Friday, August 13, 2004


CIA: Secret Wars — Part III-b(1)

Today I’m posting the second segment of William Karel's documentary CIA: Secret Wars (CIA: Guerres secrètes)—the portion that deals with the Clinton years.

Note: The unidentified speakers were identified in previous posts.

CIA: Secret Wars, Part III-b(1)
"One war begets another"
[The Clinton years]

To say that Clinton and the CIA did not get off to a good start would seem to be an understatement. It was more of a non-start. And reading the transcript, I almost felt sorry for poor Woolsey, who seems to have been thoroughly ignored by Clinton and held in contempt by his subordinates.

VOICEOVER: In January 1993, Bill Clinton was installed in the Oval Office. He won the election against George Bush, who would not have a second mandate.

BILL CLINTON (Clinton’s first inaugural address): My fellow Americans, I want to build a bridge to the 21st century that makes sure we are still the nation with the world's strongest defense; that our foreign policy still advances the values of our American community in the community of nations.

VOICEOVER: Bill Clinton was going to express very quickly his disinterest in the intelligence services. The list of failures and mistakes in assessment by the CIA—from the Bay of Pigs to the coming to power in Iran of Khomeini and the fundamentalists, from the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets to the occupation of Kuwait by Iraq, or from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the end of the Soviet Union—had tarnished the agency’s image. Clinton, who began to find the list a little long, dismissed all the CIA advisors assigned to the White House.

ROBERT BAER: When Clinton was elected, the CIA immediately sent two of its people in charge to bring him up-to-date on our latest operations in the four corners of the world. Clinton dismissed them. He told them, "Get lost. I’m not interested.” He refused to see them. That was regrettable, but the worst of it was that this was learned very quickly at the CIA. The man for whom we were going to have to work, the President, detested what we were doing and refused even to read our reports.

VOICEOVER: From his arrival at the White House, Bill Clinton chose a perfect unknown, James Woolsey, to take charge of the CIA.

JAMES WOOLSEY (speech):16 There are some things that we are going to have to do differently.

JAMES WOOLSEY: I never had the slightest connection with the CIA or espionnage before joining Clinton at the beginning of his presidency. The President summoned me, but we hardly spoke about the role of the CIA. He preferred to chat and compare our young years in Arkansas and Oklahoma where we had both grown up.

DUANE CLARRIDGE: 17 Clinton had a horror of the secret services. He had grown up in the Sixties, a time when everybody enjoyed knocking the intelligence services. That undoubtedly left him with a kind of aversion to everything that touched on matters of spying or of security.

RICHARD HOLM:18 He never really understood what we were doing and in what way we could be useful to him.

ROBERT MALLEY:19 Other Presidents were fascinated by the underground world that the secret services and covert operations represented. In my opinion several factors may explain the reasons for President Clinton’s disinterest. In the first place, the Cold War had just ended and the kind of secret operations that his predecessors adored no longer had a rationale. And then the CIA and the secret services really needed to adapt themselves to this new situation.

RICHARD HOLM: These decisions and above all the lack of interest, of support, that he showed contributed toward weakening us and are the source of the problems that awaited us. That’s for sure.

CHARLES COGAN:20 If the director of the CIA can never meet with the President, he can no longer do anything, since the CIA is dependent on the White House.

JAMES WOOLSEY: I was seen twice in two years. So by the fall of 1994, when that little Cessna plane crashed on the White House lawn, the joke that was making the Clinton team die laughing was the following: “Well, it has to be Woolsey still trying to get a meeting with the President.” Well, that joke didn’t really make me laugh at the time, but after a while I realized that it described rather well how I was living. The President had no desire to listen to me, and anything that touched on the secret services didn’t interest him.

JIM HOAGLAND: Clinton never met with Woolsey, or almost never. He listened neither to his advice nor to that of the CIA. That didn’t interest him, he was interested in something else.

JOSEPH TRENTO:21 Clinton wanted to know the gossip, to know for example who the French president was sleeping with.

RICHARD HOLM: He was more interested in extramarital affairs than with what we were doing.

ROBERT BAER: Monica Lewinski saw Clinton more often than Woolsey.

JOSEPH TRENTO: Because Woolsey was always mistaken, his intelligence always wrong, Clinton stopped reading the secret reports of the CIA. He would say to him, “The New York Times is better informed than you. Ask Woolsey what he thinks about it.” [The transcript does not make clear who "you" is, to whom Clinton was speaking.]

JAMES WOOLSEY: I don’t think that I failed. I just had a hard time establishing a normal working relationship with the President. If he had wanted to, he would have had the opportunity to do so any number of times. I spent my time asking for a meeting; I planned to be straightforward. I was a little naive.

ROBERT STEELE:22 Above all Woolsey lacked authority. He had neither the personality nor the necessary strength of character and still less the perception of our work that would have permitted him to go see Clinton and say to him, “Listen, some dramatic events are appearing on the horizon, and if you ignore them, you can say goodbye to the place in history that could be yours.” If Woolsey was disregarded, he alone is responsible for it.

JAMES WOOLSEY: I had the feeling that I was the eternal message-bearer of bad news, the agency killjoy.


16 JAMES WOOLSEY, Director of the CIA (1993-96). [back]

17 DUANE “DEWEY” CLARRIDGE, CIA-Director of the Counterterrorist Center (1986-89), reprimanded for his role in the Iran-Contra affair [back]

18 RICHARD HOLM, CIA-former Station chief, Paris [back]

19 ROBERT MALLEY, Special Assistant to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli Affairs [back]

20 CHARLES COGAN, CIA-Director of counterespionnage (1995-98), oversaw the guerilla war of the mujaheedin in Afghanistan [back]

21 JOSEPH TRENTO, Historian, journalist, author of The Secret History of the CIA [back]

22 ROBERT STEELE, former CIA-Covert operations [back]

Related posts:
CIA: Secret Wars — Part III-a(1)
CIA: Secret Wars — Part III-b(2)

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