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Implications of Gates I and Gates II at CIA on Gates as SecDef


Before George Tenet there was Robert Gates; the politicization of intelligence and the punishing of those who resisted 'shaping' exercises did not originate with Tenet. Gates aggressively pursued intel shaping that matched preferred administration policy. Analysts through the ranks came to understand their new brief or left.

That is an ineradicable stain for a DCI. It may not significally detract from a role as SecDef in 2006. I think reader opinion of Robert Gates as SecDef will depend upon their familiarity with this chronology:

  • DCI William “Wild Bill” Casey
  • First confirmation hearing of Robert Gates, floundering on Iran-Contra, and concerns of misleading Congress, concocting false chronologies, et al. Gates withdraws
  • DCI William B. Webster
  • Second confirmation hearing of Robert Gates, battered again by Iran-Contra but brutalized by charges of politicization of, and interventions in, intelligence analysis. Gates prevails
  • DCI Robert Gates

A skilled inside-the-beltway colleague once counseled me in writing a critique of performance or action inside the federal bureaucracy,"Always write in sorrow, never in anger. Things written in anger are pariahs." It is instructive to see two articles on Gates effectively covering the same material with similar conclusions, written in each style. Partisans aside, one definitely warms to sorrow over anger.

I suggest that readers considering Gates' merits start first with the Toynbee-like sweep of John Prados' Gates-related excerpts in Safe for Democracy; second, Robert Parry's 'written in sorrow' The Secret World of Robert Gates, ; third, Ray McGovern's definitely 'written in anger' and indignation, The Cheney-Gates Cabal; and fourth, if you want to know everything public, the National Security Archive's The Robert Gates File.

The post-Rumsfeld SecDef has a different role to play in 2006-2008. He or she must administer the prenegotiated recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, rebuild trust and relationships with the military, reign in – or at least harmonize – DoD intel efforts with Negroponte and Hayden’s CIA, manage a defense establishment whose equipment faces enormous wear and replacement demands from Iraq, and balance allocations and training needed to combat a rising class of asymmetrical opponents. Gates may well have those skills.

Gates is bright but the polar opposite in style to Rumsfeld, is a pragmatist instead of a Neocon, was selected over the objections of Cheney. Former Director NSA and CIA Deputy Director, Bobby Inman, compares Gates to Johnson’s Clark Clifford who replaced SecDef Robert McNamara during the Vietnam war. Inman says that Gates is a “good listener [who]after he makes up his mind, is very decisive,” is “impatient” without being “arrogant.”

Gates has been “privately critical of the administration’s failure to execute its military and political plans for Iraq, and he has spent the last six months quietly debating new approaches to the war, as a member of the Iraq Study Group.” Although Gates left ISG upon his nomination as SecDef, I find it hard to believe that ISG will present recommendations at odds with Gates' thinking. Co-chaired by Brzezinski and Gates in 2004, Iran: Time for a New Approach offered a then refreshing approach to negotiating with Iran, suggestions that have yet to be implemented. Gates noted that, “One of our recommendations is that the U.S. government lift its ban in terms of nongovernmental organizations being able to operate in Iran… Greater interaction between Iranians and the rest of the world sets the stage for the kind of internal change that we all hope will happen there.”

John Deutch, DCI and Deputy SecDef under Clinton and no fan of Iraq policy, gives Gates high praise for reasons close to my own: Iraq, reconnecting to the military, reintegrating DoD’s intel ops and navigating forthcoming readiness replenishments. Deutch also believes that Gates has learned the Iran-Contra lesson and can control covert operations.

Prados says this of what I call ‘Gates II,’ the DCI Gates that attempted to make amends for Iran-Contra and intel politicization:

"As director, Robert Gates's vision involved gradual, planned change. He put teeth into the idea of support for military operations. One of the task forces worked on that alone. He tried to turn the agency toward the challenges of proliferation and transnational threats. Director Gates wanted more and better training for analysts, use of open source information, and techniques like competitive analysis. He ordered the revamping of CIA file systems. He opposed restructuring, including talk of a national agency for mapping and photographic interpretation, but agreed with the Pentagon on reforms at the National Reconnaissance Office. When Gates came to Langley, 6o percent of the CIA budget aimed at Russia; when he left that figure had dropped to 13 percent..."

I hope that Gates II is a different fellow than the Gates I that politicized intel production. That Gates II is greatly needed, as is the ISG. It is interesting that a group formed as a sop to congressional questioning has now become the vehicle to present the least bad bits of realism to a heretofore intransigent POTUS. One only has to read Steve Clemons' Nightmare Confirmed: Things Are Soooo Bad. . . to grasp the magnitude of our descent.

Iraq Study Group
United States Institute of Peace

About the Iraq Study Group
Expert Working Groups

Nightmare Confirmed: Things Are Soooo Bad. . .
Steve Clemons
Washington Note
November 16, 2006

Aye, Spy
Op-Ed Columnist
New York Times
November 15, 2006

Former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger Replaces Robert Gates on Iraq Study Group
Iraq Study Group
United States Institute of Peace
November 10, 2006

The Robert Gates File
The Iran-Contra Scandal, 1991 Confirmation Hearings, and Excerpts from new book Safe for Democracy
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 208
Posted - November 10, 2006

Excerpts from Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA
By John Prados
Ivan R. Dee, 2006
Pages 572-574

The Secret World of Robert Gates
By Robert Parry
Consortium News
November 9, 2006

The Cheney-Gates Cabal
Ray McGovern
Tom Paine
November 09, 2006

Robert Gates, a Cautious Player From a Past Bush Team
New York Times
November 9, 2006

Rumsfeld, a Force for Change, Did Not Change With the Times Amid Iraq Tumult
News Analysis
New York Times
November 9, 2006

Congress forms panel to study Iraq war
Panel to recommend Iraq policy to Congress, White House
From Ted Barrett
CNN Washington Bureau
Wednesday, March 15, 2006; Posted: 2:43 p.m. EST (19:43 GMT)

Time to pull out. And not just from Iraq.
John Deutch The New York Times
IHT/New York Times

Iran: Time for a New Approach - Council on Foreign Relations
Director:  Suzanne Maloney
Chairs:  Zbigniew Brzezinski & Robert M. Gates
Council on Foreign Relations Press
ISBN 0-87609-345-4
July 2004

Gordon Housworth

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