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The purge at CIA

PORTER GOSS, President Bush's new director of central intelligence, has told his staff that their job is to "support the administration and its policies" and cautioned them not to "identify with, support, or champion opposition to the administration." OK, the Central Intelligence Agency is part of the executive branch of government, and it goes without saying that it should support its foreign policy goals.

But wait a minute. CIA, of all the branches of executive power, is not paid simply to charge ahead blindly in the direction the administration points like the Light Brigade at Balaclava: "Theirs not to make reply/ Theirs not to reason why/ Theirs but to do and die." The CIA's job is to use its head and advise, not just blind obedience.

The CIA has been hemorrhaging top-level personnel. Some of the best-trained and senior officers are being forced out. For weeks the administration has been whispering to any journalist within earshot how CIA has not been sufficiently on the president's team, abetted by Senator John McCain's calling CIA a "rogue agency" that leaked information detrimental to Bush's reelection -- "dysfunctional and unaccountable" -- and refusing to change.

There certainly were intelligence failures in the lead-up to 9/11 and the Iraq war. And you can say at any given time and in any given year that someone needs to clean up the mess at CIA. It's like the mess in Washington. There always is one. Goss did go on to say in his memo to the staff that CIA should "provide intelligence as we see it -- and let the facts alone speak to the policymaker." And, on the whole, a good shake-up of any organization helps from time to time.

But that being said, Goss's admonition that CIA's primary duty is to support the administration's policies rather negates and contradicts the notion that CIA should call it as it sees it. There were simply too many drop-in visits by Vice President Cheney to CIA headquarters, just to make sure CIA wasn't missing any Saddam Hussein-Al Qaeda connections prior to the Iraq war, to feel sanguine about that. Nine times out of 10 an intelligence failure is really a policy failure.

It is clear now that the administration planned to invade Iraq before 9/11 and took advantage of a national tragedy to push its agenda. It is also clear that intelligence officers saw that their career paths lay in the direction of proving a driven administration right, not wrong, about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Many did try to point out that the evidence simply wasn't there, but they were overruled at the top.

Many of the recent CIA resignations came from clashes between senior CIA officials and the relatively young and inexperienced but ideologically motivated staff that Goss brought with him from Congress. This is reminiscent of the young and ignorant ideologues who were sent to Iraq, not because they knew anything about Iraq but because the were ideologically pure in the pursuit of administration policies.

There is also the haunting echo of outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft complaining that "intrusive judicial oversight and second-guessing of presidential determinations" were "putting at risk the very security of our nation in time of war." In other words, judges shouldn't question the president's policies either.

And the conventional wisdom concerning Colin Powell's replacement by Condoleezza Rice is that at least now there won't be any back talk and second guessing the president from the State Department. Whatever George Bush wants to hear George Bush will hear.

I am all for a coherent foreign policy, and those who work for the president should carry it out. But the worry is that, flushed with victory, Bush doesn't want to hear dissenting voices from the Powells of this world and doesn't want intelligence to undermine ideology with caution and facts. Bush's second term could be the age of the rubber stamp.

It is also disturbing, and perhaps indicative, that similar purges are not taking place among Pentagon officials whose judgments and decisions were just about as wrong about Iraq as could possibly be. But then, they were on the team.

H.D.S. Greenway's column appears regularly in the Globe. 

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