Politics

Democrats Suffer CIA Amnesia

Liberals spent decades questioning motives and conclusions of U.S. intelligence officials

Democrats seized on December reports that the CIA believes Russia meddled in the U.S. election to draw the direct conclusion that Vladimir Putin tried to help President-Elect Donald Trump.

If the CIA believes it — “Case closed,” say the Democrats.

“Be eternally skeptical of everything you are told … In many instances, these people are trained to lie for a living.”

But the CIA and other U.S. intelligence services have not always been so sacrosanct in the eyes of Democrats. Skepticism — and occasionally, downright hostility — date back to the Cold War. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is not technically a Democrat but caucuses with the party, said during a 1974 debate that the CIA was “a dangerous institution that has got to go.”

That was long before Sanders won election to Congress and he no longer holds that view, but the Vermont liberal was not the only prominent voice on the Left agitating to deep-six the CIA. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat who represented New York in the Senate for 24 years, offered bills in 1991 and 1995 to abolish the spy agency.

“The time has come to ask, with the Cold War over, can we purge the vestiges of this struggle from our laws, our bureaucracy, and most importantly from our way of thinking?” Moynihan said after introducing the 1991 version of his legislation. “Can we muster the will to redefine ourselves?”

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Then-Sen. Dennis DeConcini, (D-Ariz.) offered the Los Angeles Times an unflattering assessment of the CIA in 1993. Its analyses of the Soviet economy were “politically motivated, to build up this big [American] defense,” the senator said.

Rep. Silvestre Reyes, who eventually would become chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, complained in 2003 about the “epiphany in the intelligence community” linking al-Qaida and the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein.

“We now know that the intelligence was cherry-picked and manipulated,” the Texas Democrat told the Associated Press in 2006. In the same article, former Democratic Senate Intelligence Committee aide Jim Currie warned against taking CIA analysts at face value.

“Be eternally skeptical of everything you are told,” the article quoted him as saying. “In many instances, these people are trained to lie for a living.”

Five Democratic senators in 2006 asked then-President George W. Bush to order a new estimate of Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

“There are many questions about the exact nature of Iran’s activities and intentions, the objectives of U.S. policy, and your Administration’s strategy, including the role of diplomacy, sanctions and the potential role of military force,” they wrote. “In order to avoid repeating mistakes made in the run-up to the conflict in Iraq, we must have objective intelligence untainted by political considerations or policy preferences and a comprehensive debate in the Congress about the best short and long-term approaches to resolving the international community’s differences with Iran.”

More recently, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi famously accused the CIA in 2009 of having lied to Congress about the use of waterboarding.

“I am saying that the CIA was misleading the Congress and at the same time the administration was misleading the Congress on weapons of mass destruction,” said Pelosi, who by 2009 was speaker of the House of Representatives. Although acknowledging that she had learned in 2003 that the CIA subjected some terrorists to waterboarding, she said the agency and the administration did not provide a full disclosure of what was happening.

Also in 2009, then-Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) demanded that CIA Director Leon Panetta correct the record regarding a 2006 briefing.

“The list the agency released entitled ‘Member Briefings on Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs),’ shows that House Appropriations Committee defense appropriations staffer Paul Juola was in that briefing on that date,” Obey wrote. “In fact, Mr. Juola recollects that he walked members to the briefing room, met General Hayden and Mr. Walker, who were the briefers, and was told that he could not attend the briefing. We request that you immediately correct this record.”

It’s not as if Democrats had no cause for skepticism. Aside from well-documented intelligence lapses that helped spark the Iraq war, U.S. intelligence services have a long history of failing to anticipate major world events and overestimating — or underestimating — threats. U.S. policymakers, for instance, had advance warning of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, missed the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and did not know India was developing nuclear weapons until the country conducted a test in 1998.

In the early days of the Cold War, intelligence analysts badly overestimated the Soviet Union’s nuclear capability, triggering a reaction that helped spark the arms race. Later, the CIA missed in the other direction. CIA Director John McCone in 1962 ordered a new intelligence assessment after analysts concluded that the Kremlin was too rational to place nuclear weapons in Cuba, according to The Daily Beast. The second assessment concluded that is exactly what the Soviets were doing.

The CIA, in August 1978, according to documents declassified in 2015, offered this rosy assessment of turmoil in the strategically important country of Iran:

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“Iran is not in a revolutionary or even a pre-revolutionary situation. There is dissatisfaction with the Shah’s tight control of the political process, but this does not at present threaten the government. Perhaps most important, the military, far from being a hotbed of conspiracies, supports the monarchy.”

Whoops.

Six months later, the shah had fled Iran and the Islamic revolution that brought Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Khomeini to power was underway.

But when Trump raises questions about the CIA’s conclusions about Russian hacking, Democrats suffer amnesia about these past failures — and their own previous skepticism.

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