Ray McGovern is a retired CIA officer. McGovern was employed under seven US presidents for over 27 years, presenting the morning intelligence briefings at the White House under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. McGovern was born and raised in the Bronx, graduated summa cum laude from Fordham University, received an M.A. in Russian Studies from Fordham, a certificate in Theological Studies from Georgetown University, and graduated from Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program. McGovern now works for “Tell the Word,” a ministry of the inner-city/Washington Church of the Saviour, which sent him forth four weeks ago to join other Justice people on “The Audacity of Hope,” the U.S. Boat to Gaza.
Paul Jay, Senior Editor, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
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The Petraeus affair continues to unravel. And as this is the fall of a great American hero, we are told, it of course generates a lot of heat in the press. And who comes next as head of the CIA?
Now joining us to talk about all of this is Ray McGovern. Ray was an analyst at the CIA for 27 years. He helped prepare the president’s daily briefing under Nixon, Ford, and Reagan. He now works for, amongst other things, Tell the Word, a publishing extension of the Church of the Savior in inner-city Washington. He’s a regular contributor to The Real News. Thanks for joining us, Ray.
So amongst other things, CNN reports today that Petraeus’s spokesman, a guy named Steve Boylan, says on a personal level he sees this—he being Petraeus—sees this as a failure. This is a man who’s never failed at anything. So, Ray, is General Petraeus such a man?
Ray McGovern, CIA Agent (Ret.): No, he’s not such a man, Paul. Tell that to the widows, the families of the folks—over 2,000—who have perished in Afghanistan on a fool’s errand. I’m talking U.S. soldiers, not even the NATO soldiers. Tell that to the 4,000-plus that perished in Iraq. Tell that to the 4 million—4 million—Iraqis that were displaced from that war. Now, we’re not talking the ones that were killed. The ones that were killed, there are estimates between 100,000 and 1 million. We’re talking about 2 million internal refugees and 2 million Iraqis outside in the [crosstalk]
Jay: Now, the thing is, he is a general. He gets ordered to do these things. So you can’t pin all this on him.
McGovern: Well, if you look at Afghanistan alone, you know, he kept saying, there’s progress, there’s great progress. But it’s fragile and it’s reversible. So, you know, if I’m no longer commanding the forces there, it could become reversible. Okay? He comes back and heads up the CIA. And then what do you see him doing? Supporting his favorite war in Afghanistan, and even more, trying to gin up more opposition to Iran by creating the kind of “intelligence” (in quotes) that Dick Cheney and George Tenet used to create.
I remember it was just a couple of years ago he was in Iraq at the time, maybe five years ago, and Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came and announced to the press Petraeus has found a whole cache of Iranian-supplied, freshly supplied weaponry right outside Baghdad here, and in just ten days he’s going to have—bring you out there and show you. Guess what? Nothing happened. They cancelled the press conference because there were no Iranian freshly supplied weapons. Petraeus likes to make stuff up, okay? And that’s really not what you should be doing, either as a general or as the head of the CIA.
He’s also had other—I remember this year, when the big worldwide threat briefing was given to Congress by Clapper, who is the director of national intelligence, and sitting next to him is Petraeus and the head of the DIA, Defense Intelligence Agency. So Clapper is very careful. To his great credit, he says, Iran has not yet decided to build a nuclear weapon. Well, to translate that into layman’s terms, Iran is not working on a nuclear weapon. Now, Petraeus, what do you think? Petraeus says, Iran is regarded as an existential threat to Israel—existential threat, existential threat. Says it three times. Then [incompr.] what we know is he met with the head of Mossad, okay, the Israeli intelligence agency, ten days before he said those things. And the guy from Mossad, the head of Mossad, said, we don’t really consider the Iranians as a, you know, existential threat.
So he’s playing to the neocons, whose darling he’s always been, both on Iraq and Iran. This business about the surge in Iraq, the talk about him not failing, well, you know, what that was was ethnic cleansing. Okay? Now, he may have not failed Cheney and Bush, because that was the whole deal—you stop the definitive loss of the war until Cheney and Bush can ride into the western sunset on their horses. But what it involved was putting 30,000 U.S. troops in a sort of cordon so the Sunnis could change Baghdad, a city of maybe 6 million, okay, from a predominantly Sunni city into a predominantly—I’m sorry—yeah, from a prominently Sunny into a predominantly Shia city. And why was there a diminution eventually in violence? Because there were no Sunnis for the Shia militia to shoot at. Okay?
Now, some people might consider that to be, you know, never-failing, but that’s not my idea. My idea is that you recognize these things as a fool’s errand. You do what we infantry officers used to do: have a little checklist, you know, before you go into a major operation. You know, what do you do? Well, you sort of find out how many enemy there are, are they armed, find out the morale of the enemy, are they likely to capture. You know. And then, you know, the other things are weather, terrain. Look at those maps.
Jay: If you go back to this Iran—the differences on Iran, we had the National Intelligence Estimate a few years ago which said Iran is not planning to build a bomb. And the more recent things you’re describing—some differences in terms of Petraeus’s role and what’s coming in terms of other parts of the intelligence community and maybe what the Obama administration wants, what does that tell us (if anything, ’cause it’s hard to know the details) about why this affair wasn’t covered up? I mean, you’d think when someone at this level gets involved in this stuff, they would at least try to make it go away. And quite the contrary here. They let it blow up.
McGovern: That is very unusual, and it’s guesswork on my part. But I think it’s true he probably went to Jim Clapper, who is the director of national intelligence, who says, you know, I’ve got this problem, okay. Maybe I should resign. And my notion of what Clapper said: I think that’s probably a good idea under the circumstances. Now they’re glad to get rid of him. They want to have a rapprochement or at least some direct contacts with Iran, without these neocons represented by Petraeus backbiting behind him. They want to—.
Jay: Because they could then release various kinds of information that would make it look—another supposed assassination attempt or whatever.
McGovern: Yeah, which—right. That already happened, this Iranian-American car salesman, okay, the fellow who was the major source for this attempted assassination of the Saudi Ambassador in Washington. It turns out he’s bipolar. How do we know that? His defense team has argued before the courts. But this guy here’s a real wreck. He’s a psychiatric case. He’s bipolar. You’ve got to give him a break. Now, that’s a great thing, to have a primary intelligence source being bipolar, talking to DEA on one hand and then trying to get the Iranians to blow up the Saudi ambassador. Come on, you know, who—.
Jay: Okay. Let’s go, then, to what next, because when it came to military affairs, President Obama simply continued Bush policy, and he leaves Gates in place, then he moves Petraeus over to the CIA, I mean, all moves that President Bush did and probably a President McCain would have done. So, I mean, I don’t know that there’s any reason to think a President Obama’s going to do anything differently in the second term than in the first. But what would you like to see him do?
McGovern: Well, he’s got some space now. Okay? He does have to nominate somebody to take Petraeus’s place. That’s big. He’s got some options. And the big deals, of course, are Afghanistan and no problems with Iran. And so if he has any sense, any backbone, he’ll pick somebody good, like Chas Freeman.
Jay: Tell people who Chas Freeman is.
McGovern: Chas Freeman is about the most respected analyst, diplomat, military guy. He was ambassador to Saudi Arabia. He was a translator in Chinese for one of the—for Bush, for the president that went over there. And he’s just a really bright guy. And he was nominated to be head of the National Intelligence Council, which has purview over all these estimates, okay, the supreme estimates, okay. Now, what happened was he took the job, okay, and he’s in place for six hours when the Israeli lobby does him in, because he’s not sufficiently—meaning 110 percent—in favor of whatever Israel does. They derailed him. They ousted him. And he was very obvious, very clear in indicating why he was ousted and how much he resented it.
Well, he’s still around. You know. That would be perfect. You know, he would really be able to give some balance to all these policies. He knows which end is up. So there’s a possibility.
We have Paul Pillar, who was the head of the National Intelligence Council work on the Middle East and who was at Georgetown, still there a little bit. You know, he—all these people are out—Larry Wilkerson, who worked for Colin Powell, he knows which end is up. Okay?
Jay: But you take a guy like Larry—Larry Wilkerson advocates now a completely different approach to foreign policy, and essentially he wants to see the United States wind down being an empire and just worry about defending itself.
Jay: But President Obama does not seem to be on that page.
McGovern: No, but he needs to hear that. You know, that’s the whole deal. He never hears this stuff. He’s sort of naive with respect to foreign policy is what I think. And he has to give due credence to the generals because of his political equities, but he never hears from the likes of Paul Pillar or Andrew Bacevich or Chas Freeman. There were a whole bunch of people—Larry, Larry Wilkerson—who are working on this, are as experienced and knowledgeable about these things than anybody around. And what does he do? He turns to the neocons and the people who were left over. That’s what he’s done so far. My hope is that he’ll say, hey—or even better, that he told Clapper or he told the White House, yeah, let this guy go, you know, good riddance, I don’t have to worry about him anymore. I think that’s probably the case. And if so, then he has this space, of which I just spoke. And if he lets Mike Morrell, who’s the guy who never caused anybody any trouble—and that’s how he bubbled up to be deputy director now—.
Jay: Who’s now the acting director.
McGovern: Acting director. If he lets him stay in place for a while, that would be understandable, but if he appoints him to be the director. And this is a guy who did just what John Brennan did, you know, in sort of being chief of staff for George Tenet, you know, slam-dunk George Tenet. President wants to do a war; our job is to find him some intelligence to justify it. Okay. So you’ve got Brennan there. Brennan’s in the White House now. He couldn’t be confirmed as director of the CIA. And I’m sure he’s whispering in Obama’s ear, you know, give Mike Morrell a chance now. He’s a really great guy. I know a lot of people still in the agency. All I can say is that Morrell has just a little bit more credibility and respect than Petraeus himself, and that’s not much.
Jay: Alright. Thanks for joining us, Ray, and we’ll see whether President Obama takes this opportunity. Don’t hold your breath.
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