Seven Questions for Robert Gates

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No one expects that Robert Gates, the nominee for Defense Secretary who begins his testimony this morning before the Senate Armed Services Committee, will face the withering scrutiny he did in 1991, when he was confirmed as the director of Central Intelligence after a monthlong series of hearings that spotlighted many of his alleged misdeeds as a senior official at the CIA. But one can only hope the Committee members don’t steer clear of Gates’ questionable past and ask the nominee some pointed questions. Among them:

-Why did the CIA fail to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union?

-What role did you have as a subordinate of CIA director William Casey in the Afghan war against the Soviets?

-Please tell us all the occasions since 1988 (under both Bush administrations) on which you were asked for advice on the Afghan and Iraqi wars and what advice you gave.

-In 1984 you wrote Casey that: “It is time to talk absolutely straight about Nicaragua,” and added, “The Nicaraguan regime is steadily moving toward consolidation of a Marxist-Leninist government, and the establishment of a permanent and well-armed ally of the Soviet Union and Cuba on the mainland of the western hemisphere. Its avowed aim is to spread further revolution in the Americas.” You said this was an “unacceptable” course and argued the U.S. should do everything “in its power short of invasion to put that regime out.” Any hopes of causing that regime to reform itself for a more pluralistic government are “essentially silly and hopeless.” With Daniel Ortega back in power, what should we do now? Does he now pose a threat to the western hemisphere? Are hopes for a pluralistic government still “essentially silly and hopeless”? Your views, please.

-In 1985 you wanted to “redraw the map of North Africa,” advocating invading Libya with a force of 90,000 American soldiers, seizing half the country, and overthrowing Muamar Ghaddafi. On the basis of your advice, Casey ordered up a list of Libyan targets. Please explain your thinking on Libya.

-You have said that you first learned of the operation we now know as Iran-Contra when Eugene Hasenfus’s plane was shot down over Nicaragua on October 5, 1986. If that is so, tell us about your meeting on October 1, 1985 with the CIA’s National Intelligence Officer, Charles Allen, who told you of his suspicion funds were being diverted to the Contras. What action did you take when he told you this?

-Some of your former colleagues at the CIA allege that you played a role in politicizing intelligence at the agency, a claim you have long denied. Can you explain how a memo came to be drafted under your direction, based on information from one source, that alleged Soviet involvement in the Papal Plot? Why did your cover note on this memo, which was sent to the president and the vice president, call this assessment a “comprehensive examination”?

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