Q&A: Melvin Goodman on the CIA

Former CIA senior analyst and current Director of the National Security Project at the Center for International Policy Melvin Goodman will be visiting Politics and Prose on July 23 at 1 p.m. with his new book Whistleblowers at the CIA. Ahead of his visit, we sat down with questions about his experiences in the intelligence community and the criticisms that he has of that community.

1. You were an analyst at the CIA for many years. Can you talk about some of your job duties and responsibilities during your time there?
I was an analyst on Soviet foreign policy from 1966 to 1986, which included a two-year tour at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research as well as two years as an intelligence adviser to the SALT talks from 1971 to 1972. Primarily I was responsible for assessing Soviet policies in the Third World, particularly the Middle East. I wrote for daily publications as well as the President’s Daily Brief and National Intelligence Estimates.

2. Do you think that the CIA has been successful at keeping its relationship with the current White House apolitical, in comparison with the FBI?
The CIA was created to be apolitical, which was the goal of President Harry Truman. However, in the 1980s, Director William Casey and Deputy Director Robert Gates politicized the intelligence in order to support President Reagan’s efforts to increase military spending. Twenty years later, Director George Tenet and Deputy Director John McLaughlin did the same to support President Bush’s policy to invade Iraq. In the former example, the CIA exaggerated the Soviet threat. In the latter example, the CIA warned of weapons of mass destruction that were not present. In both cases, the intelligence collection was good enough to prevent these terrible failures.

3. Can you talk about the relationship between the press and whistleblowers? Did journalists turn to you, or did you seek out specific individuals?
Whistleblowers are essential to investigative journalism and a free press. I contacted journalists during the confirmation hearings for Robert Gates in 1991 because the White House was trying to compromise my credibility. Since I’m known to the journalistic community, many journalists have contacted me for background information. I try to be helpful without compromising sensitive information.

4. What news media and which journalists do you seek out for perspective on our truly bizarre political moment?
There are only three newspapers that do a decent job of covering the intelligence community. It should come as no surprise that these papers are The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. There are still too many journalists who are apologists for the CIA, such as David Ignatius of the Washington Post. The truly professional journalists in my opinion are James Risen and Charlie Savage of The New York Times, and Greg Miller of The Washington Post. They couldn’t do their job, however, with whistleblowers and anonymous sources with access. Journalists need to understand that intelligence analysts face periodic background checks to make sure that there are no unauthorized contacts with the media.

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