Writing for Antiwar.com is a perfect fit. As a CIA analyst for 27 years, I learned the most while doing "current intelligence." My work was, in effect, that of a journalist. With access to classified information I provided first-look analysis, pointing to the implications of recorded events. We analysts did this in direct support of policy makers.
We did not take our analysis out of thin air. Most of us had been around for years; we were able to focus on our substantive areas: mine was Russian foreign policy.
Best of all, we were able to hew to President Truman’s original charge: to provide "untreated" intelligence plus independent analysis. Truman structured the CIA so that we reported directly to the president himself.
Preparing The President’s Daily Brief and other daily publications were our responsibility as current intelligence analysts. We were, de facto, under intense pressure NOT to let ourselves be scooped by the New York Times or the Washington Post. A Gorbachev speech, for example, had to be reported and/or analyzed immediately.
These days, when media people ask the agency about me and those of my former colleagues who have gone "straight," they are told: retirees can’t be in the know without access to classified information? But the truth is that open sources constituted about 80 percent of the evidence we had on Russia. Indeed, this reality so astonished incoming Director William Casey that he mentioned (and complained about) it at President Reagan’s first cabinet meeting in 1981. I believe the open source number to be about 90 percent now.
It’s true that on occasion an intercept, satellite image, or report from a human source would provide a missing piece to a puzzle. But this would serve to corroborate judgments we had already arrived at. And with recent advances in technology, the grist is ready for the mill almost immediately.
This is why writing for Antiwar.com is a natural fit. I can apply my skill set, drawing on three decades of experience in the current intelligence/analysis business (plus two decades in retirement critiquing the intelligence performance). I found that Eric and crew not only valued that expertise, but also were kindred souls in seeing the advantages of being firstest with the mostest in making seasoned analysis immediately available.
On May 25, 2021, for example, President Biden abruptly suggested a summit to President Putin. Not writing about this that day was, in my view, not an option. But what to say that might be a help to policy makers? Biden’s foreign policy advisers had already proven themselves arrogantly incompetent. Thus, I wrote about the issue on which the stakes seemed highest – the change in the "world correlation of forces" since their Ivy-mantled school days:
Whether or not Official Washington fully appreciates the gradual – but profound – change in America’s triangular relationship with Russia and China over recent decades, what is clear is that the US has made itself into the big loser. The triangle may still be equilateral, but it is now, in effect, two sides against one.
Reviewing what Biden said about China on June 16, 2021 right after the summit, I was tempted to despair. Planeside, before departing Geneva, Biden still reflected the ignorant insouciance of his sophomore advisers: Russia is in a very, very difficult spot right now. They are being squeezed by China. …”
Perhaps, my six decades of keeping close watch on the Sino-Russian dance gives me a bit of perspective. The point is that Antiwar.com takes that experience into account, as well as the imperative of pronouncing on such things promptly.
Early this year, however, I lacked the courage of my own conviction that Presidents Putin and Xi Jinping were virtual allies and should have been thought of as such. It was hard to predict that XI would, in effect, give Putin an exemption from China’s bedrock focus on sovereignty and the other principles of Westphalia; that the mutual support of the two would include explicitly strong defense of each other’s core interests; and that XI would give Putin, in effect, carte blanche for invading Ukraine.
I had not thought that likely and, accordingly, wrote that Putin would not invade Ukraine. Wrong!
Here’s another thing about Antiwar.com. Writers are held accountable. As the dust of the invasion settled down, editorial director Scott Horton took me to the woodshed. Scott listened to my explanation and then remediated it.
In any case, I survived the woodshed. I find it a true gift to be able to draw on what I have learned over the years and make my views available to Antiwar.com’s readership.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His 27-year career as a CIA analyst includes serving as Chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and preparer/briefer of the President’s Daily Brief. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).