The US government and its allies have “allowed a Frankenstein to be created”. Intelligence was ignored while 60 rebel groups in Syria have been supported that later defected to IS. The situation in the Middle East is “completely out of control”, say Elizabeth Murray und Ray McGovern. The US strategy in Syria looks like the Israeli one: “Keep the pot boiling”, so that Syria is blocked as a major player in the region, says McGovern. There could only be a solution of the crisis if all involved countries get together to find a diplomatic arrangement. And Saudi Arabia must be stopped supporting IS. But the real trigger of the chaos in the Middle East and the resulting refugee crisis was the US invasion in Iraq. In Germany no one talks about that. If the German government doesn’t want more refugees to come to Europe it should rethink its relationship to the US, especially the drone warfare.
Ray McGovern, former senior CIA analyst whose duties included preparing the President’s Daily Brief and chairing National Intelligence Estimates. He was an analyst of Russian foreign policy for the first decade of his 27-year career with the CIA. McGovern is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.
Elizabeth Murray, served as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East in the National Intelligence Council before retiring after a 27-year career in the U.S. government. She is a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.
Theresia Reinhold: I would like to start with a question directed to both of you. You served in the US intelligence community for 30 years and since your retirement you both became peace activists. We would like to know why.
Ray McGovern: shall I start? Well for me it was a very straight line. I signed up with the CIA under John Kennedy to speak truth to power. For the next 27 years, that is until 1990 I was able to do that. It was a very heady experience when people in Washington were told that I had no political agenda what I was being paid for or what I was being rewarded for was telling the truth their eyes glazed over and they said rights, tell us about it Ray, there can‘t be… Well there could be and there was. Towards the end of my career in the 80s the intelligence analysis started to be a little bit corrupted and then as we know big time corrupted and that‘s when I left. I was old enough and have enough experience to retire so I retired at age 50 and when people say what changed you I have to tell them that I didn‘t change. It was the intelligence agencies that changed. They began to make up, they began to do fraud, to justify what Nürnberg called a war of aggression and it‘s as bad as it gets. So I was out out and when I saw what was happening it was a matter of gathering together some friends of mine and we started trying to hold our former colleagues accountable for what they did and that‘s when we founded veteran intelligence professionals for sanity of which Elizabeth and I are the most active members.
Elizabeth Murray: I think my journey began when I noticed that that‘s the coming war against Iraq was being built on a foundation of non-truths it was very clear to me that there were no weapons of mass destruction there wasn‘t any concrete evidence and analysts were coming under pressure to find such things as a link between said that Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda and that sort of thing. And then when we went to war on Iraq despite all the international protests despite the lack of evidence. It was very disconcerting to me and I wasn‘t sure I wanted to be associated with such an organization anymore. So I started to make mental notes of all the things that were going wrong within the intelligence community and that made up my mind that I would speak out about it. I also spent some time in the Middle East and when I traveled to the West Bank and to Gaza I started to see the results of US policy I started to see the violence against the Palestinians and I realized that many of these injustices were the fruits of US policies. So it‘s been a privilege really for me to be out of the intelligence service with the experience and the observations that I have, to be able to speak out freely the truth and to educate people because our media doesn‘t necessarily tell the same story. So I see it as an obligation and I see it also has a privilege because of what I experienced on the inside.
Theresia Reinhold: many people are fleeing from Syria Afghanistan, Iraq and African countries to seek refuge in the EU. What has this wave of refugees to do with US NATO and European military interventions in these regions?
Ray McGovern: Alles. It has everything to do with it. You know as I read the newspapers of the weekend the Flüchtlinge, the refugees, how many shares shall we take or should we forbid them, how should we treat them. Well to your great credit Germans are being very hospitable to these but no one is asking as far as I can hear, why? Why are there 160,000 refugees we have to deal with? Why the 4 million refugees in and around Iraq? Why are the 4 million refugees from Syria? Well, the answer lies in what I mentioned before, the fact that George Bush and Dick Cheney wanted to make war on Iraq. The intelligence that they relied upon was not mistaken as they say, no mistake here. It was fraud. It was manipulated. Sometimes it was forged or even invented. So, when you look at „Wie werden heute Kriege gemacht? Wie werden heute Flüchtlinge gemacht“, it‘s the same answer. The chaos in the Middle East that started with our invasion of Iraq and now all the troubles we are having with ISIS and what to do with the Syria if the US has any policy toward Syria for example is can be explained in my view by the fact that the US practice about there being no daylight between the policies of the United States and the policies of Israel. When Israeli officials were asked to two years ago what their preferred outcome in Syria was, they said, to Jodi Rudoren, New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, “this sounds a little bit unsympathetic but our preferred outcome is no outcome.” And she said, “I beg your pardon.” “Yes well again it sounds very very hard but as long as the Shia and Sunni are fighting it out with each other not only in Syria, mind you, but in the whole area, then Israel is ipso facto safer, we feel no threat from Syria so long as there is no outcome.” Now there it is, I pulled out my hair trying to figure out with the US policy is toward Syria and I have to say that nothing makes more sense in terms of explaining it and of the sense in terms of reasonable policy then this answer that was educed by these Israeli officials with whom Jodi Rudoren of the New York Times spoke and, miracle of miracles, that appeared in the New York Times on September 6, 2013, you can look it up.
Theresia Reinhold: What role have foreign interventions, foreign governments and intelligence agencies played in Syria, not only US agencies but also EU ones, Germany probably or the UK. Can you tell us something about that?
Elizabeth Murray: I‘m not sure I can speak to what role Germany and the UK they have played beyond sort of a supporting role. We know the US has sent advisors there and we know what Germany has not done, as far as I know, Germany has not sent troops on the ground there, but Germany is hosting an airbase in Ramstein that is responsible for communications with drones and that‘s really directly implicating unfortunately Germany in some of these attacks and activities that are taking place. So I think Germany is playing an indirect role in Syria and perhaps doing so hoping not to get further involved, but I think what‘s not being mentioned, is the terrible humanitarian toll this is causing. It‘s not just a little trickle of refugees, we are seeing entire countries being emptied out of their populations, millions and millions of people, not just in Syria, but in Yemen and where are these people going to go? And if Germany is not going to continue to take some of these refugees what does that imply for German policy vis-à-vis US military adventures in these countries. I have a lot of questions about what the future of German policies is going to be with the US policy in the Middle East.
Theresia Reinhold: May I ask which questions you have concerning these policies?
Elizabeth Murray: well, how long does Germany intend to host this airbase, how long is it going to be until Germany realizes, that is directly responsible for some of these drone deaths that are occurring especially on these innocent civilians? I think Germans are very loyal to the United States, they‘ve been that way for 70 years, nobody wants to rock the boat, but at the same time what does this mean overtime for Germany? Will Germany not become a target of terrorism, when it becomes clear that the US could not implement its drone war without the help of Germany? What does this mean in terms of German responsibility for these deaths? We know, there‘ve been some lawsuits already by Yemenis and others against the German role, so how does this square with international law, when innocent people are being killed? Again, it‘s something that may be people don‘t want to face up to, but the United States that Germany was allied with basically over the past 70 years that really changed after 9/11. The United States has changed so, does Germany wants to own up to that? This implies may be read revisiting the relationship with the United States and may be revisiting Germany‘s sovereign rights on places like Ramstein.
Theresia Reinhold: a declassified report from the defense intelligence agency shows, that the US government was already in 2012 fully aware that an extremist Islamic state in Iraq and Syria was in the making. However, the US supported Syrian opposition groups collaborating with these extremists for years. What is your assessment of these policies?
Ray McGovern: It‘s a complicated matter, but of course a lot of this is a direct result of US policy in Iraq. There were no Al Qaeda, there were no ISIS in Iraq before we attacked Iraq. It didn‘t take a special scientist to figure out what would happen when we followed this policy and what‘s happening now of course is a direct result, so when the DIA the defense intelligence agency mentioned that this might have really bad effects or this might not be very wise or ISIS could take the role that Al Qaeda used to have, that was a sensible warning that doesn‘t mean that our policymakers have to heed the good intelligence, that‘s the corollary. You have good intelligence but either it doesn‘t get to the president level because the generals, the people who are making careers out of wars, prevented it from getting to the top level, or it was given to the president as we gave Lyndon Johnson intelligence on Vietnam, and he can disregard it because of political factors. In this case he didn‘t want to be the first US president to lose a war, and so he became the first US president to lose a war.
Elizabeth Murray: so I see a parallel between what happened in Afghanistan when the United States decided to support the Mujahedin, to push out the Soviet Union, in other words using the Taliban who are religious extremists, allowing them to build up this extremist government and then push the Soviet Union out. I think it was convenient perhaps to allow ISIS to develop as a way of putting pressure on the Assad government. I don‘t think the US wanted to hinder that possibility and so I think they chose to deliberately ignore it this piece of analysis and now we are in a quandary of course because just like the extremist of Afghanistan which morphed into a Al Qaeda and other extremist groups that opposed the US and caused 9/11 actually. Now we have Isis that sort of metastasized throughout the Middle East, it‘s completely out of control. We‘ve allowed a Frankenstein to be created and again this was intelligence that was available to our policymakers and clearly they decided maybe this wouldn‘t be such a bad idea but. Now I think we have maybe cooler heads involved, perhaps the United States, which has just signed a nuclear deal with Iran, maybe with the cooperation of the leaders in Moscow can maybe come together and maybe develop a little bit more rational foreign policy. Hopefully we‘ll see a stabilization of the region but I don‘t think there is any easy solution to the ISIS problem. This is something that is completely out of control right now and it‘s just an example of how when intelligence analysis can be ignored by policymakers there are consequences that are completely out of hand.
Ray McGovern: In the past – and I know a little bit more history than the recent past because I‘m older – when we had crises like this we would convene the stakeholders – the people most immediately involved – we would go to Paris, to Geneva or Vienna and we‘d sit down around a table. Now I can name all the countries around where ISIS is active and most of them have no wish that ISIS should succeed. Saudi Arabia is a little bit different. They are largely responsible for ISIS. So why has it occurred to no one to bring people to Geneva, Vienna or Paris to sit around the table and say, “All right this is a problem for all of us so, now how are we going to solve it? And Saudis, what are you doing? Funding an army – this ISIS guerrilla?” And once that happens and people have a reasonable way of coming to decisions that are in the interest of most of the people in the room and maybe not in the interest of Saudi Arabia, but that will be all to the good because what Isis needs is to stop getting the kind of equipment and supports that it is getting from the Saudis and a few other states.
Theresia Reinhold: Which role do other regional powers play this conflict? Especially Western allies, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, who have admitted that they are supporting and even arming groups like the Al-Nusra Front, which is the Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda and very similar to the Islamic state?
Ray McGovern: all of the secret services are involved of course. And some people have tarnished military reputation as well. General David Petraeus suggested two weeks ago that it would be a good idea to support Al-Nusra this time and use them to confront Al Qaeda or ISIS. These people don’t have any concept of how our role there by arming moderates rebels – now there aren’t any moderate rebels... We did arm and train about 60 of them and what happened when ISIS got around the corner – they defected. That’s really embarrassing. Our policy in that area has been up until now pretty much an adjunct to Israel’s policy. No outcome, keep the pot boiling. Tell Assad he’s got to go. That last thing was a terrible mistake. Where does Hillary Clinton think that she can get off as Secretary of State and say Assad, the president of Syria has got to go? And the president himself says that. Well, they’re not saying that anymore. And the Russians and we and the Iranians and others are getting together and saying okay look how do we get out of this thing and stanch the advance of ISIS? That’s a good thing, so I am a little bit more hopeful this month than I have been in many months.