WASHINGTON – Invoking the name of a Pentagon whistle-blower, a small group of retired, anti-war CIA officers are accusing the Bush administration of manipulating evidence against Iraq in order to push war while burying evidence that could show Iraq's compliance with U.N demands for disarmament.
The 25-member group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, composed mostly of former CIA analysts along with a few operational agents, is urging employees inside the intelligence agency to break the law and leak any information they have that could show the Bush administration is engineering the release of evidence to match its penchant for war.
VIPS member Ray McGovern, a 27-year CIA veteran who gave intelligence briefings to top Reagan officials before retiring in 1990, said the administration has not made the case that Iraq has ties to Al Qaeda and is providing information that does not meet an intelligence professional's standard of proof.
"It's been cooked to a recipe, and the recipe is high policy," McGovern said. "That's why a lot of my former colleagues are holding their noses these days."
But the CIA said McGovern doesn't have any authority to speak of the quality of intelligence policy-makers are reviewing.
"He left the agency over a decade ago," spokesman Mark Mansfield said. "He's hardly in a position to comment knowledgeably on that subject."
VIPS say their appeals to CIA staff are an attempt to evoke another Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret study on U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Leaking classified national defense information is illegal, and CIA officers, who take a secrecy oath when they join could lose their security clearances or jobs, and may even face prosecution.
On top of that, the culture of the CIA is very introverted -- disputes stay inside the agency and intelligence officers rarely discuss policy, adopting the attitude that their job is to gather and dispense information, not decide how to act on it.
"Our role is to call it like we see it, to provide objective, unvarnished assessments. That's the code we live by, and that's what policy-makers expect from us," Mansfield said.
But McGovern, who now works in an inner-city outreach ministry in Washington, said officials who blow the whistle would be performing a higher service.
"It goes against the whole ethic of secrecy and going through channels, and going to the [inspector general]. It takes a courageous person to get by all that, and say, 'I've got a higher duty,'" he said.
Administration officials insist that the data being reviewed and dispensed is of the highest quality, and point to the materials handed out to the United Nations by Secretary of State Colin Powell.
"These are not assertions. What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence," Powell said at the presentation.
But McGovern and others in this group say it's no secret that the material leaked to members of Congress or administration officials frequently is one-sided and gives a narrow picture of the entire outlook.
The group said officials who act as would-be whistle-blowers can use the same method as those now handing out information -- giving it over to members of Congress who can both protect them and show the entire picture.
"They have to basically put conscience before career," said Patrick Eddington, a VIPS member and former CIA agent who resigned in 1996 to protest what he describes as the agency's refusal to investigate some of the possible causes of Gulf War veterans' medical problems.
Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA counterterrorism chief, said he saw little chance of CIA analysts going public to contradict the Bush administration.
"Sure, there's a lot of disagreement among analysts in the intelligence community on how things are going to be used [by policy-makers]," he said. "But you are not going to see people making public resignations. That would mean giving up your career."