The Burden of Truth

Ray McGovern came to the CIA in 1964 in the wake of President John Kennedy's call to "ask what you can do for your country." For the next 27 years, McGovern did his best to speak the truth, as he saw it, to those in power—including presidents and their national security staffs. David MacMichael also worked for the CIA, investigating Reagan administration claims that Nicaragua was fomenting regional wars. Both men came to the conclusion that ideology and politics, not "truth," was fueling U.S. foreign policy, in Iraq and elsewhere, and have since been on a mission to bring light to the shady world of spy vs. spy—and encourage their former intelligence colleagues to refuse to remain silent. They were interviewed in July by Sojourners editors Rose Marie Berger and Jim Rice.

Sojourners: In the buildup to the war in Iraq, the Bush administration made allegations about Iraq that are proving to be demonstrably false. Were they just misunderstandings of intelligence data, or were we sold a bill of goods? Was it an honest mistake?

Ray McGovern: No, by no stretch of the imagination was it an honest mistake. We were able to tell by last fall that there was very little substance to the main charges with respect to weapons of mass destruction. Even the sanitized version of the National Intelligence Estimate that was put on the CIA Web site—if you have any experience in intelligence, you could see what a thin reed they were relying on, and that there was little possibility of substantiating Dick Cheney's claim that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. That, of course, is the mushroom cloud that scared Congress into ceding its power to wage war.

Sojourners: Why is that significant?

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 2003
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