America’s Secret Wars Among Its Intelligence Agencies Since NSA’s Inception

6 09 2012

By Trowbridge H. Ford

Why Relations Despite the Scandals Didn’t Change Much between Watergate and the 9/11 Bombings 

The 9/11 attacks gave the FBI its biggest black eye in its history. While it had been starved of intelligence about the planned suicide bombing, and cut out of any response because of the belated disclosure of the spying by agent Robert Hanssen for the Soviets for fear that it would somehow be leaked, the Bureau was still in the process of handing over the new leadership to Robert Mueller – delegating the domestic response to any such problems to the CIA which was most eager to regain the lead in the country’s response to terrorism anywhere.  Without any really important National Security Agency (NSA) intercepts of the messages the suicide bombers were exchanging in preparation for the attacks, the FBI had little chance of connecting the signal intelligence dots of what was afoot, especially since it had forced the retirement of its leading counter-terrorist spook, John O’Neill.(1) The planned response was, consequently, most ham-fisted with fifteen unarmed CIA agents, under the direction of Solicitor General Ted Olson’s wife Barbara, it seems,  trying to play copper with the 19 hijackers when they were dedicated to killing everyone they could, especially themselves.  The only reason that the Bureau wasn’t blamed more for the fiasco was because its causes were not easily discernible.(2)
The root of the problem went back to the NSA’s near paranoia about anyone without a need to know, knowing of its very existence, much less its product, particularly since Director J. Edgar Hoover would not provide cover for its work. It had been that way since its inception, and it only got worse when it was caught out in the Watergate scandal, thanks to the investigation of Frank Church’s Senate Intelligence Committee, that it had been eavesdropping illegally on private individuals through telecommunication companies for any information which might be relevant for it and any related agencies doing that work fully.  “Pushed by Church,” James Bamford has written in Body of Secrets, “the committee voted to make its report public – over NSA’s vehement objections, and to the greatest displeasure of its Republican members.” (p. 439)  In the process, its Director, General Lew Allen was forced to resign, and the agency was obliged to live with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which made any such eavesdropping illegal, being now required to obtain a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court if it wanted to listen to the communications of American citizens and permanent residents within the United States.
Of course, this made NSA the Bureau’s official master in domestic matters, as it was expected to get some kind of input from the Bureau before any domestic eavesdropping. This restriction was impossible for NSA to maintain, given its worldwide capability to tap micro-wave messages, and to eavesdrop on what was going on in foreign embassies when it came to American residents.  While the problem only surfaced when important Americans were involved, it was responsible for an increased sense of paranoia within the agency, leading its leadership constantly to be concerned about possible leaks.  This was best illustrated when Vice Admiral Bobby Ray Inman was Director, going wild when the media, especially The New York Times, leaked information about Illinois Congressman Edward Derwinski being investigated for tipping off South Korean officials that its top spook in New York was about to defect by NSA monitoring his calls to Seoul (ibid.,October 27, 1977 issue), and President Carter’s brother, Billy, was working as a business agent for´Gadaffi’s Libyan government, aka Billygate, in the same fashion. (Bamford, pp. 380-1)
To avoid such embarrassment and controversy, future Directors became even more secretive and  most devious about what was going on.  NSA Director Air Force
General Lincoln Faurer, Inman’s successor, become so concerned about details leaking out about Reagan’s covert government intruding into Swedish waters that he had Airman David Helmer defect to Stockholm in February 1984 so that there would be no paper trail about what his mission was. Hemler had a top-secret clearance, and was stationed in Augsburg, Germany in its elite 6913 Electronic Security Squadron which knew all about signal intelligence communication in the Baltic,  He told Swedish security what he apparently knew about what had been going on  – what reinforced what statsminister Olof Palme’s opponents, particularly Conservative Party leader Carl Bildt, had engaged in, especially sending the previous October a most provocative diplomatic note about it to Moscow. (3) Faurer added to the ruse by having John Lehman’s US Navy send more attack submarines into the area to keep the ploy going.(4)
When Faurer learned, though, that the Reagan administration was serious about using it in a non-nuclear showdown with Moscow to end the Cold War at Sweden’s expense, he resigned, only to be replaced by a more hard-line, covert operator, Army Lieutenant General William Odom. He had served as NSA Zbig Brzezinski’s military assistant during the Carter administration, and was most noted for wanting to roll back Soviet power and influence across the board. Odom was obsessed by the potential leaking of NSA secrets by its personnel, earning the sobriquet Captain Queeg among his subordinates, and even considered the President to be the biggest offender by divulging its secrets in covert operations.
Little wonder that when Ollie North wanted to do this in spades while working for Reagan NSA Bud McFarlane that Odom gave him what help he could to achieve the task.
Odom ordered John Wobensmith of its Information Systems Security Directorate to give North whatever help he needed, including two of its KY-40 scramblers.- what he did without North having to sign a receipt for having gotten them. The lap-top computers contained “…secure encryption chips so that he and his fellow conspirators could communicate secretly via e-mail while traveling.” (Bamford, p. 391) An additional benefit was that it would be carried on without NSA having a clue about what was happening. The lap-tops were the crucial component of North’s “FLASH” communication network would get round all the red tape required by official institutions, and permit his operatives to do missions like capturing the Palestinian terrorists who killed Leon Klinghofer on board the Achille Lauro (5) to making Palme pay with his life for having stopped the transfer of arms for Tehran in exchange for the release of American hostages held by Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Of course, when Palme was assassinated, but the Soviets were not shown to have apparently done it, thanks to Moscow having been tipped off about the set up by the spies it had developed, and the countermeasures it had taken against any surprises triggering the planned non-nuclear conclusion to the Cold War, all kinds of considerations became sensitive, and then alarming when Iran-Contra began unravelling.  It was then that Director Odom became particularly worried about using information NSA had about Libya’s alleged bombing of La Belle discotheque in West Berlin on April 5, 1986 for a retaliatory attack on Gaddafi’s capital Tripoli for fear that it would lead to what had happened in Stockholm the previous February 28th. Then when the C-123 carrying arms for the Contras was shot down over Nicaragua in the fall, the concerns resulted in murders of dangerous participants or their being forgotten about, especially the spies still unrevealed, destruction of key evidence about the plots, and defusing damaging evidence by rendering its sources immune from prosecution – what required the most strenuous efforts by the NSA and others.
The strain was immediately demonstrated when North put the highest priority on destroying incriminating evidence.  He was shedding all the evidence he could lay his hands on in his office and that of the National Security Council, only to have his former boss, McFarlane, remind him of an even more important chore: “I hope to daylights that someone has been purging the NSA files on this episode.” (6)  This problem was greatly complicated by the fact that NSA had not given North’s people just two KY.40 scamblers but fifteen KL-43 encryption devices whose codes had been changed every month, and had recorded everything they transmitted.The prospect of retrieving all the devices, and discovering what was within them made the possibility of what had really gone on most remote. In addition, the PROF notes between North and the new NSA Admiral John Poindexter about the operation were destroyed, but they had been copied by the agency’s computer system, and were ultimately discovered.
Then there was all kinds of intercepts that NSA had normally collected from around the world. The fleet of attack submarines, especially the Parche, SSN-683, which had been moving into position to sink Soviet hunter and boomer subs, once they started moving into launch position after the surprise assassination of Sweden’s statsminster had occurred –  had created a vast amount of communications which would become really troublesome if the real cause of Iran-Contra’s illegalities came into focus. The double agents that the CIA had developed in the USSR during Operation Courtship to pin the set up on Moscow would become serious if any investigators suspected so. Also there was all the data which had been collected by the monitoring device that technician spy TAW had placed on the KGB communication center southward of Moscow, and what operation ABSORB disclosed about the movement of ICBMs along the Trans-Siberian railroad in preparation for a first strike upon America.(7)  
Then Director Odom tried to pin the blame on Wobensmith for North’s people having the KY-40 lap-tops. Wobensmith claimed that Odom was so positive about helping that he did not even make North sign receipts when receiving them. Two years later, Wobensmith was suspended without pay for fifteen days by a NSA superior because of the oversight. and not instructing North how to properly use them, but an appeals board recommended that it be reversed and Webensmith reimbursed for his legal fees – what incensed Odom. “He believed that Wobensmith was responsible for casting the agency into the public spotlight, a rare and unforgivable sin in NSA’s secret city.”(Bamford, p.391).  As a result, he only received $1,229 for his legal fees, and was demoted in rank.
By scapegoating Wobensmith, Odom made it easier for the agency to keep Special Counsel Walsh investigating Iran-Contra at arm’s length. While Walsh  was finally able to obtain over 100,000 pages of classified documents to begin trying defendants in the conspiracy, their success depended largely upon their use in the trail – what NSA General Counsel Elizabeth Rinskopf doggedly opposed.  “Her concern was not only the preservation of intelligence sources, but also the protection of her agency from embarrassment.” (Bamford, p. 176) She insisted, for example, that McFarlane’s message to North in his PROf notes, about wanting the NSA traffic files purged, be redacted. More important, Walsh had to resort to various expedients to hide NSA being the source of information most germane to successful prosecutions of the conspiracy and diversion charges in North’s indictment, but Attorney General Richard Thornburgh refused to go along with the scheme – what Bamford, by then the author of The Puzzle Palace about NSA, surprisingly explained on national TV was required to maintain its secret intelligence capability.
With NSA’s role in Iran-Contra being effectively covered up, it was passed time for Odom to go, and he was replaced by Office of Naval Intelligence Director Vice Admiral William Studeman who was a soft-spoken copy of the former director.
 In taking leave, though, Odom could not restrain himself from leaking more secret information by comparing .the Agency with his agency:  “The CIA is good at stealing a memo off a prime minister’s desk, but they’re not much good at anything else.” (Quoted from Body…, p. 474.) This was obviously a reference to stealing Palme’s agenda in October 1985 for his scheduled meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in April 1986 – what allegedly included establishing a non-nuclear weapons zone in Scandinavia, and what was used by William Casey’s CIA to justify his assassination.  CIA resident in Stockholm Jennone Walker apparently got MI6 agent E. D.´Mack´ Falkirk in Oslo to steal the document. 
The only problem with the theft was that it did not trigger a non-nuclear conclusion to the Cold War at Palme’s expense – that was achieved by the Anglo-American leaders with Gorbachev themselves after the set up fizzled out because of countermeasures that Moscow took for the intended surprise, thanks to its spies around Washington.
During the next decade after the collapse of the USSR, the struggle within America’s intelligence community was plagued by ferreting out the spies, especially CIA’s Aldrich ‘Rick’ Ames, a process so damaging that it almost ended the Agency’s existence while the Bureau was increasingly taking the lead in fighting terrorism, even overseas, thanks to copper Louis Freeh becoming its Director, and the wake up call it had received because of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in February 1993. The impact on NSA was devastating because of the continuous reduction of its enormous size, and a peacetime mission in a growing world economy, as Air Force Director General Kenneth Minihan discovered. The Bureau went wild on fishing trips with NSA intercepts to find foreign companies which were engaging in illegal activities at the expense of legitimate American business.  While Minihan gave the impression that he was a great promoter of agency transparency, he ran a very tight organization.
While Miniham’s replacement, Air Force Lieutenant General Michael Hayden, had great plans for reforming NSA so its operators and funders could be happier about its performance, everything was put on hold to clear the air until the 9/11 attacks surprised everyone – making a bad situation much worse. A cause of the delay was the most belated discovery that Bureau’s Special Agent Robert Hanssen had been another spy like the Agency’s Ames – what Director Freeh compounded by immediately resigning, leaving the FBI naked to its enemies.(8) 
DCI George Tenet cut the Bureau out of having anything to do in subduing the suspected hijackers of the four planes while its agents in the field were increasingly having trouble connecting the dots in all its criminal investigations.(9) Moreover, the NSA did not accept Rick Taylor’s recommendation about implementing his system called Thinthread which would allow it to see the head notes of foreign e-mails entering the States while the Bureau was forced by the FISA court to keep its data gathering more separated from its criminal investigations.(10)
The results would be the 9/11 disasters where both the failings of the Bureau and NSA would be paramount, but this time the FBI was more exposed in the fallout, and would resort to more drastic attempts to fix it, as we shall see in the concluding article.       
1. For more, see this link:
2. For a more complete explanation, see Trowbridge H. Ford, “The Prelude: US Intelligence – 11 September 2001, Eye Spy magazine, Issue Eight 2002, pp. 26-33.
3. Svenska Dagbladet, April 27, 1983.
4. For more about this, see the awards that the US Navy’s submarines received during 1984 and 198 in Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew, Blind’s Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage, p. 426.
5.  Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall, Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies and the CIA in Central America, pp. 140-1.
6.  Quoted from Lawrence E. Walsh, Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-Up, p. 8.
7.  Pete Earley, Confessions of a Spy: The Real Story of Aldrich Ames, pp. 117-8.
8.  Ford, op. cit., p.26ff.
9.  James Bamford, The Shadow Factory: The Ultra Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. p. 108ff.
19. Ibid., p. 44ff.


How and Why Woolsey and Clinton Saved the CIA – Part 1

21 04 2012

By Trowbridge H. Ford


The role of the Director of Central Intelligence in its operations and intelligence collection at any time is most difficult to determine.  While officially the head of American’s intelligence community, his activities – given the plethora of intelligence agencies, legal restrictions on their various operations, and antagonisms amongst them, especially between the Agency and the FBI, in their conduct – vary radically from time to time because of his government experience, background, outlook, rapport with his underlings, and relations with the other agencies, particularly their heads.  Then the conditions of the time could change all the variables in significant ways. Given the dictates of Director J. Edgar Hoover, an obvious solution to the DCI’s problems was to catch the eye of the President and his National Security Council (NSC) in the making of policy, what was bound to politicize its operations, and complicate its problems if the Bureau learned of it. 
While stories of the lack of cooperation between “Wild Bill” Donovan, the father of CIA, and Hoover during WWII are legion – what helped getting America into the war when the Director didn’t take MI5 double agent Dusan ‘Dusko’ Popov’s intelligence about Japanese plans to bomb Pearl Harbor seriously, and made its successful prosecution more difficult because of Hoover’s priority to catch communists and their sympathizers, especially the First Lady’s, rather than domestic spies and their handlers  – Donovan’s successors at the Agency all had unique experiences as DCI, especially with the Bureau, but they were never sorted out, and harmonized in any meaningful way, as the current disputes over the 9/11 attacks, and the war on Iraq demonstrate. 
Rear Admiral Sidney W. Souers, the first DCI, was so upset by the constant squabbling among its holdovers from Donovan’s Office of Strategic Services (OSS) with the State Department that he seriously thought of turning over all its functions to the Bureau before resigning after only six months in the post. Hoover had assisted the process by constantly informing the former Roosevelt aide of all the bad apples in it from the New Deal administration.  His replacement, General Hoyt Vanderberg, was so upset by Hoover’s scorched-earth policy over losing operational jurisdiction in South America, and over infiltrating the new agency with his own agents, particularly William King Harvey, that he soon departed for the Pentagon as Vice-Chief of Staff of the Air Force.  Vanderberg believed that it would be easier to construct the new air arm whose mission and men he was most well acquainted with rather than a new intelligence service out of its constantly squabbling components, and competitors. 
His replacement, Rear Admiral Roscoe “Hilly” Hillenkoetter, was so ineffective in managing the Agency that he was forced to return to sea after a disastrous three years at the helm, little more than its daily messenger to the President with its daily briefing which Souers had started.  “Hilly” was scapegoated for failing to appreciate signal intelligence about North Korea’s intentions regarding the South – what Soviet spies Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, and Kim Philby had supplied Stalin with the green light for. His replacement, Walter “Beetle” Smith, became so embroiled with Hoover and the Joint Chiefs of Staff over claims about communist activity at home and abroad that his former boss in Europe during WWII, Dwight Eisenhower, had to replace him, once he became President, though the irascible general did finally give the CIA some kind of standing with the other agencies and the White House with his introduction of National Intelligence Estimates (NIE).
Eisenhower settled upon Smith’s deputy, Allen Dulles, as the next DCI, while sending Smith to the State Department to help tame his more exciting and dangerous brother John Foster, the new Secretary of State. Since then, there has essentially been a pattern of like-minded DCIs who go along with increasingly risky operations to satisfy its eager cowboys and similarly inclined NSCs, followed by DCIs, usually chosen from outside, who attempted to rein them in by various means – laws, retirements, reorganizations, congressional oversight, memoranda, and the like.  The changes, though, just obliged covert operators to devise more convoluted ways for achieving whatever they wanted, with or without the President’s knowledge or approval.
Dulles tried to balance the initiatives by his underlings – especially Kermit Roosevelt, Frank Wisner, Richard Helms, Richard Bissell, and Harvey – with what the President minimally wanted or at least tolerated, a tension which Helms ultimately destroyed with his covert operations against Cuba and the Soviet Union – making the Agency essentially a state within a state during the JFK, LBJ, and Nixon administrations. DCI George H.W. Bush, with Helms’s help, provided for its re-establishment in the wake of Watergate, a crisis which threatened its very existence, as I tried to show in my article in the Archive.  William Casey, consequently, arrived on the scene as Reagan’s DCI with covert operators established in other agencies, and covert operations began to roll to bring down the Iron Curtain, once Robert Gates became his deputy.  Once this occurred, President Bush was willing to overlook his mistaken operations and rhetoric against the Soviets by making him DCI, once Desert Storm against Iraq had been successfully carried out.  His NIE’s had merely overestimated Soviet military and economic capabilities by 100%.
The outsiders who attempted to reform CIA were all frustrated in one way or another.  James Schlesinger’s efforts to get the Agency out of covert operations after Watergate – what he hoped to achieve by exposing the so-called “Family Jewels” – so alarmed the spooks that his deputy, and long-time agent, William Colby, soon replaced him to stem the tide.  Once he had redirected media interest in its covert domestic operations to assassinations that Presidents had allegedly ordered overseas, he was replaced by Bush. Carter could not abide him, replacing him as soon as he gained the Oval Office, and having Admiral Stansfield Turner unsuccessfully attempt to make the Agency into a disciplined, law-abiding one, essentially interested in collecting signal intelligence. When the Iran-Contra scandal finally surfaced in late 1986, Judge William Webster was brought over from the Bureau in the feeble hope that he would preside over its internal rehabilitation while keeping the lid on its wild covert operations from the various outside inquiries.     
The only other departure from the pattern occurred when retired Vice Admiral William “Red” Raborn replaced John McCone in April 1965 – LBJ apparently worried about promoting DDP Richard Helms because of the fallout from the JFK assassination. The President – Helms chcharacteristically recalling LBJ’s alleged milking experience as a farm boy – put it this way about the intelligence agencies:  “You work hard and get a good program or policy going, and they swing a shit-smeared tail through it.”  (Quoted from Christopher Andrew, For the President’s Eyes Only, p. 323.)  Helms still succeeded Raborn in June 1966, once American troops had been withdrawn from the fiasco which the Agency had helped arrange in the Dominican Republic.
In sum, the intelligence community, especially the Agency, was in a most precarious position when the Iron Curtain finally came down.  With the defeat of the Soviets, and the rollback of its bloc, conditions seemed right for a similar rollback and reorganization of the intelligence community – what certainly did not look promising for the CIA.  The problems were clearly laid out in Mark Riebling’s ground-breaking Wedge: The Secret War Between the FBI and CIA, an exposé so telling that radical change seemed almost inevitable.  Riebling, after recounting all the trials and tribulations of the current system during the Cold War, concluded on this alarming note for the Agency about “the old, failed framework”:  “It is not inconceivable that the FBI might someday be placed in charge of all counterintelligence, foreign and domestic…” (p. 457)
Long before Bill Clinton surprised everyone by being elected President in 1992, it was assumed that he would still continue Gates as DCI since the only precedent for doing otherwise had been provided by Carter in the wake of Watergate.  After all, the operation of the intelligence community, especially the Agency, was thought to be above the dictates of partisan politics.  The former Governor of Arkansas, though, was persuaded that there was little need for the Agency now, and was most concerned about his previous dealings with covert government, especially CIA operations, coming out – as was the Agency itself.  They both were worried in their own way about what could radiate out from the still secret activities at Mena’s Intermountain Regional Airport.
The unappreciated, identical interests of CIA and Clinton stemmed from the Stasi files that the West German security police turned over to the Bureau’s intelligence chief Doug Gow after the fall of The Wall, indicating, among other things, that the Soviets had a most well-placed mole in the Agency.  Once the Bureau informed Langley of the find, interagency relations soon deteriorated to a new low, as more Stasi files indicated that all the double agents, particularly KBG General Dmitri Polyakov and Aleksei Kulak, of Operation Courtship had been totally controlled by the Soviet bloc, almost from the beginning.  After two years of squabbling, a joint task force was finally appointed to ferret out the spies and the spying.
While Bureau agents took the lead in finding them, DCI Gates took the initiative in finding all the foreign governments and business which were spying on American companies – another concern which proved most difficult for CIA-FBI cooperation.  When the proposed creation of an Intelligence Czar to solve the problem failed, Gates took the lead in uncovering some of the Bank of Commerce and Credit International’s (BCCI’s) criminal operations – what clearly showed that while assisting Iraq’s, Panama’s, Abu Nidal’s, and the Contras’ manifold transactions and operations, the Agency failed to inform the Bureau of their illegalities, much less make arrangements for their being excused for counter intelligence purposes.   
Then the Agency’s National Collection Division attempted to uncover the illegal activities of Italy’s Banco Lavoro Nazionale (BNL) in helping Iraq’s Saddam Hussein procure weapons of mass destruction (WMD) – what Britain’s MI6 (SIS) was also attempting through the London branch of BCCI.  Both CIA and SIS were using the Babylon strategy that former Agency CI chief James Angleton had adopted for assisting and stringing along such operations until they could be crushingly closed down.  (For more on this, see Riebling, p. 417ff.)  The only trouble with the covert operation was that the Bureau was never informed of it, so that when the FBI’s fraud squad raided the BNL’s branch office in Atlanta in August 1989, discovering such a vast financial effort to help Iraq obtained nuclear weapons that CIA-SIS involvement was widely suspected.  
CIA’s efforts against the banks clearly indicated, especially to the Bureau, that it was following some kind of hidden agenda in its dealings with them. The FBI’s James Nolan, for example, complained that the Agency was only interested in the BCCI’s operations overseas, not its domestic ones.  Jack Blum, former chief counsel of the Kerry subcommittee on terrorism and narcotics, was more blunt, claiming that the CIA was engaging in “an enormous coverup,” thanks apparently to its preventing inquiries into BCCI’s and Mena’s operations in the Americas. The CIA failed to answer questions about its authorization of BNL-Atlanta illegal funding for fear that other secrets about Anglo-American operations, especially those originating, and known by its Rome station, would result in successful prosecutions of various Agency agents and assets – a process which foreign intelligence services dreaded.
Clinton fitted into all this because of his dealings with the Contra operation, especially overlooking the illegal activities at Mena, but the former Arkansas governor thought that the CIA was trying to nail him by going after the banks rather than just trying to save itself.  Clinton had already been caught out in the lie that he had allocated $25,000 for a grand jury investigation of the airport’s activities back in 1988, and former Arkansas Congressmen Bill Alexander, who had already sent information of the coverup to special counsel Lawrence Walsh investigating the Iran-Contra scandal but without result, had seen an identical allocation from the Justice Department in Washington to Arkansas authorities become another non-starter.  The source of Clinton’s criminal activities, it seems, was the murder of Adler Berriman “Barry” Seal to prevent the Iran-Contra operation, just before statsminister Olof Palme’s assassination, from unraveling.
In the last stages of the presidential campaign, Clinton began to have second thoughts about the Agency’s pursuit of the banks, thanks to a briefing, arranged by Bush NSA Brent Scowcroft and his own deputy security adviser, Sandy Berger, he received from Gates himself in September 1992 in Little Rock.  Once elected, as John L. Helgerson, former Deputy Director of Intelligence, has written in CIA Briefings of Presidential Candidates, the Agency set up an unprecendented outpost in the Arkansas capital to keep the President-elect – who, like Reagan – Christopher Andrew reminded readers in its introduction – had had no previous experience as an intelligence consumer – abreast of developments.  Starting on November 11th, Clinton received the Presidential Daily Brief from an Agency briefer, concentrating on the agenda, especially regarding Russia, he wanted to pursue.  As the President later explained about the process, “Intelligence is a unique mission….I look to you to warn me and, through me, our nation of the threats.”

(Continued)  PART 2