Analyst Obstacles,

The Magic Words

excerpted from the book

Secrecy & Privilege

Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq

by Robert Parry

The Media Consortium Inc., 2004, paper

Analyst Obstacles

Once Reagan and Bush took office and [William] Casey arrived at the CIA, the war over intelligence broke out in earnest. The first pitched battle came over an analysis of the Soviet Union's support for international terrorism. It had become an article of faith among the Reagan-Bush newcomers that Moscow was supporting international terror groups as a way to destabilize the West in general and the United States in particular. Conservative author Claire Sterling was making this case in her book, The Terror Network - and the foreign policy principals of the Reagan-Bush administration were fans of Sterling's hypothesis.

"The day after Reagan's Inauguration, Secretary of State Alexander Haig, believing that Moscow had tried to assassinate him in Europe where he served as Supreme Allied Commander [of NATO], linked the Soviet Union to all acts of international terrorism," wrote Melvin Goodman, then-chief of the CIA's office for Soviet analysis. "There was no evidence to support such a charge but Casey had read ... Claire Sterling's The Terror Network and, like Haig, was convinced that a Soviet conspiracy was behind global terrorism.

In one of the tragic-comic moments of the early Reagan-Bush period Secretary of State Haig promoted suspicions that mysterious "yellow rain" that had been reported in Indochina was an example of a deadly Soviet chemical warfare agent being deployed against anticommunist insurgents. However, independent scientists eventually concluded that the "yellow rain" was bee feces.

In another case, the Reagan administration pressed the CIA to accept right-wing allegations that the Soviet KGB was behind the May 13, 1981, assassination attempt against Pope John-Paul II. The attack had been carried out by Turkish neo-Nazi Mehmet Au Agca, but Sterling and other conservatives built a case against the KGB, in part, because Agca traveled through Bulgaria and because the Soviets supposedly had a motive: the Pope's symbolic value to the Polish Solidarity movement. But CIA analysts knew that the Soviets saw the Pope as a stabilizing influence in Poland.

Standing up against the KGB-Pope-assassination conspiracy theory brought the CIA analysts in for another round of pummeling from the Right for supposedly going soft again on the Soviet Union. Even hardliner Gates marveled at the intensity of the criticism. "Some accused us of trying to cover up the Soviet role, though why we - and especially Casey - would do such a thing I never grasped," Gates wrote in his memoirs.

When conservatives continued to complain about the CIA's supposed failure to pin the 1981 papal assassination plot on Moscow, Casey and his team decided to cook the intelligence books with a special review of the issue in 1985, Goodman said.

"Earlier CIA assessments - and Gates's testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 1983 - had concluded that Moscow had no role in the papal plot, and senior officials of the Directorate of Operations informed both Casey and Gates that Moscow had stopped political assassination and that strong evidence indicated neither the Soviets nor the Bulgarians were involved," Goodman wrote in Foreign Policy magazine.

But Casey was determined to undermine Secretary of State George Shultz's diplomatic overtures to Moscow and thus commissioned a special paper alleging a connection to the shooting of the Pope. "Gates made sure that CIA analysts worked in camera to prevent proper vetting and coordination of the assessment," Goodman recalled. "Indeed, 'Agca's Attempt to Kill the Pope: The Case for Soviet Involvement' read like a novelist's fantasy of communist conspiracy, but Gates's covering note to the President and the Vice President described the report as a 'comprehensive examination' that 'we feel able to present... with some confidence.'

"Casey was not going to let the facts stand in his way and Gates, who previously had told the SSCI [Senate Select Committee on Intelligence] that the Soviets were not involved, again pandered to the Casey agenda, making sure that the draft document was reviewed in less than twenty-four hours and not seen by senior officials familiar with the issue."

With the 1985 report on the papal assassination plot, Goodman wrote that the CIA's politicization of intelligence on the Soviet Union hit "rock bottom." But he said the broader consequence of the hyped intelligence was to prime the pump for an expensive U.S. military expansion.

"The CIA caricature of a Soviet military octopus whose tentacles reached the world over supported the administration's view of the 'Evil Empire," Goodman wrote. "Gates used worst-case analysis to portray a Soviet capability to neutralize the strategic capabilities of the United States. Moscow, in fact, had no capability to target dispersed mobile ICBMs and lacked an air defense system that could counter strategic bombers. Moscow

d no confidence that its efforts to destroy warheads on land-based missiles would actually find missiles still tethered to their launchers, and CIA's emphasis on Moscow's 'launch on warning' capability was nothing more than a doomsday scenario."

"The politicization that took place during the Casey-Gates era is directly responsible for the CIA's loss of its ethical compass and the erosion of its credibility," said Mel Goodman, the former chief of the Soviet analysis office. "The fact that the CIA missed the most important historical development in its history - the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the Soviet Union itself - is due in large measure to the culture and process that Gates established in his directorate."

In Goodman's view, the failure to notice the decline and the disintegration of the Soviet Union can be traced directly to the Gates-Casey intervention in the analytical process. "They systematically created an agency view of the Soviet Union that overemphasized the Soviet threat, ignored Soviet vulnerabilities and weaknesses," said Goodman, who served as a senior CIA analyst on Soviet policy from 1966 to 1986.

By the mid-1980s, more practical conservatives, such as Secretary of State Shultz, were finding the CIA's Soviet analysis increasingly divergent from the reality that he encountered as the reformist forces around Mikhail Gorbachev consolidated their power in the Kremlin. In his memoirs, Turmoil and Triumph, Shultz described a frank foreign policy discussion he had with National Security Adviser Frank Carlucci on January 4, 1987.

"I told him that I had no confidence in the intelligence community, that I had been misled, lied to, cut out," Shultz wrote. "I felt that CIA analysis was distorted by strong views about policy . ... The CIA, I told Carlucci, had been unable to perceive that change was coming in the Soviet Union. When Gorbachev first appeared at the helm, the CIA said he was 'just talk,' just another Soviet attempt to deceive us. As that line became increasingly untenable, the CIA changed its tune: Gorbachev was serious about change, but the Soviet Union had a powerfully entrenched and largely successful system that was incapable of being changed; so Gorbachev would fail in his attempt to change it. When it became evident that the Soviet Union was, in fact, changing, the CIA line was that the changes wouldn't really make a difference."

But the CIA's exaggerated intelligence on Soviet military power did make a difference in Washington by loosening the budgetary purse strings. Congress - fearing criticism for being soft on Moscow - authorized hundreds of billions of dollars in new weapons systems often to face down imaginary threats.

"The CIA in the 1980s overstated every aspect of the Soviet military (army, navy, air force, air defense, and strategic weaponry), thus contributing to increased defense spending and reduced interest in arms control," Goodman wrote. "Some of these errors were acknowledged, but only after Gates left the CIA in 1989 to join the National Security Council. Meanwhile, these errors appeared in the unclassified DIA publication, 'Soviet Military Power,' which served as a propaganda vehicle for the Department of Defense until 1991.

"Two years later, the General Accounting Office concluded that the DOD deliberately exaggerated Soviet capabilities and misrepresented the cost and performance of U.S. systems in order to gain congressional authorization for desired military programs. The CIA, created as an independent agency in 1947, had failed in its role as 'honest broker' with respect to intelligence and policy."

The CIA also turned its back on evidence of the accelerating pace of Moscow's economic decline. Those signs were emerging by the mid-1970s and were cited in the work of economists, such as Sweden's Anders Aslund. Academic analysts and businessmen who visited the Soviet Union also observed its backwardness, especially in crucial areas of technological development and production of consumer goods, but the CIA was mostly blind to these historic developments.

"CIA estimates on the Soviet Union were dead wrong on the size and performance of the economy and the military burden," Goodman wrote. "CIA economists continued to compare the Soviet and American economies in dollar values that exaggerated the size of the Soviet economy," putting it at about 60 percent of the size of the U.S. economy when Aslund was calculating a number closer to 40 percent . By the mid-1980s when the CIA began to accept the reality of lower Soviet economic growth rates, some European economists were seeing no growth at all for the first half of the decade.

Former CIA analyst Dickson said he believed that the pattern of politicization at the DI could be traced back even earlier than Casey's arrival at the CIA in 1981 - to George H.W. Bush's year at the agency's helm when he acquiesced to the conservative Team B counter-analysis in 1976.

"Did not something happen here with Bush coming back as the V.P. that the Republicans came to see the agency as malleable?" Dickson wondered, adding that perhaps "Bush senior had learned the lessons of what you could do with the intelligence business."

Ironically, however, one historic result of the faulty CIA analysis 'overestimating Soviet strength in the early 1980s was to exaggerate the impact of Reagan-Bush policies in supposedly "winning the Cold War." Having presided over a politicized intelligence process that made the tottering Soviet empire look invincible, Ronald Reagan then got the principal credit for its collapse in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a popular assessment that was cemented as conventional wisdom with the week-long ceremonies after Reagan's death on June 5, 2004.

The operation of "politicization" at the CIA cropped up briefly as a national issues in 1991 when President George H.W. Bush appointed Robert Gates to be CIA director(In a break with tradition) CIA analysts stepped out of the shadows and testified openly before the Senate Intelligence Committee against Bush's choice.

Led by Soviet specialist Goodman, the CIA dissidents fingered Gates as the key "politicization" culprit. Their testimony added to doubts about Gates, who was already under a cloud for dubious testimony he had given on the Iran-Contra scandal, allegations that he had participated in a covert scheme to arm Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and claims that he played a role in the October Surprise operation of fall 1980. But the elder George Bush lined up solid Republican backing for Gates and enough accommodating Democrats particularly Senator David Boren of Oklahoma, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman - to push Gates through. In his memoirs, Gates denied all the charges against him, but credited his friend, David Boren, for clearing away any obstacles. "David took it as a personal challenge to get me confirmed," Gates wrote in From the Shadows.

Howard Teicher, a staffer on Ronald Reagan's National Security Council, submitted a sworn affidavit in an arms-to-Iraq case in Miami. "Under CIA Director Casey and Deputy Director Gates, the CIA authorized, approved and assisted [Carlos] Cardoen in the manufacture and sale of cluster bombs and other munitions to Iraq," Teicher wrote. In other words, an insider on Reagan's NSC staff was leveling the same Iraqgate charge against Gates that Ben-Menashe and Babayan had made earlier.

(Boren's key staff aide who helped limit the investigation of Gates was George Tenet, whose behind-the-scenes maneuvering on Gates's behalf won the personal appreciation of the senior George Bush. Those political chits would serve Tenet well a decade later when the younger George Bush protected Tenet as his own CIA director, even after the intelligence failure of September 11, 2001, and later embarrassing revelations about faulty intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Tenet finally resigned in July 2004 amid a growing scandal over the faulty intelligence that led the United States to war in Iraq.

U.S. policymakers weren't inclined to demand major reforms of the CIA, despite its failure to give policymakers much warning about the Soviet Union's collapse in the early 1990s. With the Soviet Union gone, neither leading Democrats nor Republicans grasped the potential danger of allowing a corrupted U.S. intelligence process to remain in place - or perhaps some politicians didn't mind the idea of a politically accommodating CIA.

There was a brief window for reform with Bill Clinton's election in 1992. Former CIA analyst Peter Dickson was among the CIA veterans to put the "politicization" issue before Clinton's incoming national security team. Dickson sent a two-page memo, dated December 10, 1992, to Samuel "Sandy" Berger, a top Clinton national security aide. Dickson urged Clinton to appoint a new CIA director who understood "the deeper internal problems relating to the politicization of intelligence and the festering morale problem within the CIA."

In urging a housecleaning, Dickson wrote, "This problem of intellectual corruption will not disappear overnight, even with vigorous remedial action. However, the new CIA director will be wise if he realizes from the start the dangers in relying on advice of senior CIA office managers who during the past 12 years advanced and prospered in their careers precisely because they had no qualms about suppressing intelligence or slanting analysis to suit the interest of Casey and Gates. This is a deep systemic problem.

"The lack of accountability also became a systemic problem in the 1980s . ... A recent CIA inspector general investigation confirms the near total breakdown in confidence among employee{s] that management is willing to deal honestly and objectively with their complaints. Many of them concern the lack of professional ethics and in some cases personal abuse at the hands of senior officer managers - a group of individuals beholden and therefore loyal to Gates."

But the appeals from Dickson and other CIA veterans were largely ignored by Clinton and his top aides, who were more interested in turning around the U.S. economy and enacting some modest social programs. The Clinton administration didn't want to "refight the battles of the 1980s," a senior Democrat told me. Although Gates was removed as CIA director, Clinton appointed James Woolsey, a neoconservative Democrat who had worked closely with the Reagan-Bush administrations.

One well-placed Democratic source said the incoming Clinton team defended the choice of Woolsey as a reward to some neoconservative Democrats at The New Republic and elsewhere who had split from George H.W. Bush and lent their support to Clinton. Under Woolsey and Clinton's subsequent CIA directors, the Gates team sans Gates remained in top management positions and consolidated its bureaucratic power. The old ideal intelligence analysis free from political taint was never restored.

Clinton's last CIA director, George Tenet, earned more gratitude from the Bush family when he presided over a ceremony in 1999 to rename the CIA's headquarters the George Bush Center for Intelligence.

"This is a great day at the Central Intelligence Agency and a great day for our CIA Family," Tenet gushed. "We are deeply proud that you are part our CIA Family. As you know, the sense of family here is very strong." (Some old-time CIA analysts, however, were troubled by the decision to put such a partisan name on the CIA, which had been created by President Harry Truman to provide impartial intelligence without political taint.)

Kept on by George W. Bush in 2001, Tenet continued to prove himself a loyal bureaucrat to the second Bush administration. On February 5, 2003, when Secretary of State Cohn Powell addressed the U.N. Security Council about Iraq's alleged WMD program, Tenet was prominently seated behind Powell, giving the CIA's imprimatur to Powell's assertions that turned out to be a mixture of unproved assertions, exaggerations and lies.

"If one goes back to that very long presentation [by Powell], point by point, one finds that this was not a very honest explanation," said Greg Thielmann, a former senior official in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, in an interview with PBS Frontline. "I have to conclude Secretary Powell was being a loyal secretary of state, a 'good soldier' as it were, building the administration's case before the international community. "

In one telling example of how malleable the CIA's analysis had become, a Defense Intelligence Agency employee, assigned to CIA headquarters, was rebuffed when he objected to Powell's citation of "firsthand" evidence from an Iraqi defector about Iraq's possession of mobile bioweapons labs. After reviewing a draft of Powell's testimony a few days before the secretary's U.N. speech, the DIA employee questioned the "validity of the information" and doubted that it should be used "as the backbone of one of our major findings for the existence of a continuing BW [bioweapons] program!"

Beyond beating down the remaining intelligence professionals unwilling to play along, Bush loyalists rhetorically beat up almost anyone who gained a public platform to question the rush to war. As George W. Bush's invasion order of March 19, 2003, neared, his administration did whatever it took to silence meaningful opposition.

To constrain the debate, Bush's backers ostracized virtually all major critics of the administration's WMD claims, including the U.N.'s chief weapons inspector Hans Blix and former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter. Blacklisting campaigns were mounted against celebrities, such as actor Sean Penn and the music group Dixie Chicks, for criticizing Bush's policies. When France urged more time for U.N. weapons inspections, Bush's supporters organized boycotts of French products, poured French wine in gutters and renamed "French fries" as "Freedom Fries."

Even when U.S. inspectors failed to find the supposed WMD stockpiles, Bush's supporters continued the drumbeat of vilification against the critics. On June 12, 2003, for instance, Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly teamed up with Representative Mike Pence, a Republican of Indiana, to air suspicions that Ritter had been bribed by the Iraqis to help them cover up their illegal weapons. Neither O'Reilly nor Pence had any evidence that Ritter accepted a bribe, so they framed the segment as a demand that the FBI investigate Ritter with the purported goal of clearing him of any suspicion of treason.

The segment noted that a London newspaper reporter had found Iraqi documents showing that Ritter had been offered some gold as gifts for his family. "I turned down the gifts and reported it to the FBI when I came back," Ritter said in an interview with Fox News. Though Ritter's statement stood unchallenged, O'Reilly and Pence demanded that the FBI disclose what it knew about Ritter's denial.

"Now, we want to know whether that was true," said O'Reilly about whether Ritter had reported the alleged bribe. "The FBI wouldn't tell us."

O'Reilly then asked Pence what he had done to get the FBI to investigate Ritter. "After that report in the British newspaper, many of us on Capitol Hill were very concerned," Pence said. "Candidly, Bill, there's no one who's done more damage to the argument of the United States that Iraq was in possession of large stores of weapons of mass destruction leading up to Operation Iraqi Freedom other than Scott Ritter, and so the very suggestion that ... there's evidence of treasonous activity or even bribery, I believe, merits an investigation. I contacted the Attorney General about that directly."

While Pence's point was clear - that Ritter's role as a skeptic about Bush's WMD claims made him an appropriate target for a treason investigation - O'Reilly tried to present the case as simply a desire to corroborate Ritter' s on-air statements.

"I mean Ritter came on here. He said, hey, yes, they made the offer, I declined it, I turned it over to the FBI," O'Reilly said. "All we want to do is confirm Ritter's story."

A similar pattern of sly denigration confronted former Ambassador Joseph Wilson when he went public with the fact that he had been assigned by the CIA in 2002 to investigate suspicions that Iraq had been trying to obtain "yellowcake," a form of processed uranium from the African country of Niger. Wilson had found the claims bogus and reported his findings to the CIA in March 2002.

So Wilson was surprised when George W. Bush declared in his 2003 State of the Union address that "the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." As it turned out, the British government's information was based on a forgery. After being allowed to inspect the documentation, the International Atomic Energy Agency pronounced the papers "not authentic" and the Bush administration quickly backed away from the claim.

Still, Wilson wrote in his memoirs, The Politics of Truth, that White House officials "continued to dissemble what they had actually known at the time of the President's speech. In fact, they had chosen to ignore three reports that had been in their files for nearly a year: mine as well as two others - one submitted by the American ambassador to Niger, Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, and the other by four-star Marine Corps General Carleton Fulford, who had also traveled there. Instead, the administration chose to give credence to forgeries so crude that even Panorama, the Italian weekly magazine that first received them, had declined to publish."

Wilson wrote that over the next four months, he tried to convince Bush administration officials to set the record straight before he finally penned an Op-Ed for The New York Times on July 6, 2003. Entitled "What I Didn't Find in Africa," the article revealed that the administration had examined the Niger-yellowcake issue more than a year before Bush's State of the Union and had received intelligence debunking the claim.

Wilson's article touched off a controversy about Bush using discredited intelligence to make his case for war. As that dispute swirled through Washington, conservative pundit Robert Novak gave voice to the administration's anger about Wilson. In a July 14, 2003, column, Novak identified Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA employee and suggested that Wilson had gotten the Niger assignment out of nepotism.

"His wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction," Novak wrote. "Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report."

Wilson saw the Novak column as a crude attempt by the Bush administration to silence a whistleblower by putting his wife's career and safety in jeopardy. A week later, Wilson said he received a phone call from MSNBC's Chris Matthews, who stated that "I just got off the phone with [Bush's political adviser] Karl Rove. He says, and I quote, 'Wilson's wife is fair game." Stunned by the bluntness of the threat, Wilson called Rove's action "tantamount to declaring war on two U.S. citizens, both of them with years of government service."

In the case of Novak's column, the disclosure of Plames's identity also could be construed as a felony under a federal law prohibiting the willful exposure of undercover CIA personnel. Several months later, the Novak story did spark a federal investigation into the possible violation of the law. George W. Bush told reporters that he hoped the leaker would be identified and "taken care of," but he also stated that he doubted the culprit would ever be caught. Meanwhile, Bush allies continued to attack Wilson.

An unnamed Republican aide on Capitol Hill told The New York Times that the underlying White House strategy was to "slime and defend," that is to "slime" Wilson and "defend" Bush. The "slime and defend" strategy was soon obvious at conservative news outlets such as The Wall Street Journal editorial page and Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times.

"Joseph C. Wilson IV, the man accusing the White House of a vendetta against his wife, is an ex-diplomat turned Democratic partisan," declared a front-page article in The Washington Times. "Mr. Wilson told the Washington Post he and his wife are already discussing who will play them in the movie. "

The Washington Times returned to its anti-Wilson campaign several days later. "As for Mr. Wilson himself, his hatred of Mr. Bush's policies borders on the pathological," wrote Washington Times columnist Donald Lambro. "This is a far-left Democrat who has been relentlessly bashing the president's Iraq war policies . ... The mystery behind this dubious investigation is why this Bush-hater was chosen for so sensitive a mission. ,

The Wall Street Journal also raised questions about Wilson's motives. "Joe Wilson (Ms. Plame's husband) has made no secret of his broad disagreement with Bush policy since outing himself with an Op-Ed," the journal wrote in a lead editorial on October 3, 2003.

The attacks on Wilson's alleged bias (which he denied) continued even as Bush's hand-picked Iraqi weapons inspector David Kay was confirming Wilson's findings about the falsity of the Niger allegations. In a report to the CIA and Congress, Kay said no evidence has been found to support allegations about Iraq acquiring African uranium. "To date we have not uncovered evidence that Iraq undertook significant post-1998 steps to actually build nuclear weapons or produce fissile material," Kay said.

As the Iraq-WMD examples showed, the Republican strategy for managing how the American people got to perceive a set of facts was a tagteam approach: first make sure any independent-minded intelligence analysts are cowering in one corner; then use cohorts in the news media to body-slam anyone who might wander into the ring and cause trouble. It was a pattern for controlling the flow of information that dated back to the early days of the Reagan-Bush administration - and to the curious concept of "perception management."


The Magic Words

Just as the Reagan-Bush administration sought control over the CIA's intelligence analysis, the victors in the 1980 election wanted a handle on what the American people were hearing from the national news media. Still blaming the press corps for the Watergate scandal and the American defeat in Vietnam, the Reagan-Bush team was determined to put journalists back in " their place. The goal was to make sure that the news media could never again threaten Republican political power or - in the view of conservatives - never again undermine U.S. national interests.

The process for building this conservative Counter-Establishment had begun in the 1970s, following Richard Nixon's recognition of this Republican vulnerability and William Simon's coordination of conservative foundations to inject money into right-wing media outlets and think tanks.

With this money priming the conservative pump, policy papers and opinion articles began to flow out of right-wing institutions, most notably the Heritage Foundation. New conservative magazines began to fill the news racks. Conservative editorial pages, such as The Wall Street Journal's, staked out aggressive pro-Reagan-Bush positions. An expanding network of conservative activists, from groups like Reed Irvine's Accuracy in Media, scoured mainstream news articles looking for evidence of "liberal bias."

Many working-level journalists bent over backwards not to be tagged as "liberal" because they knew that most senior editors and network executives tilted conservative. At the Associated Press, for instance, AP's general manager Keith Fuller, the company's top news executive, was known to share many of the Reagan-Bush political views. Although AP took pride in its reputation for impartiality, Fuller eventually began speaking openly about his opinion that the arrival of the Reagan-Bush administration was a positive turning point for the nation.

"As we look back on the turbulent Sixties, we shudder with the memory of a time that seemed to tear at the very sinews of this country," Fuller said in a speech on January 28, 1982, in Worcester, Massachusetts. "While our soldiers were dying in old Indochina, our young people, at least some of L them, were chanting familiar communist slogans on the campuses around this nation . ... Popular entertainers of that day were openly supporting a communist regime, denouncing the American position and a propaganda barrage against America was loosed in places like France and Britain and Scandinavia, Italy, Greece, all carefully financed and orchestrated by the USSR."

According to Fuller, America continued to decline through the 1970s before Ronald Reagan's election put the country back on the right track. "I think it changed at the ballot box in November. And I'm not speaking here of Democrats or Republicans at all. Totally apolitical. I think a nation is crying, 'Enough.' A nation is saying, 'We don't really believe that criminal rights should take precedence over the rights of victims. We don't believe that the union of Adam and Bruce is really the same as Adam and Eve in the eyes of Creation. We don't believe that people should cash welfare checks and spend them on booze and narcotics. We don't really believe that a simple prayer or a pledge of allegiance is against the national interest in the classroom. We're sick of your social engineering. We're fed up with your tolerance of crime, drugs and pornography. But most of all, we're sick of your self-perpetuating, burdening bureaucracy weighing ever more heavily on our backs."

Though Fuller presented his commentary as analysis, rank-and-file AP journalists understood that his litany of complaints represented his personal opinions. While that did not mean that all AP reporters would bend their journalism to the right to please the boss, it did mean that there was an additional burden on reporters who uncovered information that would upset the Reagan-Bush administration. Like the analysts who were under pressure at the CIA, reporters knew that in the murky world of mixed or uncertain evidence, they couldn't expect much support if the White House lodged a complaint or if conservative pressure groups went on the attack.

So, in the weeks after the Reagan-Bush election, just as the CIA's analysts were getting softened up by accusations of being soft on the Soviets, the Washington press corps was confronting a new and more hostile environment, too. The Reagan-Bush victory, in effect, merged the Right's fledgling operations - designed to "controversialize" wayward reporters with the immense power of the federal government, an ideological public-private partnership that would change the face of American politics. As this collaborative infrastructure expanded, it let the Reagan-Bush administration inject intelligence-style operations into the American body politic, much as the CIA inserted propaganda into the politics of other countries.

The intelligence world's phrase for manipulating how a population understood events and viewed politicians was "perception management," the magic words of the professional propagandist. To counter an adversary or promote an ally, the CIA cared less about truth than consequence. Reality became less important than how people perceived reality. If a target population thought that an honest leader was corrupt, he might as well have been corrupt. If a population saw a new government as representing the nation's interests, it mattered little that the regime actually might be standing in for American interests. Controlling the flow of information through the news media was crucial to this process.

, In the early 1980s, this concept of "perception management" came home to roost. With the arrival of the new administration, intelligence veterans - including Vice President George H.W. Bush - held down key jobs in the Executive Branch. Hardliners William Casey and Robert Gates were in charge of the CIA. Plus, some intelligence right-wingers, still fuming about the Vietnam War protests and Watergate, saw some of their fellow Americans as a kind of "enemy within." It only made sense, therefore, that these intelligence experts would turn their propaganda skills onto the most important target population of all., the American people. The key would be building an infrastructure and applying the techniques for managing how Americans perceived the world.

The overriding motive behind the strategy was summed up by J. Michael Kelly, a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for force support, in an address to a National Defense University on "low-intensity conflict," more commonly known as guerrilla wars. "The most critical special operations we have ... today is to persuade the American people that the communists are out to get us," Kelly told the conference. "If we win the war ideas, we will win everywhere else."'

Despite Ronald Reagan's decisive victory in 1980, the administration still had a hard sell in promoting its counterinsurgency plans for Central America. Reagan-Bush hardliners saw the region as a crucial front in an escalating Cold War. But many Americans remained doubtful. The pain of the Vietnam War, which had ended only six years earlier, had not been forgotten.

The Reagan-Bush hardliners also stumbled out of the starting blocks, seeming to side too forcefully with unsavory right-wing military regimes in countries, such as El Salvador and Guatemala. While most Americans weren't fans of the leftist Sandinistas who had seized power from the j, Somoza military dictatorship in Nicaragua, the idea of supporting the 147 remnants of that ousted government wasn't very appealing either.

Clumsily, the Reagan-Bush team sought to defend the Salvadoran military from allegations that its soldiers had participated in the rape-murder four American churchwomen on December 2, 1980.

Jeane Kirkpatrick, Reagan's nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said, "I don't think the government [of El Salvador] was responsible. The nuns were not just nuns; the nuns were political activists. We ought to be a little more clear-cut about this than we usually are. They were political activists on behalf of the [leftist opposition] Frente and somebody who is using violence to oppose the Frente killed them."

In the early days of the Reagan-Bush administration, that anger often was directed at mainstream journalists who reported about the ongoing slaughter in Central America. One of the conservatives' favorite targets became Raymond Bonner, who reported on the Salvadoran violence for The New York Times and traced much of the killing to government security forces. The fury against Bonner reached a peak in late January 1982 after he and Washington Post reporter Alma Guillermoprieto reported on an alleged massacre by the Salvadoran army of civilians in and around the remote village of El Mozote in the northeastern Morazan province of El Salvador.

In a front-page article on January 27, 1982, Bonner reported that the Atlacati Battalion, the first U.S.-trained Salvadoran army unit, had killed about 800 men, women and children after seizing the village in December 1981. A similar story by Guillermoprieto appeared the same day in The Washington Post, as President Reagan was preparing the next day to certify that the Salvadoran security forces were making a "concerted" effort to respect human rights and the government was "achieving substantial control over all elements of its own armed forces," a prerequisite for continuing military aid.

As pieced together a dozen years later by The New Yorker's Mark Danner - after forensic investigations of the site and interviews with survivors - the Salvadoran soldiers began the massacre on December 11. The soldiers bound the hands of the men, executing them by using machetes for decapitations and automatic rifles fired at their heads. The women were the next to die, with younger ones including girls as young as 10, first being taken to the hills to be gang-raped before being killed. The older women were dragged into a house and were shot to death.

The screaming children were locked in another house. Soldiers entered and began hacking the children with machetes or using rifle butts to smash the children's skulls. Other children were herded into the church sacristy and were shot by soldiers using U.S.-supplied M-16s. Still other children were burned alive when the soldiers set the buildings on fire. The massacre extended to other populated areas outside the village of El Mozote.

Though the articles by Bonner and Guillermoprieto lacked some of those details, they described a major massacre occurring in El Mozote, causing serious embarrassment for President Reagan, who issued the required human rights certification anyway. To check on the reports, the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador sent two officials, Todd Greentree and John McKay, to Morazan province. They interviewed terrified refugees and concluded that "there had been a massacre," but could not reach the site of the massacre because of ongoing military activity.

Greentree and McKay reported the results of their trip to senior embassy officials who then massaged the information into a cable for transmission to Washington. The cable minimized evidence of Salvadoran military guilt. One diplomat who worked on the cable said the embassy knew that the White House didn't want confirmation of the massacre, so the report was drafted "intentionally devoid of judgment."'

In Washington, the watered-down cable gave the administration an opening to delete even the mixed results of the Greentree-McKay mission and simply challenge the newspaper stories as unfounded. Assistant secretaries of state Thomas Enders and Elliott Abrams went up to Capitol Hill where they denounced the El Mozote massacre stories as false or at least wildly exaggerated.

"There is no evidence to confirm that government forces systematically massacred civilians in the operations zone, or that the number of civilians even remotely approached the 733 or 926 victims cited in the press," Enders testified. He dismissed the two newspaper articles with the observation that "there were probably not more than 300" people living in El Mozote at the time, a clever sleight of hand since Enders referred to the village's normal population - not including the surrounding areas and not taking into account refugees who had fled into the village during the military sweep. International aid workers estimated the area's population at about 1,000 in December 1981.

The Enders-Abrams testimony signaled open season on Bonner and The New York Times. Accuracy in Media, the right-wing press watchdog group, and The Wall Street Journal's editorial page led the attacks, accusing Bonner of alleged leftist sympathies and gullibility for accepting a supposedly bogus story from Marxist guerrillas. A lead Wall Street Journal editorial called Bonner "overly credulous." The combined attacks from the administration and the conservative press, singling out an individual New York Times journalist, sent chills down the spines of reporters and editors at leading news outlets throughout Washington and New York.

As the pressure built, Times executive editor Abe Rosenthal flew to Central America to assess the complaints first-hand. Considered by many to be politically neoconservative with strong sympathies for Reagan-Bush foreign policies, Rosenthal soon limited Bonner's role in the Times' bureau and word spread that Bonner would be recalled.

When I was in El Salvador on an Associated Press reporting assignment in fall 1982, I spent some time with two senior U.S. officials in the region who claimed credit for orchestrating Bonner's ouster. "We finally got rid of that son of a bitch," a ranking U.S. military officer told me. In early 1983, Rosenthal did recall Bonner from Central America and stuck him in an obscure job on the business desk in New York. Bonner soon resigned from the Times.

The Reagan-Bush administration had similar public relations problems with Guatemala, another Central American country dominated by a right-wing oligarchy and kept in line by a repressive security service long renowned for torture and assassination. Despite that reputation, the Reagan-Bush administration sought to overturn or circumvent human rights embargoes that the Carter administration had imposed on Guatemala. The Reagan-Bush hardliners saw Guatemala as another important front in America's battle to hold off the ascendant Soviet superpower. In that view, virtually anything was justified, a position shared by the Guatemalan military.

"Believing that the ends justified everything, the military and the state security forces blindly pursued the anticommunist struggle, without respect for any legal principles or the most elemental ethical and religious values, and in this way, completely lost any semblance of human morals," stated Christian Tomuschat, a German jurist who was chairman of Guatemala's official Historical Clarification Commission, which issued a report in 1999 on decades of human rights abuses. "Within the framework of the counterinsurgency operations carried out between 1981 and 1983, in certain regions of the country agents of the Guatemalan state committed acts of genocide against groups of the Mayan people."

The commission's report documented that in the 1980s, the Guatemalan army committed 626 massacres against Mayan villages. The army "completely exterminated Mayan communities, destroyed their livestock and crops," the report said. In the north, the report termed the slaughter a "genocide." The report concluded that the U.S. government also gave money and training to a Guatemalan military that committed "acts of genocide" against the Mayans.'

"The massacres that eliminated entire Mayan villages ... are neither perfidious allegations nor figments of the imagination, but an authentic chapter in Guatemala's history," the commission said. Besides carrying out murder and "disappearances," the army routinely engaged in torture and rape. "The rape of women, during torture or before being murdered, was a common practice" by the military and paramilitary forces, the report said. The commission also found that the "government of the United States, through various agencies including the CIA, provided direct and indirect support for some [of these] state operations."

The commission estimated that the Guatemalan conflict claimed some 200,000 lives with the worst of the bloodletting occurring in the 1980s. Based on a review of about 20 percent of the dead, the panel blamed the army for 93 percent of the killings and leftist guerrillas for three percent. Four percent were listed as unresolved. The report did not single out culpable individuals either in Guatemala or the United States.

So, in the early 1980s - as this bloodbath was underway - the new Reagan-Bush administration faced a challenge cleaning up the image of the Guatemalan government. As in El Salvador, a favored administration technique was to discredit anyone presenting information about Guatemala's human rights abuses. That strategy was pursued even though the U.S. government was aware that the Guatemalan security forces were guilty of widespread abuses, as revealed in the administration's own internal documents. According to "secret" cables, the CIA was confirming Guatemalan government massacres in 1981-82 even as the administration was deflecting questions about Guatemala's record and moving to loosen a military aid ban.

In April 1981, for instance, a secret CIA cable described a massacre at Cocob, near Nebaj in the Ixil Indian territory. According to the cable, government troops on April 17, 1981, attacked the area believed to support leftist guerrillas. The cable cited a CIA source saying "the social population appeared to frilly support the guerrillas" and "the soldiers were forced to fire at anything that moved." The CIA cable added that "the Guatemalan authorities admitted that 'many civilians' were killed in Cocob, many of whom undoubtedly were non-combatants."

Despite the CIA account and other similar reports, Reagan permitted Guatemala's army to buy $3.2 million in military trucks and jeeps in June 1981. To permit the sale, Reagan removed the vehicles from a list of military equipment that was covered by the human rights embargo. Apparently confident of the Reagan-Bush administration's support, the Guatemalan government continued its political repression without apology.

In March 1982, General Efrain Rios Montt seized power in Guatemala in a military coup. An avowed fundamentalist Christian, he immediately impressed Washington where President Reagan hailed Rios Montt as "a man of great personal integrity." But under Rios Montt, the slaughter in the countryside and selective assassinations in the cities only grew worse.

By July 1982, Rios Montt had begun a new scorched-earth campaign called his "rifles and beans" policy. The slogan meant that pacified Indians would get "beans," while all others could expect to be the target of army "rifles." In October, he secretly gave carte blanche to the feared "Archivos" intelligence unit to expand "death squad" operations. Based at the Presidential Palace, the "Archivos" masterminded many of Guatemala's most notorious assassinations.

The U.S. embassy was soon hearing more accounts of the army conducting Indian massacres. However, during a swing through Latin America, Reagan discounted the mounting reports of hundreds of Mayan villages being eradicated. On December 4, 1982, after meeting with dictator Rios Montt, Reagan hailed the general as "totally dedicated to democracy" and asserted that Rios Montt's government was "getting a bum rap."

On January 7, 1983, Reagan lifted the ban on military aid to Guatemala and authorized the sale of $6 million in military hardware. Approval covered spare parts for UH-1H helicopters and A-37 aircraft used in counterinsurgency operations. Radios, batteries and battery chargers were also in the package. State Department spokesman John Hughes said political violence in the cities had "declined dramatically" and that rural conditions had improved, too.

In February 1983, however, a secret CIA cable noted a rise in "suspect right-wing violence" with kidnappings of students and teachers. Bodies of victims were appearing in ditches and gullies. CIA sources traced these political murders to Rios Montt's order to the "Archivos" in October to "apprehend, hold, interrogate and dispose of suspected guerrillas as they saw fit."

Despite these grisly facts on the ground, the annual State Department human rights survey praised the supposedly improved human rights situation in Guatemala. "The overall conduct of the armed forces had improved by late in the year" 1982, the report stated.

The Nicaraguan contras - short for counterrevolutionaries - presented the Reagan-Bush administration with another public-relations problem that needed managing. Taking shape from the remnants of dictator Anastasio Somoza's notorious National Guard, the contras represented an unruly lot who operated along Nicaragua's northern border with Honduras. The administration saw the contras as a weapon to stop the spread of revolution in Central America and eventually to drive the Sandinistas from power. But the contras soon gained their own reputation for brutality, rape and drug trafficking - a reality that needed shielding from the American people.

By 1981, the contras were under the tutelage of Argentine intelligence officers, fresh from their own "dirty war" that had killed thousands of Argentines, many after arrest and torture and many without acknowledgement of a victim's fate. That practice of "disappearing" political dissidents was already being called the "Argentine method" as it spread through Central America and was adopted by the Salvadoran and Guatemalan security forces.

The dispatch of Argentine trainers to Central America to work with the contras was also not out of character. As a member of the Chilean-led crossborder assassination program, known as Condor, Argentina's security services were already active in an international crusade against communists and leftists. Plus, the Sandinistas had given refuge to a number of hunted South American leftists. So training the contras, in many ways, was a logical extension of Argentina's duties within the Condor operation.

Argentina's contingent of contra trainers was headed by Colonel Osvaldo Ribeiro, considered an expert in the tactics of "disappearances." Ribeiro helped the initial contra force coalesce as "the Fifteenth of September Legion" behind a former Somoza National Guard officer, Colonel Enrique Berrnudez. The initial contra force was soon engaging in acts of terrorism, including an assault on a Costa Rican radio station that was broadcasting news critical of the Argentine "dirty war." Three Costa Ricans died in the attack.

Inside Honduras, the Argentines also organized the contras into roving "death squads" that helped the Honduran military "disappear" almost 200 labor leaders, students and other political activists during the 1980s, according to an official report issued by Honduran human rights ombudsman Leo Valladares in 1993. The report, entitled "The Facts Speak for Themselves," identified for blame a dozen of the contras' Argentine advisers, including Ribeiro, and the group's money-launderer Leonardo Sanchez Reisse.

Valladares said "systematic, clandestine and organized" disappearances in Honduras started in 1979, coinciding with the arrival of the Argentine military advisers who began training the contras. As in Argentina's "dirty war," many Honduran victims were kidnapped, taken to clandestine jails, and tortured before secret execution, the human rights report said.

Another secret tactic passed on to the contras was how to finance operations through drug trafficking and drug money laundering. According to Argentine money-launderer and contra trainer Sanchez-Reisse, Argentine intelligence arranged an early flow of drug money into the contras' coffers. In closed testimony to Senator John Kerry's contra-drug investigation in 1987, Sanchez-Rejsse said Bolivian drug kingpin Roberto Suarez earmarked more than $30 million to support right-wing paramilitary operations in Central and South America, including the contra war.

Sanchez-Rejsse, who oversaw the operation's money laundering, said the drug money first helped finance a 1980 military coup in Bolivia that ousted a democratically elected left-of-center government. Argentine intelligence officers - and a cadre of European neo-Nazis - assisted in the putsch, which became known as the Cocaine Coup because it gave the drug lords free run of the country.

Sanchez-Reisse said he and an Argentine neo-fascist "death squad" leader named Raul Guglielminetti oversaw the Miami-based moneylaundering front that shared some profits with the contras. Sanchez-Reisse

The Cocaine Coup had its own extraordinary history. One organizer of the Bolivian coup was World War II Nazi fugitive Klaus Barbie, the notorious "Butcher of Lyon" who was working as a Bolivian intelligence officer under the name Klaus Altmann

... On July 17, 1980, the Cocaine Coup unfolded, spearheaded by Barbie and his neo-fascist acolytes who went by the name Flances of Death. "The masked thugs were not Bolivian; they spoke Spanish with German, French and Italian accents," wrote Michael Levine, an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent operating in South America. "Their uniforms bore neither national identification nor any markings, although many of them wore Nazi swastika armbands and insignias."

... To DEA agent Levine back in Buenos Aires, it was soon clear "that the primary goal of the revolution was the protection and control of Bolivia's cocaine industry. All major drug traffickers in prison were released, after which they joined the neo-Nazis in their rampage. Government buildings were invaded and trafficker files were either carried off or burned. Government employees were tortured and shot, the women tied and repeatedly raped by the paramilitaries and the freed traffickers."

... "Bolivia soon became the principal supplier of cocaine base to the fledgling Colombian cartels, making themselves the main suppliers of cocaine to the United States," Levine said. Cartel money-launderer Ramon Milian Rodriguez corroborated the importance of the Bolivian supply line for the Colombian cartels in the early days. "Bolivia was much more significant than other countries, " Milian Rofriguez said in testimony to Senator Kerry's contra-drug investigation on April 6, 1988.

Secrecy & Privilege

Home Page