The good news about last week’s exposes about retired Adm. Bobby Ray Inman is we now know why he should not be secretary of defense. The bad news is the revelations are unlikely to derail President Clinton’s nomination of the former spymaster.
It is particularly bad because of the daunting challenges that await Les Aspin’s successor: hotspots in Haiti, the former Yugoslavia and Somalia; simmering confrontations in the Middle East; instability in the former Soviet Union; insidious linkage between Third World conflicts and Pentagon-sponsored arms sales; and pressure to shrink defense spending, which remains bloated despite the Cold War’s end.
Although Congressional leaders have been falling all over each other in the rush to endorse Inman, largely because of his great intellect, experience and forthright and cordial manner, after the Reagan/Bush era of illegal intelligence operations and Pentagon corruption, the national security apparatus needs someone to help clean house, and Inman’s tarnished record suggests he is not the one.
To his credit, in early 1976, while director of naval intelligence during the Carter administration, Inman fired rogue agent Edwin Wilson, a member of a top-secret task force that set up businesses worldwide as covers for intelligence operations, had amassed a personal fortune from the business fronts. Wilson now is serving a 52-year sentence for crimes committed after his dismissal, including supplying explosives to Libya.
In addition, Inman, while director of the National Security Agency in the late 1970s, did away with a policy of firing homosexuals.
Later, in March 1982, Inman resigned after 16 months as deputy director of the CIA. William Casey’s management style and several of the director’s policies, including plans for intelligence gathering in the United States, had gnawed at Inman. Casey, who died in 1986, is widely regarded as the mastermind of covert operations in support of the Nicaraguan contras and the arms-for-hostages deals with Iran.
While Inman’s resignation is regarded as another feather in his cap, the circumstances surrounding it are murky. At a press briefing two weeks earlier, Inman had presented aerial photographs to establish that Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista-government was in the midst of a big military buildup. The photos purportedly demonstrated the lengthening of runways to accommodate Soviet MIG fighters – thus supporting Reagan administration claims that Nicaragua was becoming a base for Soviet penetration of this hemisphere, starting with nearby El Salvador, where the White House was embracing a brutal, right-wing, military-dominated government in a civil war.
The briefing was part of an elaborate Reagan administration p.r. effort for its bankrolling of the contras’ guerrilla war against the Nicaraguan government. CIA analysts later concluded that the Soviets were not going to send MIGs to Central America. But to avoid embarrassing Inman, Casey and the agency, the conclusion was suppressed by Casey’s top assistant, Robert Gates. Inman would later repay the favor.
Five years later, President Reagan nominated Gates to head the CIA, but Gates withdrew because he was tainted with the fresh stench of Iran-contra. When President Bush nominated him again in 1991, Gates was slammed with new charges that he had suppressed intelligence reports unfavorable to Reagan’s and Bush’s policies, and that he had played an important role in the Bush administration’s coddling of Saddam Hussein in the years before the Gulf War.
But Gates was confirmed by a timid Congress, because the truth about the White House support for Iraq, both during its eight-year war with Iran until 1988 and afterward, has emerged only in dribs and drabs over the last two years. And Inman spoke out in Gates’ support. Inman could be expected to sympathize with his fellow spook, since his closet contained several skeletons of his own.
After resigning from the CIA in 1982, Inman served as a consultant to the House Intelligence Committee during a particularly sensitive period. Congressional authorization of military aid to El Salvador had been made contingent upon improvement in the Salvador armed forces’ respect for civil rights, and the committee was investigating reports that US-trained troops had massacred hundreds of unarmed civilians in the Salvadoran village of El Mozote.
The House committee issued a report blasting the State Department for a lackadaisical investigation. (State found no evidence of a massacre.) Inman then resigned as the Committee’s consultant and, according to a report last week in The New York Times, told a group of retired intelligence officers he had not been consulted on the report, which he characterized as deeply flawed.
Ten years later, after locating hundreds of skeletal remains, mostly of women and children, the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador confirmed the massacre in El Mozote.
Inman’s spat with the Intelligence Committee may have been simply a difference of opinion. Much more sinister is his connection to James Guerin, a former electronics and arms manufacturer now serving a 15-year federal sentence for a $1 billion fraud and transfer of military technology to South Africa and Iraq.
In the mid to late ‘70s, Inman served successively as director of naval intelligence, vice director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and director of the NSA. According to “Spider’s Web” by Alan Friedman, a reporter for the Financial Times during that period, Inman’s spy agencies encouraged Guerin’s company, International Signal and Control, based in Lancaster, Pa., to ship advanced electronic sensors, optics and related military equipment to South Africa, despite a UN embargo that Washington officially respected. The justification: The equipment was to be used to monitor Soviet shipping traffic off the Cape of Good Hope.
When Inman left the CIA, he became a paid member of International Signal and Control’s proxy board of directors. Since ISC was a Pentagon contractor, and its stock was controlled by British investors, US law required such a board to guarantee the security of classified information.
Among the contracts the board authorized was one in 1983 to manufacture cluster bombs, a particularly lethal form of land-clearing weaponry whose export is normally tightly controlled. With the tacit approval of Inman’s proxy board and Reagan administration intelligence officials, the cluster bombs eventually wound up in the hands of Saddam Hussein’s forces.
According to Friedman’s careful reconstruction of events, ISC in 1984 entered into a cooperative agreement with Chilean arms manufacturer Carlos Cardoen to divide the global cluster bomb market and to teach Cardoen’s people how to improve their own bombs. Cardoen, in turn, became Iraq’s cluster bomb supplier. This required Washington to waive secretly its restrictions on the export of cluster bomb technology, its embargo on arms shipments to the Chile of dictator Augusto Pinochet, and its official neutrality in the Iran-Iraq war. Inman kept his mouth shut.
And that – not his failure to pay his housekeeper’s Social Security tax or his dismal record as a top executive with several defense contractors in the last 10 years – is why Inman should not be put in charge of the Pentagon.