Jeffrey LewisBob Gates on Openness, Oversight

Stephen Aftergood’s Secrecy News commends SECDEF nominee Bob Gates on his record regarding openness, oversight:


As Director of Central Intelligence from 1991-1993, Robert M. Gates, the nominee to be the next Secretary of Defense, grappled with questions of government secrecy more than almost any other agency head and helped to inaugurate a decade of increasing openness in intelligence and elsewhere.


He undertook several initiatives to increase openness in U.S. intelligence, some of which did not fail.

He directed the publication of unclassified and declassified articles from the CIA journal Studies in Intelligence; he began the process of declassifying records concerning major U.S. covert actions during the cold war; he signaled the CIA’s willingness to cooperate in a government-wide program of declassifying records pertaining to the assassination of President Kennedy; and he initiated a program of declassification of National Intelligence Estimates on the former Soviet Union.

I never got around to reading Gates’ memoir, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War—guess I know what I am reading on the plane to Beijing.

In the meantime, Raymond Garthoff had a critical yet warm review in the Political Science Quarterly (subscription required).


  1. abcd

    Gates was the head of a commission in the early 1990s that was formed to assess whether or not an NIE relating to missile defense was politicized or not…and came out against the Republican/Gingrich charge that it was. Interestingly enough, the counter-commission was led by Rumsfeld.

    See the second and third installations of the PBS Frontline Documentary “Missile Wars”:

    Also, Gates co-authored a CFR task force with Brzenzski titled “Iran:Time for a New Approach,” which argued for direct dialogue with Tehran.

  2. John Smith

    A man of many fine words, clearly. And very, very few good ideas. This quote says it all – “the United States should make it quite clear to Israel that U.S. interests would be adversely affected by [an Israeli strike]” They could have just written “lets re-enact Munich, the 21st century way”.I am not a neoconservative, but Gates’ way of curbing proliferation is even more sure to fail than theirs. His concept involves doing things that “may help facilitate” something. That’s not the way to prevail in any confrontation.

  3. Andy (History)

    As a former member of the intelligence community as well as a former member of the US military, I think Gates is a good choice. His record does not show an overt political bias common to high-level appointees and I believe his intelligence experience will be very useful as head of the DoD; not only in budgetary matters, but also operationally. Intelligence support to military planning and operations is a much larger and more crucial component to dealing with threats than it once was and Gates has the background to deal with the significant intelligence issues and changes happening in the military today.

    As for proliferation, I disagree with John’s assessment. The Secretary of Defense brings few policy tools to deal with a country like Iran or North Korea beyond deterrence or threats, neither of which has worked at all for this administration. If it comes down to a military confrontation then non-proliferation efforts have already failed. Furthermore, I see no evidence that Gates would not have the military prepared to execute whatever option the President decides should that eventuality occur.

  4. John Simkin (History)

    Why did George W. Bush nominate Robert Gates as his new Secretary of Defense? In doing so, he will only resurrect the Iran-Contra scandal that his father did so much to cover-up.

    When George H. W. Bush became president he set about rewarding those who had helped him in the cover-up of the Iran-Contra Scandal. Bush appointed Robert Gates, as Director of the CIA, Richard L. Armitage as a negotiator and mediator in the Middle East. Donald P. Gregg was appointed as his ambassador to South Korea. Brent Scowcroft became his chief national security adviser and John Tower became Secretary of Defence. When the Senate refused to confirm Tower, Bush gave the job to Richard Cheney. Later, Casper Weinberger, Robert McFarlane, Duane R. Clarridge, Clair E. George, Elliott Abrams and Alan D. Fiers, Jr., who had all been charged with offences related to the Iran-Contra scandal, were pardoned by Bush.

    Currently, there is a massive disinformation campaign concerning Gates. If you do a search for Gates on Google you will find a list of websites that provide a very flattering picture of this man.

    Wikipedia comes first. Although it contains one significant piece of information about why his nomination to be director of the CIA in 1987 was withdrawn (I expect this to be removed soon) it gives him a very easy ride. It is highly significant that the page has been locked and can’t be edited (this is highly unusual).

    Second is a biography by the Texas A&M University. This does not mention Iran-Contra Scandal or the rejected nomination in 1987. Nor does it mention the huge opposition to him obtaining the post in 1991.

    In 3rd place is the BBC site. This is a good example of how his career is portrayed (this was mirrored in the press yesterday).

    “Mr Gates’ early career was dogged with controversy, particularly over the Iran-Contra issue, and his first nomination as CIA director was withdrawn by Ronald Reagan in 1987…But the most controversial moment in his career was the 1982-86 period when he rose through the CIA’s top echelons to become acting director. As such, he was in a position to know about the so-called Iran-Contra scandal, which involved the illegal diversion of funds from the sale of arms to Iran to fund the Contras, who were fighting against the left-wing Sandinistas who had taken power in Nicaragua. Mr Gates was investigated by the office of the independent counsel in 1991, but was never prosecuted for any offence.”

    The BBC does not refer to what Lawrence E. Walsh, the Independent Counsel who investigated the Iran-Contra case, actually said about Gates. Walsh discovered that Gates repeatedly gave inaccurate information about what he knew about Iran-Contra. When other officials provided contradictory information Gates was forced to admit his mistakes. He claimed that these mistakes were due to a failure to remember correctly what happened. Walsh admits in his report:

    “Like those of many other Iran/contra figures, the statements of Gates often seemed scripted and less than candid. Nevertheless, given the complex nature of the activities and Gates’s apparent lack of direct participation, a jury could find the evidence left a reasonable doubt that Gates either obstructed official inquiries or that his two demonstrably incorrect statements were deliberate lies.”

    What the BBC report does not mention is that lying about what he knew about Iran-Contra was not the main reason Reagan had to withdraw Gates’ nomination. The main concern of the Senate Intelligence Committee was the information that Gates was suspected of passing information from classified documents to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war.

    In other words, Gates was suspected of treason. It is one of the great ironies of history that he has been appointed to solve the problems of the invasion of Iraq, when on a previous occasion, as a consequence of a secret arms deal, that Gates was passing secret information obtained by the CIA to Saddam Hussein.

    Even when his nomination by Bush of Gates was accepted in 1991, he received 31 negative votes, more than all of the votes against all of the CIA directors in previous history.

    In his memoirs Gates admits it was a great shock to him that three men who worked with him in the CIA, testified against him. He considered two of these men as personal friends. Melvin Goodman, recently explained his reasons for taking this action: “Bob Gates, over the period of the 1980s, as a deputy for Intelligence and then as a deputy to CIA director Bill Casey, was politicizing intelligence. He was spinning intelligence on all of the major issues of the day, on the Soviet Union, on Central America, on the Middle East, on Southwest Asia. And I thought this record, this charge, should be presented before the Senate Intelligence Committee.”

    As Goodman remarked when he heard the news about his 2006 nomination: “I think there is a rather delicious irony in the fact that here is a nation that went to war with politicized intelligence, and now it’s naming as a CIA director someone who was the most important practitioner of politicized intelligence in the history of the CIA. So, as Yogi Berra would have said, “This is deja-vu all over again.”

    For the truth about Robert Gates I would suggest the following:

    Lawrence E. Walsh’s report on Gates:

    Robert Parry’s account of Gates involvement in October Surprise and Iran-Contra

    The document sent to Lee G. Hamilton, Chairman of the Working Group of the House Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Congress, in 1991.

    Robert Parry and Melvin Goodman discussing Gates on Democracy Now:

    A summary of his career with links can be found here:

    John Simkin