Whistleblower At The CIA: A Path Of Dissent – An Insider’s Account Of The Politics Of Intelligence, by Melvin A. Goodman (City Lights Books, San Francisco, 2017, 421 pages).
Book Review by Dennis Moore
August 16, 2017 (San Diego) - Melvin A. Goodman, a former Soviet analyst at the CIA and the Department of State for 24 years, and a professor of international relations at the War College for 18 years, has written an intriguing and thought provoking book about espionage and politics; Whistleblower at the CIA. This is a timely and definitive book on the current state of affairs between America and Russia.
Coming at a time when it seems that all eyes are on Russia and the Trump administration, this book opens the door to what it is like for our country to continually battle an adversary like the former Soviet Union, from without and within. While talk of collusion and conspiracy theories hang over our heads, the author puts things in perspective from his many years fighting the dark forces attempting to undermine our democracy and way of life.
Goodman, who is currently the Director of the National Security Project at the Center for International Policy in Washington, DC, and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University, has authored, co-authored, and edited seven related books, including National Security: The Cost of American Militarism; Gorbachev’s Retreat: The Third World; The Wars of Eduard Shevardnadze; The Phantom Defense: America’s Pursuit of the Star Wars Illusion; Bush League Diplomacy; How the Neoconservatives Are Putting the World at Risk, and Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA. With this type of resume, who better to assess and put into perspective our country’s current state of affairs with Vladimir Putin and Russia than Goodman?
Melvin Goodman’s long career as a respected intelligence analyst at the CIA, specializing in US/Soviet relations, ended abruptly. In 1990, after twenty-four years of service, Goodman resigned when he could no longer tolerate the corruption he witnessed at the highest levels of the Agency. In 1991 he went public, blowing the whistle on top-level officials and leading the opposition against the appointment of Robert Gates as CIA director. In the widely covered Senate hearings, Goodman charged that Gates and others had subverted “the process and the ethics of intelligence” by deliberately misinforming the White House about major world events and covert operations.
A poignant and revealing passage in Whistleblower at the CIA, is Goodman stating: “President Obama was praised for trying to win friends in South America by revealing past misdeeds. I prefer to think that the president understood the importance of whistleblowing.”
Daniel Ellsberg, former military analyst who released the Pentagon Papers, says of Whistleblower at the CIA: “Whistleblower at the CIA offers a fascinating glimpse into the secret, behind-the-scenes world of U.S. intelligence. Melvin A. Goodman’s first-person account of the systematic manipulation of intelligence at the CIA underscores why whistleblowing is so important, and why the institutional obstacles to it are so intense…. At its core it’s an invaluable historical expose, a testimony to integrity and conscience, and a call for the U.S. intelligence community to keep its top leaders in check. Urgent, timely, and deeply recommended.” I agree!
Additionally, pertinent and worth noting in Whistleblower at the CIA, is Goodman stating: “During my stay at the college, one of the few journalists who was not afraid to criticize the military, Sam Donaldson, annually lectured to the classes and always refused the modest honorarium of $250. I only mention that because such greedy luminaries as Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski wanted tens of thousands of dollars to speak to the military classes. Many military students in the class always looked forward to the Donaldson lecture because they thought they could beat him in a game of wits. They never laid a glove on him.”
Goodman shares revealing insight into our intelligence community, and the politics involved in it, in one particular passage: “In the 1980s, Casey and Gates lied to oversight committees about their knowledge of the Iran-Contra operations. The author pulls no punches!
Perhaps most revealing, and setting the tone for this incisive and well-written book by Goodman, is the following passage and assessment: “A trio of CIA directors – Gates, Webster, and Woolsey – failed to inform the intelligence committees of the most destructive traitor in the CIA’s history, Aldrich Ames. For nearly a decade, Ames exposed every operational program against the Soviet Union and Russia, but these directors didn’t inform the oversight committees of the serious counterintelligence problems that had been created.”
Another revealing passage in this insightful and well documented book by Goodman, which is worth pondering, states: “The uncertainty and disarray of the Trump administration and its ill-prepared national security team has made the importance of ‘telling truth to power’ more essential than ever. Donald Trump would probably prefer to ‘replace and repeal’ the First Amendment’s defense of free speech and free press. It will be up to whistleblowers in the intelligence and policy communities to ensure that any misuse of power does not go inreported.”
Whistleblower At The CIA actually contrasts with another book just out on whistleblowing, Stephen Martin Kohn’s The New Whistleblower’s Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing What’s Right and Protecting Yourself. Goodman and Kohn gives contrasting viewpoints on whistleblower, with Goodman doing the actual whistleblowing, and Kohn, a noted attorney, actually defending those accused of whistleblowing. Kohn was actually the co-counsel to Brad Birkenfeld, the UBS whistleblower who received an award of $104 million dollars from the IRS – the largest amount ever paid to a single whistleblower.
In a recent phone interview with the author, I inquired of him his opinion and assessment of the current CIA Director Mike Pompeo, particularly in regard to President Trump raising the prospect of possible military action in Venezuela. Without hesitating, Goodman said that Mike Pompeo was not qualified to be CIA Director. He also said that CIA Directors should support policy, and not make policy!
Goodman has been very critical of CIA Directors in his book, and in my phone interview with him he stated that there has not been a good CIA Director since 1981, with particular disdain for Bill Casey.
Retracing his career with the Central Intelligence Agency, he presents a rare insider’s account of the inner workings of America’s intelligence community, and the corruption, intimidation, and misinformation that lead to disastrous foreign interventions. An invaluable and historic look into one of the most secretive and influential agencies of US government – and a wake-up call for the need to reform its practices. This book is a must read!
Whistleblower at the CIA is best summed up by this statement by Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell: “Mel Goodman’s Whistleblower at the CIA confirmed for me what my own experiences had revealed during six hectic days and seven sleepless nights at CIA headquarters, getting Colin Powell ready for his presentation to the UN Security Council on Iraq’s ‘Failure to Disarm’ on February 5, 2003. Mr. Goodman provided exhaustive detail on why the agency has failed, again and again, and will continue to fail if some future president and congress do not step in and dramatically change the way CIA functions.” This is a fantastic book!
It is ironic that Senator Charles Grassley introduced legislation designating July 30, 2017, as “National Whistleblower Appreciation Day”.
Dennis Moore has been the Associate Editor of the East County Magazine and the book review editor of SDWriteway, an online newsletter for writers in San Diego that has partnered with the East County Magazine. He has also been a freelance contributor to EURweb Magazine based out of Los Angeles. Mr. Moore can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter at: @DennisMoore8.