The Washington Post’s David Broder, the so-called Dean of DC Punditry, picked up two called strikes last week.
In the run-up to President Barack Obama’s West Point speech on Afghanistan, Broder joined Dick Cheney in accusing the president of “dithering” on the decision and offered the sage advice: “The urgent necessity is to make a decision – whether or not it is right.”
Last week, Broder praised the Congressional testimony of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and bluntly stated that Gates was “incapable of dissembling.” Now, Broder is welcome to his bizarre opinions on war and decision-making, but he cannot make up his own facts about one of the key decision-makers in the Obama administration. One more strike and Broder should be out.
There is probably no better source on Gates’ lack of veracity than Lawrence E. Walsh, the independent counsel in the Iran-contra investigation. In his book, “Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-Up,” Walsh documented his case against Gates, including the testimony of three high-ranking officers who briefed Gates on the diversion of Iranian payments to the contras in Nicaragua. One of these officers was Alan Fiers, the chief of the CIA’s Central American Task Force, who pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and agreed to cooperate with subsequent prosecutions.
Fiers had kept Gates well informed of his contra-support activity through written reports and regular face-to-face presentations. Both Richard Kerr, the CIA’s deputy director for intelligence, and Charles Allen, the CIA’s national intelligence officer for warnings, told Gates about the diversion of funds from the Iranian arms sales. In Congressional testimony, Gates denied having any recollection of these conversations.
Gates also took part in an important meeting with CIA Director William Casey and National Security Council staffer Oliver North, who discussed the Nicaraguan operations and various Swiss bank accounts. But Gates claimed that he was in and out of the room and only recalled North’s observations that the CIA was completely clean regarding the contra-support operation.
Walsh believed that Gates had falsely denied knowledge of contra-support activities and had falsely postdated his first knowledge of the diversion of arms sales proceeds to the contras. Walsh also disbelieved Gates’ testimony about President Ronald Reagan’s retroactive finding purporting to authorize the CIA’s facilitation of missile ships to Iran in order to recover hostages. Walsh and his investigators doubted Gates’ veracity, but decided not to prosecute because they were confronting a situation of “he said; she said.”
It is particularly noteworthy that the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, David Boren (D-Oklahoma), checked with Walsh about the likelihood of Gates being prosecuted for his role in Iran-contra. Boren was chairman of the committee in 1987, when President Ronald Reagan nominated Gates to be director of CIA, and in 1991, when President George H.W. Bush nominated Gates to be director of CIA. In 1987, the Senate Intelligence Committee did not believe that Gates was being truthful about his denials of knowledge regarding Iran-contra, and Boren convinced Gates that he would not survive the committee’s vote. Gates wisely withdrew his nomination.
In 1991, Gates was prepared to withdraw his nomination following testimony and sworn affidavits that documented his politicization of intelligence on the Soviet Union, Central America, Southwest Asia and the Persian Gulf. On this occasion, Boren convinced Gates that he could get him through the confirmation process, and the White House brought in a senior political operative, Kenneth Dubberstein, to manage the nomination. Gates survived, but attracted more negative votes than all other candidates for the position of director in the CIA’s history. The Post’s wonderful cartoonist, Herblock, drew the CIA headquarters with a big banner proclaiming, “Now Under Old Management.”
Boren was willing to stick out his neck for Gates because the senator had a guarantee from the nominee that he would dutifully report all CIA transgressions to the Intelligence Committee chairman. Gates failed the first test of the so-called guarantee, when he covered up evidence of CIA information about Iraqi laundering of US farm credits through an Italian-owned bank to permit Saddam Hussein to procure nuclear-related equipment. Gates was too busy to inform Boren of the laundering; he was engaged in a political campaign against Rep. Henry Gonzalez (D-Texas), who was trying to uncover illegal activity in the Bush administration.
Cover-ups don’t take place accidentally; there has to be a conspiracy at some level to keep an important story from surfacing. In any event, it is unbelievable that Gates, the second-highest officer in the CIA, could forget the details of two covert operations that were of intense personal interest to the president of the United States. Secretary of Defense Gates is not only fully capable of dissembling, he is in fact very good at doing so.