Steve January 13, 2021

From Consortium News:

In nominating former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns to be CIA director,
President-elect Joe Biden has chosen a highly experienced diplomat to lead a
hydra-headed agency.

if past is precedent, the highest hydras who head calcified fiefdoms at CIA
can be expected to resist any real control from the top. They are more likely
to try to co-opt top management or make end runs around it. This is not new.

senior CIA operations officers, in particular, have never been comfortable with
meaningful supervision, lest it lead to reining them in or impinging on their
ample budgets. With secrecy always in play (including strict application of
the “need-to-know” principle), Burns will need a good deputy – preferably a
strong outsider – to avoid being blind-sided – or diddled.

lacks proven experience managing organizations as large and variegated as the
agency, so the jury is out on whether he will be able to do it.

endemic challenge is to ensure that substantive intelligence analysis is not
tainted by CIA’s operations. In recent years, analysts have been thrown together
with operations officers, making it very difficult for analysts to maintain
the distance needed to evaluate objectively the efficacy of policies and actions
in which operations colleagues close by are fully engaged.

Far Cry From Truman’s Vision

Harry S. Truman wanted a CIA to which he could turn to get unbiased reporting
– “without treatment” is the way he put it. He became very critical of what
he saw the CIA become.

one month after John Kennedy was assassinated, the Washington Post published
an op-ed titled “Limit CIA Role to Intelligence.” The first sentence of that
op-ed on Dec. 22, 1963, read, “I think it has become necessary to take another
look at the purpose and operations of our Central Intelligence Agency.”

op-ed author was Truman himself, who spearheaded the establishment of the CIA
right after World War II to better coordinate U.S. intelligence gathering. [Full
text of Truman piece.]

the spy agency had lurched off in what Truman thought were troubling
. And not only Truman. Sadly, the concerns expressed in that op-ed
– namely that he had inadvertently helped create a Frankenstein monster – are
as valid today as they were in late 1963, if not more so.

CIA’s focus had by then become a far cry, in Truman’s words, from “the original
reason why I thought it necessary to organize this Agency … and what I expected
it to do.” It was “charged with the collection of all intelligence reports from
every available source, and to have those reports reach me as President without
Department ‘treatment’ or interpretations.”

Full text of Truman op-ed in Capital Times. (Click to enlarge)

As the agency’s operational side accumulates more and more funding and is more
and more drawn into paramilitary operations, drone targeting and the like, Burns
faces a formidable challenge to gain control of it.

will need to pry CIA analysts away from their roles supporting (and instinctively
rooting for) those operations, and create enough distance for them to objectively
weigh the efficacy and the wider fallout and implications. This would help move
the agency back on track after decades of politicization – and at times, prevarication.


can be counted on to help Biden resuscitate the Iran nuclear deal – the more
so, since Burns played a key role in getting the negotiations with Iran started.
He has argued that the nuclear deal from which President Tweety McTreason withdrew
makes the whole region safer, including Israel.

knows better than most that he has an important National Intelligence Estimate
on Iran’s nuclear posture to cite as a model of the kind of painstaking, serious
analysis that can help prevent unnecessary war.

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney bemoaned the fact that that particular NIE,
published in November 2007, did much to spike their plans for an attack on Iran
during their last year in office. The Estimate stated unanimously, with high
confidence, that Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon at the end of
2003 and had not resumed it. That judgment has been reasserted in the years

Intelligence Without Fear or Favor

said Monday that Burns “shares my profound belief that intelligence must be
apolitical …”. There are some early hints that Burns has the substantive depth,
skill, and courage to ensure that this happens in the ranks of agency analysts.

we know of Burns’s performance – particularly as ambassador to Russia (2005-2008)
– suggests that he will shy away from fudging things and, in turn, encourage
substantive analysts to follow his example and speak candidly to superiors.
Former senior State Department officials I contacted on Monday share this view.

Moscow With Candor: Burns a Straight Shooter

then Secretary of State James Baker’s promise to Mikhail Gorbachev in early
Feb. 1990 that NATO would not move “one inch” east from the borders of a reunited
Germany, by early 2008, NATO had already added ten new members: the Czech Republic,
Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and
Slovenia. NATO relations with Russia plummeted and there was no sign Washington
policymakers gave a damn.

rumors that Ukraine and Georgia would soon be in queue for NATO membership,
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Feb. 1, 2008 called in Ambassador
Burns to read him the riot act.

subject line of Burns’s
CONFIDENTIAL cable #182 of Feb. 1
, in which he reported Lavrov’s remarks
to Washington, shows that Burns played it straight, choosing not to mince his
own or Lavrov’s words: “Nyet means nyet: Russia’s NATO enlargement redlines,”
he wrote. (This embassy Moscow cable
is among those leaked by Chelsea Manning to WikiLeaks.
has been largely ignored in Western media.)


“Following a muted first reaction to Ukraine’s intent to seek a NATO Membership
Action Plan at the [upcoming] Bucharest summit, Foreign Minister Lavrov and
other senior officials have reiterated strong opposition, stressing that Russia
would view further eastward expansion as a potential military threat. NATO
enlargement, particularly to Ukraine, remains an emotional and neuralgic issue
for Russia, but strategic policy considerations also underlie strong opposition
to NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia. In Ukraine, these include fears
that the issue could potentially split the country in two, leading to violence
or even, some claim, civil war, which would force Russia to decide whether
to intervene.
…” [Emphasis added.]

took some courage to tell then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Russia
is entitled to have “strategic policy considerations” and that Moscow might
have to decide to intervene.

So, it is not as though Secretary Rice and other US policymakers were not warned,
in very specific terms, of Russia’s redline on Ukrainian membership in NATO.

on April 3, 2008, the final declaration at a NATO summit in Bucharest asserted:
“NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership
in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO.”

before Lavrov called Burns onto the carpet, former Sen. Bill Bradley, a longtime
expert on Russia and a sober-minded policy analyst, said he was deeply troubled
at the relentless expansion of NATO.

In a Jan. 23, 2008
before the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs,
he sounded a disconsolate note, describing NATO expansion a “terribly sad thing
… a blunder of monumental proportions… .“ As tensions increased with Russia,
Bradley added, “Right now we are confronted with something that could have easily
been avoided.”

It’s a safe bet that Burns was similarly troubled. That he expressed
this clearly – however diplomatically – sets him off from mealy-mouthed

Ukraine Coup

years later, on Feb. 22, 2014, the U.S.-pushed a putsch in Ukraine.

reaction was predictable – actually pretty much predicted (if anyone read Burns’s
cable) by the Russians themselves – and should have come as no surprise to Washington.

for Western media the Ukrainian story begins on Feb. 23, 2014, when Putin and
his advisers decided to move quickly to thwart NATO’s designs on Ukraine and
take back Crimea where Russia’s only warm-water naval base has been located
since the days of Catherine the Great.

US officials (and The New York Times) have made it a
practice to white-out the coup d’etat
in Kiev and to begin recent European
history with Russia’s immediate reaction, thus the relentless presentation of
these events as simply “Russian aggression,” as if Russia instigated the crisis,
not the US

the EU” (and Russia too)

Thus far the words of then Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland seemed
intent on giving a new dimension to the proverbial “cookie-pushing” role of
US diplomats.

Recall the photo showing Nuland, in a metaphor of overreach, as she reached
deep into a large plastic bag to give anti-government demonstrators on the square
cookies before the putsch.

More important, recall her amateurish, boorish use of an open telephone to
plot regime change in Ukraine with a fellow neocon, then U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey
Pyatt. Crass US interference in Ukrainian affairs can be heard) in an intercepted
conversation posted on YouTube on Feb. 4, 2014 – 18 days before the coup,
in which she says Biden would play a central role in installing the coup government.

Nuland is reportedly Biden’s choice for undersecretary of state for political
affairs. Her foul tongue is not likely to derail her nomination; neither will
her role in orchestrating the coup. If she is confirmed, it is a safe bet she
will seek other capitals in which to peddle cookies. How will Burns respond
when she asks for the support of his people to help nail things down –
as in Kiev in 2014?

Good Listener

State Department alumni contacts tell me the soft-spoken Burns has a good reputation
and is an intent listener. I had a chance to observe that up close when I took
part in a Carnegie Endowment-sponsored briefing by James Clapper, during the
Q and A which Burns moderated. Burns is the president of the endowment. Clapper
was hawking his memoir.

had been in charge of satellite imagery analysis before the March 2003 attack
on Iraq so I asked him how it could be that no weapons of mass destruction were
found. The answer was right there in his book. Clapper
wrote: “The blame is due to intelligence
officers, including me, who were so eager to help [the administration make war
on Iraq] that we found what wasn’t really there.”

[Emphasis added.]

Burns did not use his position as moderator to rise to the rescue of Clapper
and cut off the dialogue, but rather allowed the two of us to debate
for several minutes.


who remember the optimism I expressed
12 years ago when Leon Panetta was nominated to head the CIA can add a pinch
of salt to my positive, but guarded expectations for William Burns as CIA director.


“In choosing Leon Panetta to take charge of the CIA, President-elect Barack
Obama has shown he is determined to put an abrupt end to the lawlessness and
deceit with which the administration of George W. Bush has corrupted intelligence
operations and analysis.”

all appearances, Panetta fell in with the prevailing culture and became the
agency’s lawyer rather than its leader. The hope is that William Burns will
change the culture at CIA, and not be changed by it.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical
Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His 27-year career as a CIA
analyst includes serving as Chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and preparer/briefer
of the President’s Daily Brief. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals
for Sanity (VIPS).

Author: Ray McGovern

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. In the Sixties he served as an infantry/intelligence officer and then became a CIA analyst for the next 27 years. He is on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
View all posts by Ray McGovern

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