THE GATES HEARINGS: October 3, 1991
Excerpts From Questions and Answers at the U.S. Senate's Bob Gates Confirmation Hearing, when Gates was nominated to head the CIA in 1991.
Following are excerpts from questions and answers at a hearing by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence into the nomination of Robert M. Gates to be Director of Central Intelligence, as transcribed by the Federal Information Systems Corporation, a private transcription service. Questions From Senator John Glenn Democrat of Ohio
Q. What was Casey's view of the papal assassination?
A. I think that Mr. Casey was persuaded by Claire Sterling's book, in particular, that the Soviets had in fact been behind, or at least knowledgeable about the attempted assassination of the Pope.
Q. Were his views generally known throughout the agency?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. And do you think that colored any of the writing that went into the reports?
A. Well, I don't know. My recollection is that everybody also knew that John McMahon, the Deputy Director, was just as equally convinced they weren't involved because of the poor trade craft that was involved. He found it hard to believe that the Soviets would associate themselves with such an amateurish undertaking.
Q. You commissioned a panel in 1985 to review the issue, right?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. That was the Cowey, the so-called Cowey Panel?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. . . . The Cowey Report says: "But many of the people thought the paper had an unusual thrust for an intelligence assessment. They thought that calling the paper 'The Case for Soviet Involvement,' and marshaling evidence only for that side stacked the deck in favor of that argument. And ran the risk of appearing biased."
Now, that was the Cowey Report. What was done after that? After that report came out? Anything?
A. . . . The Cowey Report, I think, is explicit in saying that there were no directions from the seventh floor [ the C.I.A.'s executive offices ] . But people at lower levels were influenced in terms of what they thought the seventh floor wanted to hear. . . .
I would say, also, that the Cowey Report was very explicit in saying that I, as D.D.I., tried to distance myself from it because I knew it would be -- that whatever the outcome of the report that it would be susceptible to charges of politicization, whichever conclusion it arrived at. And that may also have accounted for my basic agnosticism. Whom to Believe
Q. So, my problem here in knowing who to believe is a very, very tough one.
Let me quote from Mr. Goodman [ Melvin A. Goodman, a former CIA analyst, who testified against Mr. Gates's confirmation ] . . . . It refers to the 1985 intelligence assessment on the papal-assassination issue as an example of the imposition of intelligence without evidence.
Now, here's what he said with regard to that same assessment: "So what did Bob Gates do? Bob Gates rewrote the key judgments. Bob Gates rewrote the summary. Bob Gates dropped a very interesting scope note that said -- in trying to explain the methodology -- that we only looked at the case for Soviet involvement. We didn't look at any of the evidence -- and I might add, very good evidence from very sensitive sources -- that would have explained, the Soviets were not involved. He dropped that scope note."
Can you go through and give your version of each one of those?
A. Yes, sir. The committee has two sworn statements from those who were directly involved in the preparation of this paper -- Mr. Lance Haus and Ms. Kay Oliver. Their sworn statements make the following statements: That the paper did examine both sides of the argument for Soviet involvement, that the paper was appropriately coordinated and that the removal of the so-called scope note, the drafting of the key judgments and drafting of the cover memos were all handled by, and at the initiative of lower levels of the C.I.A. With no direction from me. . . .
What I think you have here is the contrast between those with first-hand experience -- those who were directly involved in the events, and those who are hearing second hand about what happened. And I think the difference here is that Mr. Goodman was not directly involved and the two analysts who have submitted sworn statements to this committee were, in fact, those who were in charge of the project and actually did these things. I think that's the difference.
Q. Well, O.K. Let me go through this. And I don't have a whole lot of time remaining now. But, did you rewrite the key judgments?
A. No, sir. And these analysts say that I did not.
Q. Did you rewrite the summary?
A. No, sir.
Q. Did you "drop a very interesting scope note that indicated that there were other sensitive sources that would explain the Soviets were not involved."
A. Not according to these analysts, Senator.
Q. Well, I'm asking you, though. I don't want the analysts' opinion. I want yours if you have it.
A. Senator, let me say something that applies to a lot of other things before this committee.
What I've given you this morning I certainly didn't remember. I put that together over the weekend, over the last few days from documents, from testimony from others, from what others have said before this committee, from the documentary evidence available at the agency and from asking questions out at the agency.
As I indicated in my statement, I reviewed something like 2,500 papers and estimates. And I have to admit to you that when I left C.I.A. in 1989, I had no reason to try and stay on top of all these things -- and I probably never was on top of them in terms of remembering them.
And so, to ask me what I specifically recall saying or doing about a specific paper without my being able to go back and look at it or my being able to talk to others who were more directly involved gives me a real problem. And it's not because I have selective amnesia. It's that I did a major data dump when I left C.I.A. There was no reason to keep all that information, in my mind. I never expected to go back to C.I.A. And that was all the past. So that's why I have to rely on the testimony of others.
But you have two sworn statements, as I suggest here, of those who actually drafted the paper, making the comments that I've just described. White House Ties
Q. There is one other area that I'm concerned about a little bit. You . . . had a 1987 speech on the Soviet S.D.I. [ Strategic Defense Initiative, a space-based missile defense program ] and you endorsed the Administration's S.D.I. program. I remember when that came out I was concerned about that because -- and I'd like to find out what your rationale is for that. I don't think the head of the C.I.A. or a high C.I.A. official should become a flak for whatever Administration position that is on the Hill here or being considered.
A. . . . I think that, as I have looked back on it, it seems to me that while the Director of Central Intelligence should not be barred from giving substantive speeches -- because I think some of the speeches that have been given in the past on technology transfer and proliferation and so on have been useful -- I think on balance that the D.C.I. should be very, very careful about undertaking such an effort. And it should be in a way that would be divorced from specific U.S. policies and certainly should not be susceptible to being read as advocacy.
So I would expect to give very, very few speeches on substantive issues, but rather focus, if I were confirmed, when I gave public talks, on the nature of intelligence and the nature of our business and why it's a useful thing to do. Questions
From Senator David L. Boren Democrat of Oklahoma
Q. Let me turn to another area which I find some discrepancy, or at least raises some questions in terms of the testimony we've heard since you testified, and that's the question of your knowledge about the role played by Colonel North [ Oliver L. North, an aide to the National Security Council in the Reagan Administration ] . . . .
My question is this. On Oct. 9, you had this meeting with Colonel North. . . . I believe Mr. Casey was there, and the hostages plane had been shot down [ in Nicaragua and an American, Eugene Hasenfus, had been captured and accused of flying weapons to Nicaraguan rebels ] . And Colonel North, you said by your own recollection, you said that you turned to Colonel North and you asked Colonel North, "Is the C.I.A. clean in this operation?" You asked him in essence to certify that the agency was clean in this matter.
Now, unless you really thought that Mr. North was in some way involved in operating, running this operation, that he had a lot more knowledge of it other than just encouraging the fund raising and encouraging their efforts in a general way. Why would you ask the question? Why would you think he could tell you or not why the C.I.A. was clean unless you thought that he had some role in the operations or unless you had some suspicion that he was involved in the operation?
A. Mr. Chairman, I had earlier asked the Deputy Director for Operations if C.I.A. had had any involvement in the Hasenfus matter and had been told that we had not. And I saw this lunch as an opportunity to inquire of Colonel North whether he was aware, from his contracts with private benefactors, whether there was any chance that proprietaries or anybody else had been involved. I didn't, as I recall in the memo that I did afterward, I didn't just say is C.I.A. clean?
I rather said did he have any reason to believe or any indication that C.I.A. in any way, indirectly or anything else, had any connection with this thing. And it was purely in connection with knowing that he was in touch with the private benefactors. The idea that he was quarterbacking this thing or running it, frankly, based on my own experience with the N.S.C. staff, just never even occurred to me quite honestly, that he was at the hub of this entire operation, as I indicated when I testified a couple of weeks ago. I'd served on the N.S.C. staff under some of the most powerful N.S.C. advisers in our post-war history, and the idea of somebody running a military operation out of the N.S.C. staff would have unthinkable under those circumstances.
And, frankly, while I knew he was in touch with those guys, and so on, the idea that he actually had an operational role frankly I think was beyond the pale as far as I was concerned. Budget Considerations
Q. Two questions for you. One, in light of all the shifts that have occurred in the world and the decline of the likelihood of some of these threats and the reduction of the need for expenditure in some of these major areas -- some have estimated as much as 50 percent of the agency budget going into this area -- do you feel we can find real bottom-line economies, net savings, in the overall intelligence budget to pass on to the American people? Cut the total, to put it bluntly?
And, in addition to trying -- if that's the case, do you think, in addition to making some net cuts that there should also be some areas that we increase? . . .
A. I think there are two dangers in this. One is plucking an arbitrary budget number out of the air and saying, "That looks right" -- either higher or lower or whatever. The other danger is the one that you mentioned, and that is an agency adrift and in search of a mission and trying to find new work to do in order to justify its budget.
And that's why I suggested at the outset of these hearings that I think what is needed on an urgent basis is a top-down review of what the priorities, missions of intelligence -- of American intelligence ought to be.
Rather than the D.C.I. as a manager of bureaucratic programs going top up -- going up to the top and saying, "Here is the amount of money I need and here are all the justifications for it," I think it's appropriate for the President, his senior advisers, and, with some appropriate involvement in the process, the Congress, say: "No, here's what we want U.S. intelligence to do in the aftermath of the cold war and the breakup of the Soviet Union. These are the priorities that we want you guys to address, and you tell us what you need to do that and what the budget will look like."
So I think that's why I've suggested this -- sort of what I'd like to call this Capability of 2005 study that I think ought to be done within a very few months on an urgent basis to identify for the new Drector and -- and -- and the intelligence community just what it is they ought to be working on.
. . .
I think one major area where -- where there could be some savings, I think we clearly in the intelligence community are going to have to look at the amount of work that gets done on Soviet conventional forces. And I think that there can be a lot of streamlining and I think it's time, because the threat of war in Europe has receded so greatly one thing that I would be willing to consider, for example, is moving C.I.A. out of that business entirely and letting D.I.A. handle Soviet conventional forces.
I think the risks have been reduced to the point where competitive analysis in that particular arena is not so important. And that's a fairly major undertaking by C.I.A. And some of those assets could be used to look at political and economic and social issues inside the new republics of the Soviet Union, and so on. . . .
I think that there are some, perhaps, structural changes that can be made that would reduce duplication in the community and where -- where other agencies, as well as C.I.A., can do services of common concern and -- and where we can have a fair amount of streamlining.
In terms of areas where I think increases are likely going to be needed, I think that the biggest immediate threat to American security is the proliferation problem that Senator Glenn described, but I would broaden that to include chemical and biological weapons, as well as proliferation of ballistic missile technologies.
Our capabilities on C.W. and B.W. now are pretty much confined to human intelligence, and I think that there is a need for some real investment in technical means by which we may be able to detect some of the precursor chemicals or some of these weapons where we are not able to get a human source. . . .
One of the other concerns that I think we're going to have, at least in the near term, I think we are going to have to track very closely Soviet strategic programs, because both in connection with the arms-control agreements that have been signed, but also in terms of assuring ourselves that what they are telling us about control of these weapons to the extent we can determine is in fact true in terms of how -- how good the command and control over those 30,000 or so nuclear weapons is going to be. . . . Questions
From Senator Frank H. Murkowski Republican of Alaska
Q. How do you respond to the allegation that you, as head of this agency and in your responsible positions, more or less had to go along with the policy of the Administration, which was, "We want to have a strong military capability because we believe this is the appropriate alternative for the United States, and we need all the supporting documentation and intelligence to go with it"?
A. Well, Senator, I think that the record is very good that the agency called them as it saw them during that time. I don't think anybody at a senior level in the Reagan Administration needed any persuasion from us about Soviet activities in the third world.
On the other hand, we did, I think, tend to hold them back at some times -- on some occasions when they thought that they could get the Soviets to do something that we didn't. Soviet Pipeline
A perfect example of that is our estimate on the Soviet export gas pipeline.
The Administration was absolutely dead certain that they could stop the Soviets from building that gas pipeline, and it was deadly important. They put an enormous amount of diplomacy and pressure on the Europeans to get them to cut it all off. And we issued an estimate that said it wouldn't work, that they were going to build the pipeline . . . and there was nothing they could do about it.
Similarly, Soviet defense spending . . . we issued an estimate in 1983 saying that the rate of growth in Soviet military procurement had leveled off and was at zero. Now, if you think Cap Weinberger [ Caspar W. Weinberger, a Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration ] welcomed that estimate at a time when he was trying to get a major U.S. military buildup, it was not a fun time.
But let me cite a couple of other examples where I think we were wrong and I think others were right.
The overall strength of the Soviet economy. I think we overestimated statistically how big the Soviet G.N.P. was, giving a false impression of the economic strength they had and their ability to sustain this military competition as far into the future as anybody could see. It was not through trying to underplay Soviet strength but by overstating it that I think we erred.
. . .
So what I'm trying to convey is that I think if you look at the overall picture of production on the Soviet Union by the agency during this entire period, it is a period where we got a lot right, we got some important things wrong, but people were basically calling them as they saw them. Questions
From Senator Warren B. Rudman Republican of New Hampshire
Q. . . . You read from a document that you had. It's not quite the same one I have here but it was to the director of SOVA [ the C.I.A.'s Office of Soviet Analysis ] on the Afghanistan exploring options, and it says in short, "find the paper superficial, unpersuasive, largely because the detailed digging which hasto be done to provide a factual base on which to make some judgments about Soviet perceptions of how the war is going has not been done." . . .
Were you in the habit of writing notes that were this blunt to people?
A. Yes, sir.
Q.What was the general reaction you had to these? I am told that this is not atypical of your communications back and forth. What kind of reactions did you get from people at the agency? I mean, that's a pretty good assault on one's intellect.
A. Well, Senator, the truth of the matter is, after I'd been reviewing papers for a couple of months, a couple of people, I don't remember who, came to see me and told me they ought to tone down my remarks on the papers. And so I did and that's what you have.
Q. That's toned down.
A. That's the toned-down variant. I think it is both an asset and a liability that I am a very blunt-spoken person. I will tell you exactly what I think and I won't mealy mouth around about it. I'll be honest, it is something that, as a management problem, I think I'm more sensitive to now than I was then. Questions From
Senator Howard M. Metzenbaum Democrat of Ohio
Q. . . . I think the real question is, what will be the aura, what will be the attitude of the American people towards a C.I.A. headed up by Robert Gates, against whom so many have been willing to come forward to indicate their concerns, to put their reputations, and in some instances, their jobs on the line.
. . .
Is that really the thing that we should be doing? You can vote yes, you might get 51 votes, you might get 65 or 82. But I say that no matter how you slice it, this entire matter, the fact so many have come forward with so many reservations and so many concerns, I believe has put that -- the image of the C.I.A. in question, and I'm not sure that we help that image by confirming you for this position. . . . A. The first point I would make is that it is not normal for the President to nominate a career professional. And the reason that he did that, that this President did that, I believe, is that he did not want the appointment to be in effect a political appointment, that he wanted the integrity of the process protected. . . .
It has caused me some real pain that old friends like Hal Ford [ Harold P. Ford, a former member of the National Intelligence Council who is now a C.I.A. contract employee and who testified before the committee on Wednesday in opposition to Mr. Gates's nomination ] and Mel Goodman have come forward. And I agree with you, I think that takes some courage. But it has caused me great pleasure that the most senior, professional intelligence officers this government has known in a generation, the likes of a Bob Inman [ Bobby Ray Inman, a former Deputy Director of Intelligence ] and a John McMahon are willing also to come forward and be heard.
The fact is that there is a confirmation process but the selection of the head of American intelligence is not a popularity contest. I sure as hell wouldn't win one at C.I.A. But the President thinks that I'm the right man for that job. I think the rest of his national security team believe that. And I honestly believe that there are a number of people at C.I.A. who believe that it would be a good thing to have a professional heading the agency again, and that with the President's confidence and his mandate we can make this change into the future. Questions
From Senator Bill Bradley Democrat of New Jersey
Q. Let me, if I can, turn to another subject that we touched on very briefly in your first time here, and that was our exchange in the Committee on Soviet future, Soviet Union. . . .
Basically, I'm asking that if you could go against conventional wisdom and say there might come a time when the Soviet Union might be open for some kind of change. And what kind of intelligence data, what kind of work should you be doing now to equip policymakers with the information they need if that point ever came?
And your response to me gets down to, "Well, I think the first thing that we would be required to do would be to be able to identify for them that such a change was in the works, that such a change was approaching or possible, and then measuring whatever change there may be toward a qualitatively different system." Then jumping, you say, "Quite frankly, and without any hint that such fundamental change is going on, my resources do not permit me the luxury of sort of just idly speculating on what a different kind of Soviet Union might look like." Now, that ----
A. What was the date of that exchange, Senator?
Q. March 16, 1986, which is an important point. The date of that exchange is March 16, 1986. The memo that you have submitted today to the record is Oct. 16, 1986. So my question to you is, what happened in the interim?
A. Well, what happened in the interim, first of all, was that believe it or not I actually gave some serious consideration to the questions you had raised. Events in the Soviet Union continued to lead me to believe, as I indicated in the memorandum, that more was going on than we might be seeing.
I think that some of the work that the Soviet office had done on growing problems inside the Soviet Union and the process of the reform -- the way the reform process was going all led me to conclude that we weren't digging hard enough and that we weren't going into some of the sources such as defectors and emigres and others that would give us a better feel for what was going on inside the country.
So I think it was a combination that we had -- events in the Soviet Union, analysis that our own office was doing, and so on.
Q. So basically this memo in which you say that you're not being creative enough analyzing internal Soviet developments, and so forth, indicated to you that you had a problem within the agency in trying to keep track of what was going on, that the way you were going about it needed to be changed.
A. In terms of the Soviet Union, yes, sir.
Q. Now after you issued this memo, at another point in here, you say, "I continue to believe that we have not paid enough attention to emigre Soviet economists." And the question is, what did you do then?
This is a memo laying out, you know, your concerns. What specific things did you do to act upon those concerns so that you'd be better able to track what was going on in the Soviet Union, in particular, the dramatic changes?
A. I tended to be pretty careful once I became Deputy Director of Central Intelligence about looking over the shoulder of my successor. I obviously had been a very strong-minded Deputy Director for Intelligence. Mr. Kerr [ Richard Kerr, the Acting Director of Central Intelligence ] had been my deputy for four years, very capable man and I did not want to give him the sense that I was second-guessing him or double-tracking him or that I was trying to D.D.I. and D.C.I.
So this kind of a memorandum on my concerns was fairly uncommon and I thought that by sending him the memo and by sending a copy of it to the National Intelligence Officer for the Soviet Union that in expressing some specific suggestions for how they might go about working this problem better, that I had probably stepped as far into his province as I should at that time.
Q. Well, let me get to the point here. This memo shows that you had some concern that there had to be things done differently in the agency, that indeed there were rumbles in the Soviet Union that would have dramatic implications for this country. We might be spending less on defense, we might have a whole series of new opportunities.
And then, what did you do based upon what was in this memo? Your answer is, well, you didn't want to tread on the deputy's territory.
The end of communism occurred in the Soviet Union in August. Now the purpose of my question in 1986 to you was that so a policy maker would have on his desk the day that happened, if it should ever happen, some well-thought-out paths on how to deal with that situation. It ended in August. What did the President have on his desk the next day in terms of giving him the counsel that four to five years of thoughtful analysis could well have provided him?
A. Senator, I think that while I would have to refresh my memory on the specifics, one of the things that occurred in the wake of this memorandum and my concerns was a conference that was held, I think under the joint sponsorship of the National Intelligence Council and the Directorate of Intelligence, I don't remember specifically, but on alternative futures for the Soviet Union. And papers were commissioned, a variety of essays were written on different courses that events might take and so on.
I'd have to go back and get the specifics of that, but I do recall that there was such a conference and that papers were prepared and in other words there was some followup.
Q. But my question to you is what was available to the President the day the end of communism took place in the Soviet Union? The purpose of the question five years earlier was so that if the event ever took place the intelligence community would have had a chance to think through possible alternatives and have them for the President to make a decision about.
A. I don't think that there -- well, in addition to the papers that were done about alternative futures, under the auspices of the agency, in September of 1989 I asked that an interagency -- when I was down at the N.S.C., I asked that an interagency -- small interagency group, including intelligence officials, be put together to begin looking at contingencies for a variety of dramatically different outcomes in the Soviet Union. That work proceeded over a year and a half period, and a considerable amount of work was done by the agency, but also by State and Defense in connection with that effort.
So I think that while I can't point to you a specific paper that the President said that here are the different ways that this thing could go in the Soviet Union and here is the different kind of Soviet Union you could see, I think there were some endeavors -- obviously, you can always do better -- but several different endeavors to try and have people thinking about -- exactly what you were talking about in March of 1986: What are the different courses that this thing could take, what are some dramatically different outcomes? And I think people had given a fair amount of thought to that. Questions
From Senator Alan Cranston Democrat of California
Q. How much reporting from either human or technical sources was actually in hand in the areas being disputed regarding alleged politicization? If there was a large volume of reporting available which was ignored or subverted, I'd be greatly concerned. If, on the other hand, there was very little reporting from the field, then the arguments are over staked-out positions and assumptions, rather than over what the facts mean or meant.
A. I think, with regard to the views of Iranian politicians and with regard to the initiatives that the Iranians took during the first part of the year to -- the overtures to the Soviet Union that took place in secret, I would -- I think that both our technical and human intelligence was reasonably good. There was a fair amount of evidence, I believe, on both of those issues, and including the issue of Iranian attitudes toward the United States.
Q. Second, what was available in these terms in regard to the Soviet involvement in the alleged papal assassination attempt?
A. There was virtually no evidence that I can recall, and I'd have to refer back to the analysts, but my impression is that there was very little information available in the first two or three years after the assassination attempt.
As the Italian investigation proceeded and various threads were developed back to Agca's relationship to the Turks [ Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turk who was convicted of trying to assassinate the Pope ] and his stay in Bulgaria and so on, I think that we began to develop some information. We then had a -- as I recall, a defector that -- and this is one of the problems that we had with a lot of the production on this issue -- the paper that was published in 1983 that said the Bulgarians weren't involved -- and by implication, neither were the Soviets -- was driven very much by the reporting of this one guy.
Then we received some additional reporting over the winter of '84, '85 that in turn, I think, played a major role in the conclusions of the paper in April 1985. That was not the only body of information, but it was an important one.
So I would say that we thought we had reasonably good human intelligence, but I think in retrospect we were too driven by too few sources