POSTSCRIPT: Since filing this post, the US government has issued another report claiming that Putin hacked the DNC and via this and other processes set out to deliberately aid Trump and damage Clinton’s prospects of winning the presidential election. But the agencies, including the CIA, declined to provide evidence to back up this claim. As The Hill put it: ‘The bombshell document details the intelligence community’s findings but provides little in the way of forensic evidence backing up its assessment, citing the need to protect sources and methods.’ So here’s the choice: believe the guys who lied about Iraq’s WMD’s and missed the fall of the Soviet Union, or retain a healthy skepticism. As for me, I would prefer to push my fingers through the holes in the hand before making up my mind.
I have just started reading John Nixon’s book on the CIA’s interrogation of Saddam Hussein, who he says had virtually handed over the reins of power in Iraq to underlings and was much more interested in writing his novel than in pursuing the manufacture of WMD’s when the US decided to invade his country in 2001.
The CIA knew absolutely nothing of this state of affairs in 2001 and when told of it by Nixon preferred to ignore the underlying message, which was that the whole basis of the invasion was deeply flawed and dishonest. Nixon’s view is that the CIA is a highly political outfit and tailors the intel it provides to serving presidents according to the agency’s reading of the president’s political prejudices.
So when it came to invading Iraq, the CIA gave the Bush White House the intel it knew that the neocons wanted to read, which was that Saddam was beavering away at his stockpile of nukes and chemical weapons.
It is worth bearing this in mind when trying to assess the truth or otherwise of the claims that Vladimir Putin’s Russia hacked the DNC email server and provided the resulting material to Julian Assange so as to undermine Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump in their respected campaigns to win the White House.
The men who currently head the US intelligence establishment are in the main political appointees, placed in their positions of power by the Obama White House whose Secretary of State was Hillary Clinton. They will be gone in a few weeks when Trump replaces them with his own people. None of this is to say that this serves as proof that the allegation against Putin are fanciful; but it does raise a reasonable doubt.
The other point about the CIA is that its track record is pretty woeful and if John Nixon is correct then one reason may be this inbuilt politicisation of its prime function.
The Iraq WMD intel is not the only blunder committed by the CIA, although given the death toll, misery, chaos and danger created in the Middle East as a consequence it qualifies as the most disastrous.
But the CIA made what is arguably the greater blunder when it failed to anticipate the collapse of the Soviet Union, probably the most pivotal political event of the last quarter of the 20th century.
Was that because the CIA was just plain incompetent or because it was so closely wedded to the Cold War, the associated military-industrial complex and the US political interests all this served that it just couldn’t let go?
Here is how The New York Times reported that story. Note how the failure of the CIA’s then director, Robert Gates to notice the most significant political development of his tenure, did not in any way disqualify him from even higher office in both Democratic and Republican White Houses in subsequent years.