’s torture report marks a turn­ing point in over­sight, but it took the Commit­tee far too long to inspect and invest­ig­ate CIA’s program.

Q: And what we’ve also discovered – both through leaks from Edward Snowden and also just obvi­ously false comments that intel­li­gence offi­cials will routinely make, comments that turn out to be false. How does that impair the public’s abil­ity to get true inform­a­tion about both the threats that face us and whether the actions that the Govern­ment is taking are appro­pri­ate?

GOOD­MAN: Well, you’ve had two examples in just the last couple of years. You’ve had the so-called Intel­li­gence Czar – General Clap­per – lie to the Senate about massive surveil­lance. And then you’ve had the CIA Director, John Bren­nan, lie to the Chair­man of the Senate Intel­li­gence Commit­tee about whether or not the CIA was spying on the very agency that’s supposed to be conduct­ing over­sight – you know, who’s watch­ing the guard­i­ans? It turns out the CIA thinks they should be guard­ing the guard­i­ans of this whole process. Those two indi­vidu­als should’ve been fired, imme­di­ately. I don’t think Obama could risk chal­lenges, basic­ally, to the separ­a­tion of powers, which is what John Bren­nan has done. So if you don’t have the cred­ib­il­ity as a secret agency in a demo­cratic soci­ety, you’re going to weaken your over­all mission over a period of time and I think that’s what’s happened.

Q: And for the public to try to under­stand this enter­prise, is there any avenue they have? You know, I mean obvi­ously in a demo­cracy we expect our elec­ted lead­ers to be the eyes and ears on what the govern­ment’s doing but are they just completely shut out of the process now?

GOOD­MAN: Well, they don’t have to be. I do a lot of teach­ing and lectur­ing and my point has always been there are tremend­ous amounts of inform­a­tion out there. There are Congres­sional hear­ings; there are people such as James Bamford who’s writ­ten so well on the National Secur­ity Agency. Thomas Powers wrote a wonder­ful biography of Richard Helms that gives you an idea of the polit­ical role of a CIA director. Marc Danner at the New York Review of Books has writ­ten some inter­est­ing pieces. And I think the coun­try, when they get to intel­li­gence matters and the way intel­li­gence is discussed by profes­sion­als, it’s like inside base­ball. There’s a termin­o­logy and a language they don’t completely under­stand, they’re not famil­iar with it, so they tend to hold it at arm’s length. And I think that is danger­ous. And Eisen­hower warned about that, too, because he said when you get into an era of perman­ent war – which we’ve been in since 9/11 – you’re going to see comprom­ises of civil liber­ties and civil rights. And that’s exactly what we’ve seen in this coun­try.

Q: And there’s also a role for an invest­ig­at­ive press; how would you rate their perform­ance?

GOOD­MAN: Oh, the press has done a terrible role of monit­or­ing. You have people who have become advoc­ates for the CIA. David Igna­tius of the Wash­ing­ton Post is a cheer­leader for the CIA. Only a couple of papers take the intel­li­gence beat seri­ously; the New York Times has some good people, partic­u­larly Mark Mazz­ettiScott Shane has done some good work. James Risen has been outstand­ing, and you have Greg Miller at the Wash­ing­ton Post. But after those two papers, there’s very little attempt to try to under­stand the CIA and it’s a diffi­cult beat. I talk to journ­al­ists from time to time and I try to give them an intro­duc­tion of how you gather sources about the CIA, when you have a bureau­cracy that is reluct­ant to speak, even when people go into retire­ment. Even though there’s a lot that can be said about the CIA without comprom­ising sources and meth­ods, I don’t think the press is rigor­ous enough and that should be part of over­sight. That’s the job of a rigor­ous press. Which is why the First Amend­ment is the free­dom of the press, and I think it’s being observed in the breach.

Q: And  it’s also coming under some pres­sure. We have a lot of whis­tleblowers – intel­li­gence offi­cials – who have come forward – or leaked inform­a­tion – who have come under invest­ig­a­tion, even been charged with espi­on­age. And journ­al­ists, actu­ally, coming under invest­ig­a­tion.

GOOD­MAN: Well, I think the outrageous case of Thomas Drake, who was charged on the Espi­on­age Act which led the judge to throw all of the charges out of court and lecture the Govern­ment that this is not the Soviet Union, you can’t come into court with a case such as this. Thomas Drake was a whis­tleblower. He didn’t comprom­ise any sens­it­ive inform­a­tion.  And there’s a terrible double stand­ard because Bob Wood­ward can write all of his books with high level sources, with comprom­ising inform­a­tion, and no one raises an eyebrow over this! But then, when you have someone lower down in the peck­ing order reveal mater­ial that’s thought to be very sens­it­ive, then you have a prob­lem.

Q: And what Thomas Drake revealed was gross waste and abuse, that in a national secur­ity agency would seem to harm our ulti­mate secur­ity, and yet he’s still treated as if – liter­ally – as if he’s an enemy of the…

GOOD­MAN: He was charged on the Espi­on­age Act of 1917. And I think I read that Obama has charged more people under the Espi­on­age Act than all of the pres­id­ents since 1917. Obama seems to lack trust in the Amer­ican system, which I find ironic – he’s a Harvard-trained lawyer; he taught Consti­tu­tional Law. He’s been very hostile towards whis­tleblowers; he’s been very hostile towards the Office of the Inspector General. The State Depart­ment went years without an Inspector General. When an old colleague of mine, John Helger­son resigned in Janu­ary of 2009, it was a year and a half before the White House named David Buckley, who’s really not up to the task. And that’s by design because the CIA and the White House do not want genu­ine inspec­tions of trans­gres­sions. So the good work that the Office of the Inspector General did in the '80s and '90s that dealt with the intel­li­gence fail­ure which 9/11 was; the shoot­down of a Peruvian mission­ary plane in a drug oper­a­tion that went awry; and then the cover-up of the CIA’s role, the torture and abuse, the deten­tions policy – there was some excel­lent work done about the CIA. But it upset former direct­ors such as Tenet. And then you get oper­a­tional people who have very good links with journ­al­ists because they’ve met them over­seas, and then pursue these rela­tion­ships when they come home, you get the argu­ment out there that the Inspector General was a threat to running a well-managed Cent­ral Intel­li­gence Agency. So you weaken the whole process. You created the stat­utory IG in 1989 because of abuse, because of Iran-Contra.  Now we’ve lost that very import­ant instru­ment of over­sight.

Q: And  I think most people under­stand over­sight is essen­tial to effect­ive perform­ance. It’s not just to uncover abuse but if you know there’s nobody look­ing over your shoulder, you tend not to dot the I’s and cross the T’s as often as you would if you did know some­body was check­ing your work. And with a $70 billion intel­li­gence budget you would think they would do a lot of self-analysis and review. Are they doing that kind of work to eval­u­ate their programs?

GOOD­MAN: No. That’s what’s really been lost in the defens­ive­ness you’ve got at the CIA. The CIA really since 9/11 has circled the wagons. They’re hostile toward the criti­cism and they don’t know how to deal with their crit­ics. They tend to margin­al­ize their crit­ics. They have a double stand­ard about who can publish. If you praise the CIA, you can pretty much write anything you want. Jose Rodrig­uez wrote a book that the CIA approved, that essen­tially denied that torture and abuse ever took place, which we know to be false. Even Leon Panetta has conceded that one. So that double stand­ard hurts and the unwill­ing­ness of anyone on the Hill except for maybe a few key senat­ors – Ron Wyden and Mark Udall have been very good. Merkley in New Mexico has been a welcome surprise. But gener­ally, people don’t want to deal with the Cent­ral Intel­li­gence Agency because they don’t see what can be gained polit­ic­ally or person­ally by getting involved in these issues. It takes a pretty rare bird to pursue these issues but they’re very import­ant issues.

Q: You mentioned a number of works but what other writ­ten mater­ial would you suggest some­body who wants to learn more about these issues take a look at?

GOOD­MAN: Well, I think the new book – I’ve just ordered it, I haven’t seen it yet – the new book by James Risen, Pay Any Price. There’s an example of a cour­ageous, invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ist who’s done some great work, who I think under­stands how we’ve scared ourselves to death in this coun­try since 9/11. So Risen’s book is very import­ant. And I know his name is contro­ver­sial but Glenn Green­wald has done some excel­lent work. When you look at Edward Snowden revel­a­tions, the only reason why we know what we do about the intel­li­gence budget is because of Edward Snowden. And gran­ted, Edward Snowden is in a lot of trouble, I mean, laws were viol­ated. He has virtu­ally conceded that. But the laws that he has exposed are far more danger­ous to my personal free­dom and the free­dom of this nation than the laws that he broke, in my estim­a­tion. So we have to look at the mater­ial that we now have, to take advant­age of this. The website that Steven After­good runs at the Feder­a­tion of Amer­ican Scient­ists has some very useful inform­a­tion on it. And Congres­sional brief­ings from time to time. A lot can be learned. So there’s a lot of mater­ial out there. Mark Danner’s articles for the New York Review of Books have been outstand­ing. So it’s not a dearth of inform­a­tion. It’s there! Its people being ener­getic enough and rigor­ous enough to take advant­age of that.

Q: And what would you recom­mend to reform this enter­prise?

GOOD­MAN: Well, I think more over­sight and genu­ine over­sight is needed. The partis­an­ship of the report is worri­some. The process clearly has to be demil­it­ar­ized. This is the one thing Truman said. In fact, he wrote in an op-ed in 1963, when he came out with criti­cism of what Eisen­hower and Kennedy had done to the Cent­ral Intel­li­gence Agency that he, Truman, had created. He didn’t want the CIA to become another branch of the Pentagon. The CIA has become a para­mil­it­ary organ­iz­a­tion with the hiring of retired milit­ary people and contract­ors; the budget has gone out of control because of the milit­ary work that they’re involved in, so demil­it­ar­iz­a­tion has to take place and some decent­ral­iz­a­tion of intel­li­gence analysis. There needs to be more compet­i­tion among intel­li­gence analysts. You’re never going to get the whole truth – truth is an elusive substance in the intel­li­gence world.  You’re going to get a mosaic; you’re going to have a lot of the stones and a lot of the stones are going to be miss­ing. So compet­i­tion I think, and even some redund­ancy, these are good things. These are neces­sary things. But we don’t have that now.

Q: Okay. Well, I really appre­ci­ate your being here.

GOOD­MAN: Thank you.