Ex-Official Says CIA Fabricated Some Iran Data
The Senate Intelligence Committee is examining new allegations from a former CIA official that the agency fabricated some assessments and intentionally misled the White House in 1986 into believing that it could use the sale of weapons to Iran to establish links with Iranian moderates and ultimately free American hostages held in Lebanon.
According to sources familiar with the testimony, the allegations were raised by a former CIA analyst Wednesday during the closed-door portion of hearings that the committee is holding on the confirmation of Robert M. Gates to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
While the committee has seen no proof that Gates was involved with these reports, the allegations are nonetheless serious because they go beyond charges of intelligence slanting to suggest that some of the information going to the White House at the time was actually fabricated.
They involve what more than one source said was a secret channel of information, set up by the late CIA Director William J. Casey and run from inside the agency by a senior Iran specialist, to provide the White House with intelligence reports that did not go through the CIA intelligence directorate or other normal channels at the time.
According to critics, one suspected purpose of this secret channel--whose existence has been confirmed by a former official who was then serving on the National Security Council--was to bypass those in the CIA who might take issue with assessments that encouraged the White House to believe it could use the arms sales to help free the hostages.
The allegations suggest “that some of the reports were fraudulent, that they intentionally misled the President,” one source familiar with the charges said.
The allegations, expected to be aired in public when the intelligence committee meets again Tuesday, were made by Melvin A. Goodman, a former CIA Soviet specialist who left the agency in 1989 following policy disagreements with Gates.
Goodman was one of five analysts, two of whom are still with the CIA, who testified both for and against the nominee at the closed door hearing. It was held to examine charges that some agency assessments--particularly those involving the Soviet Union and its activities in the Third World--were slanted during Gates’ tenure as a top CIA official to reflect ideological biases.
Sources said Goodman and two other former analysts, Hal Ford and Jennifer Glaudemans, testified--at times heatedly--that Gates pressured agency analysts to politicize intelligence estimates and that he intimidated those with dissenting views on subjects in which he and Casey took particular interest.
Douglas MacEachin and Larry Gershwin, senior analysts who are still with the agency, testified with equal vehemence on Gates’ behalf, these sources said.
“The clash of views was exceedingly strong,” committee Chairman David L. Boren (D-Okla.) said. “They ranged from ‘this man is the worst slanter of intelligence’ to ‘this man is the greatest defender of objectivity.’ If you believe Mr. Gates’ severest critics, you’d have to conclude that he should not be director of central intelligence. If you believe those who testified in his favor, you’d have to say this man is so good I’d vote for him twice.”
Most of the debate focused on two allegations whose general outlines were already known to committee members. Panel members said later that the testimony had not changed their minds about the nomination.
Those accusations concerned what role Gates, then in charge of intelligence analysis at the agency, may have played in allegedly slanting a 1981 report on the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II and a 1985 estimate on Iran and the extent of its vulnerability to Soviet influence.
In both cases, Gates’ critics have charged that he ignored the views of senior Soviet analysts and put the agency’s imprimatur on the most alarmist suggestions of KGB complicity in the assassination attempt and Soviet influence in Iran.
The allegations will be aired again--and challenged by new witnesses--when the committee continues the hearings on the nomination this week. One of those expected to testify is Graham Fuller, the former CIA official who authored the May, 1985, assessment on Iran.
Barring further surprises, all of the committee’s seven Republicans and most of its eight Democrats are expected to vote to recommend confirmation of Gates, who was named by President Bush last May to succeed retired CIA chief William H. Webster.
Testifying before the committee last week, Gates admitted for the first time that he talked the State Department out of adding a dissenting footnote to the assessment before it was sent to the White House, where it was subsequently used as the rationale for the secret sale of weapons to Iran.
Goodman’s testimony alleges that Gates also pressured Fuller into ignoring dissenting views from the CIA’s Soviet analysts in preparing the estimate, which warned of instability in Iran that the Soviets were seeking to exploit.
Fuller, who already has spoken at length with the committee, strongly denies that Gates pressured him to slant the estimate. “I was never told what to say by Gates or anyone else,” he said. “Nobody ever told me what to say in an estimate and I would not have accepted it.”
Fuller added that the views he authored were his own and that he had disagreed with the Soviet analysts, who at the time held what he regarded as “too benign a view” of Soviet intentions in the Third World.
However, a source familiar with Goodman’s allegations characterized the charges of intelligence fabrication as being “potentially explosive.” Because the witnesses at Wednesday’s closed hearing are under a gag rule until Tuesday, none of them would comment on the substance or the detail of the charges. But it was understood that Goodman referred the committee to several documents that he believes will support the allegations.
The unofficial channel was said to have been set up shortly after former National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane returned from a secret trip to Tehran in May, 1986. That was around the same time that Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, the National Security Council aide who masterminded the Iran-Contra operation, was trying to establish a new “second channel” to Iran for the arms sales whose profits were later illegally diverted to the Contras in Nicaragua.
While that channel dealt with the operations side of the initiative, an intelligence channel run by George Cave, a former CIA officer who had been called back from retirement as a consultant on Iran, was set up to complement it.
It was this channel, operating independent of the CIA but with Casey’s consent, that fed misleading information to the White House under the agency’s label, several sources said.
The reports, which produced assessments to support North and Casey’s belief that the United States could negotiate with moderate factions in Iran, went to the White House without passing through the agency’s normal review process. “No one in the intelligence (directorate) knew about them,” one source said.
Another source familiar with the intelligence this channel produced said he could not go so far as to describe it as intentionally misleading. But he said it was clear, in retrospect, that much of the information was wrong.
The channel continued to operate until January, 1987, although by that time it “wasn’t doing any harm” because Casey had died, Frank C. Carlucci had taken over the NSC and “nobody was using the information any more,” the source added.
Should they prove true, the allegations will only affect Gates’ nomination if it can be established that he knew about and condoned the existence of the secret channel. Two former CIA officials interviewed by The Times said they believe Gates should have known about it, but added they they had no proof.
Charles Allen, a senior CIA official who also was involved in the NSC’s Iran initiative, testified last week that when the arms sales began in 1985, North requested and Casey consented to withhold information about them from Gates. Allen said, however, that Gates and others were brought into the loop in January, 1986, when President Ronald Reagan signed the second of two covert findings authorizing the sale of arms to Iran.