But now the 72-year-old has retired and spends his time doing a different kind of reporting, providing insight for websites like Consortiumnews.com while posting stories to www.RayMcGovern.com, many of them providing a new perspective on the Middle East.
McGovern will serve as the keynote speaker for Saturday, May 20's 'Commemorating Nakba 64' Palestine fundraising dinner presented by the Palestine Office of Michigan. McGovern recently spoke about the state of the CIA past and present as well as foreign policy, Palestine and the Middle East:
Q: What brings you to Dearborn and have you been here before?
A: Well I certainly have heard about Dearborn and I know there's a very strong Palestinian presence there, and I feel honored to have been invited to address their annual meeting (the Nakba dinner on May 20), not only for the opportunity to say things but also to learn because there's an awful lot I have to learn about the complicated situation in Palestine.
Q: What drove you to learn about Palestinians and what's really going on in the Middle East?
A: Well I spent a career in the CIA on the analytics side of things so my interest in foreign affairs has been strong and abiding, more recently I saw that our profession of intelligence analysis was being actually corrupted by the Bush administration to of course “justify” a war of aggression against Iraq, then my friends and I, about 75 formed 'Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity,' we warned President Bush that this would be a catastrophe beyond comprehension in a memorandum beforehand, it has been, and we talk often about being right about that and now we continue to write about similar things such as Iran, the Palestine-Israeli conflict, and more.
Q: What first made you realize the corruption that had occurred within the CIA?
A: People have to understand that there are basically two CIAs, one that is an analysis group that would also have some clandestine collection and would be able to inform the president on what's going on in the world without fear or fingering, to tell it like it is. He'd like to have a director to call him up, to say, here is what the Pentagon is saying and what the State Department is saying...I want you to answer and only to me to tell me the truth. At the marble entrance of CIA it says as it says in the scriptures, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free,” inscribed. I was able to do that for 27 years.
It went downhill from there not because I left but because even the analytical ranks had been systematically compromised by promoting valuable managers to positions where they were more interested in getting ahead than they were in telling the truth.
So that part of the CIA, the analysis division is not perfect by any stretch but it's usually able to speak truth to power.
But eventually all of a sudden they decided, along with George Tenet the former head of the CIA, they decided that if George W. Bush wanted war with Iraq, they would call intelligence and forge or manufacture evidence. It doesn't get any worse than that...our profession was prostituted.
Q: And the other half?
A: Well, that's one half of the agency, the other is an accident of history, the covert action court, Kennedy was against it and now it’s got all the funding in the world, for torture, black hole prisons, and Obama to my great regret and surprise extends to assassinating U.S. citizens without charge or trial. That's the covert side of the agency that (former President Harry) Truman was right in saying, “What have you done? I never intended for this to happen.” The president has his own personal Gestapo, accomplished with one sentence with the National Security Act of 1947, which said, quote, “the Director of the CIA shall perform other functions and duties relating to the intelligence community as the president from time to time.”
Now luckily the good side is we have a complete honest Director of National Intelligence, he sits above the CIA now, James Clapper, to his great credit surprised all of us sticking to his guns on the most important issue which is Iran and, “Are they working on a nuclear weapon?” In 2007....we told President Bush the answer is no, they stopped at the end of 2003...every year since 2007, I know unanimous among 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, they've reiterated that.
I've been looking at intelligence now for 49 years and this is the only time I can say that a national intelligence estimate can demonstrably show it can stop the war, both Bush and Cheney admitted in their memoirs.
Bottom line, there are still some honest people in analysis, on the operational side I have to say (not so much), look at that fellow (Jose, former Director of the National Clandestine Service) Rodriguez...they're punks, that's what we call ‘em in the Bronx and for him to be up on 60 Minutes defending torture is very embarrassing...Attorney General Eric Holder and Barack Obama himself have caved to that kind of brutishness.
Why am I interested in foreign affairs? Theology...it all depends on how you think God is...and how God feels when little people get pushed around. I think the whole Abrahmic tradition shows people who are interested first and foremost in justice, not parading around with fancy clothes but doing justice, that's the common thread through all our traditions. You look at whats going on in Middle East, they need justice to be brought in there, the role the U.S. has played in the last decade particularly in Middle East has been just the opposite in terms of justice and has been spreading something quite different.
Q: How does that tie into the Nakba event and what's happening in Palestine?
A: Well, I went to Gaza last year on the 'Audacity of Hope' boat as part of the second flotilla and we were not able to sail (because of pressure on debt-riddled Greece).
They kept us from challenging the blockade and even the State Department is telling us the blockade is not legal, yet the President didn't have the courage to stand up for us, we certainly had the right to challenge the blockade (by) Israel.
Q: Speaking of Israel many say that there is a problem when it comes to speaking critically about them, and you were branded an anti-Semite when you questioned their role in the Iraq war. What are your feelings on this phenomenon?
A: I was indeed called an anti-Semite which I am very angry about, it's not something one dusts off easily. What my sin was is, before CSPAN and CNN and live cameras, I was saying it’s very clear that behind the U.S. attack on Iraq was a joint strategic objective on the part of U.S. and Israel to dominate that part of the Middle East, now you won’t get any bonafide professor in this country to take issue with that, it was something I said at a Congressional hearing on camera.
Really, the media is one of the cardinal problems here, I've seen a lot of changes but one change dwarfs all the others and that is that you no longer have any sense of a free media, that could not be bigger. Jefferson himself said he'd pick a free media over a free government any time, it's what keeps a government honest. (McGovern also praised CBS for their recent report on Palestinian Christians and said that Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s attempt to stop it from airing before he even saw it was an example of the problems Israeli pressure poses for the U.S. media, which he said doesn’t give an accurate picture of what’s really happening in Palestine and hurts the chances for peace).
So why the big brouhaha over the Iran nuke (despite constant intelligence statements to the contrary) by Netanyahu? It's deflecting from the aborted negotiations in Palestine and this allows Israel to create more “facts on the ground,” meaning more Israeli settlements in the West Bank and elsewhere.
Q: Can you explain the Acronym O.I.L. you used at your testimony in 2005, a House Judiciary Committee meeting convened by John Conyers of Michigan?
A: We had been discussing what was attested to as genuine by British government which recorded a meeting Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Downing Memo, had with his top national security officials where it was revealed to them by their intelligence chief who had just gone over to Washington to see Tenet, that Bush has decided to make war on Iraq...using the conjunction of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism ties as an excuse...My translation was that the intelligence and facts will be fixed around the policy. There it was on the 23rd of July 2002...months before the invasion, ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda also non-existent...my colleagues said thank you very much. I looked at them and said, “What?” No one seemed to want to answer that...So I said well, Mr. Chairman, what I have been telling colleges and universities these past few months, I used the acronym, O for oil, I for Israel, and L for logistics permanent military bases set up in Iraq, and as soon as I said I for Israel all the congressmen (laughing) from New York stand up as If I had said something very (shocking). So I went on, I said look, we have to realize there is an elephant in the room here.
Then you have Blair testifying in London in January of last year saying oh yes, in April of 2002, Iraq and Israel was the big issue, and he said we were in touch with the Israelis several times during 1 on 1 conversations...The Israelis were in on the planning in the invasion of March 2003 and I rest my case.
Q: So what can people do about these issues, should they protest both in Palestine and the U.S. ? And what about your incident involving Hillary Clinton's speech?
A: About the Clinton protest, long story short, I knew she was going to be speaking at George Washington University (on Feb. 16, 2011) so I went, and the (president of George Washington) gives this flowery address to a person demonstrably responsible for untold human suffering, it reminded me of when I was in the communist Soviet Union where I served distinguished community leaders, she got four minutes of applause just like the Soviet leaders, so I'm thinking, “My goodness, everyone thinks she is just the cat's pajamas, I can't leave here letting them think she's so great.”
So I had my Veterans for Peace t-shirt on, took off my other one and stood and looked at the back of the auditorium silently from the 5th or 6th row...after about 45 seconds all of a sudden a huge guy who must have been a Redskins (football) reject comes down behind me along with another guy and lifted me up over three women, pulling me out before I could say anything.
“So this is America,” said McGovern as he was hauled out. “This is America.”
Long story short, they took me out and beat me up behind closed doors so no photographers could see it (Minutes after the beating and subsequent arrest, Clinton spoke of the need for governments to allow freedom of expression whether in “Tahrir Square or Times Square” in an ironic twist).
Of course regarding the protests I met with a wonderful leader last year named Mustapha Barghouti who visited us on the boat to Gaza, he is the hope, to me he represents the hope. He is a Palestinian dedicated to peaceful resistance. Both in Gaza and at home more and more of the 99% are standing up, more impoverished people here, though of course not nearly as much as in Gaza and elsewhere...I see great hope there.