Defense Science Board:
Muslims hate US Policy, not Freedom
by Ray McGovern
December 5, 2004
Thursday's conference on "Al Qaeda 2.0:
Transnational Terrorism After 9/11,' sponsored by the New
America Foundation and the New York University Center on Law
& Security, was a valuable gift to those wanting an update on
informed opinion on the subject. The event proved to be as highly
instructive for what was not addressed, though, as for the issues
that were. The elephants known to be present remained largely
The cavernous Caucus Room of the Russell Senate Office
Building was full to the gunnels. Panel after panel of
distinguished presenters from near and far, from right and
left—including authors Peter Bergen, Michael Scheuer,
Jessica Stern and Col. Pat Lang— exuded and freely shared
their expertise. But there was myopia as well.
The mosquitos of terrorism were dissected and examined as
carefully as biology students once did drosophila, but typing the
generic DNA of terrorism proved more elusive. Worse, no attention
was given to the swamp in which terrorists breed. Were it not for
a few impertinent questions from the audience evoking a pungent
smell, the swamps might have eluded attention altogether.
The first panel featured two experts from RAND, both of whom
touched only in passing—and quite gingerly—on the
need to drain the swamp. The first closed his remarks with a
30-second peroration in which he observed that less attention
might be given to kill/capture metrics in favor of addressing the
causes of terrorism and breaking the cycle of terrorist
The second speaker from RAND, referring to that
organization's numerous studies on influencing public
opinion, closed his remarks with this: "When the message
coheres with the context in which the message is transmitted, it
works.' Sending out the right message during the Cold War
was easier, he said, because the context (the United States being
the only alternative to the USSR) was very clear. On terrorism,
he added, we need to ponder "the mismatch between context
What About The Elephants?
Then came a rude question from the audience: Is it not
striking that even in an academic-type setting like this,
elephants must remain invisible? Is it not ironic, that a panel
of the U.S. Defense Science Board, in an unclassified study on
"Strategic Communication,' completed on September 23
but kept under wraps until after the November 2 election, let the
pachyderms out of the bag? Directly contradicting the president,
the DSB panel gave voice to what virtually all who were sitting
in that ornate Senate Caucus Room knew, but were afraid to say.
It named the elephants.
"Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,' but rather,
they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their
objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of
Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even
increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as
tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan,
and the Gulf States. Thus, when American public diplomacy talks
about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no
more than self-serving hypocrisy.'
"...Nor can the most carefully crafted messages, themes, and
words persuade when the messenger lacks credibility.'
U.S. Support For Israel "Immutable'
Another questioner pressed RAND's expert on
mismatch-context-message, asking, "What can we do to change
the context?' In answer the expert acknowledged that the
United States has a "bad reputation' but insisted
that this is "unavoidable' because, for example, U.S.
support for Israel is "immutable.' The United States
is also connected to what many Muslims consider
"apostate' regimes, but it is difficult to escape
what binds us, because the U.S. needs their "tactical
support.' (Read: oil; military bases; intelligence.)
There was some wincing and squirming in the audience, but in
the end it was left to aptly named Marc Sageman, a forensic
psychiatrist, former CIA case officer, and author of the book
Understanding Terror Networks (published earlier this year), to
state the obvious on Israel and Iraq. Putting it even more
bluntly that the Defense Science Board panel, he asserted:
"We are seen as a hypocritical bully in the Middle East
and we have to stop!'
Now why should that be so hard to say, I asked myself. And I
was reminded of a frequent, unnerving experience I had while on
the lecture circuit in recent months. Almost invariably, someone
in the audience would approach me after the talk and ensuing
discussion, and congratulate me on my "courage' in
naming Israel as a factor in discussing the war in Iraq and the
struggle against terrorism.
I don't get it. Since when did it take uncommon courage
to state simply, without fear or favor, the conclusions that fall
out of one's analysis? Since when did it become an
exceptional thing to tell it like it is?
Taking The Heat On Israel
I thought of the debate I had on Iraq with
arch-neoconservative and former CIA Director James Woolsey on
PBS' Charlie Rose Show on August 20, when I broke the taboo
on mentioning Israel and was immediately branded
"anti-Semitic' by Woolsey. Reflecting later on his
accusation, it seemed almost OK since it was so blatantly ad
hominem. And his attack was all the more transparent, coming from
the self-described "anchor of the Presbyterian wing of
JINSA'—the Jewish Institute of National Security
Affairs, a strong advocate of war to eliminate all perceived
enemies of Israel—like Iraq. In the ensuing days, a flood
of e-mail reached me from all over the country—some of it
repeating Woolsey's charge, but most of it warmly
congratulating me on my "courage.'
I still don't fully understand. And that was my candid
answer to the question I dreaded—the one that so often came
up during the Q and A sessions following my presentations: Why is
it that the state of Israel has such pervasive influence over our
body politic? No one denied that it does; most seemed genuinely
puzzled as to why. My embarrassment at my inability to answer the
question is attenuated by the solace I take in the thought that I
am in good company.
Gen. Brent Scowcroft, National Security Adviser to President
George H. W. Bush and now chair of his son's President's
Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, has been known to speak out
on key issues when his patience is exhausted. Remember how, for
example, before the attack on Iraq, he described the evidence of
ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda as "scant' when
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was calling it
"bulletproof?' Well, it sounds like he has again run
out of patience. Scowcroft recently told the Financial Times that
George W. Bush is "mesmerized' by Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon. "Sharon just has him wrapped around
his little finger,' Scowcroft is quoted as saying.
Scowcroft and I apparently have less at risk than those
working for RAND...or for the New York Times, which gives off the
aroma of being similarly mesmerized and intimidated. This shows
through with amazing regularity; I'll adduce but two recent
To its credit, the New York Times on November 24 published a
story by Times reporter Thom Shanker on the findings of the
Defense Science Board panel report given to Defense Secretary
Rumsfeld on September 23. But why was the story two months late?
And the urban legend that it was the Times that broke the story
is not true. On November 15, Reasononline's Matt Welch, who
also writes for Canada's National Post, wrote an account of
the panel's report in which Welch referred to its
recommendations as having already been "made
Oh, really? When? Were reporters from the mainstream press
again asleep? Do they choose to feed only on the thin gruel of
approved Pentagon handouts? It is easy to understand that the
Defense Department had no incentive to advertise the DSB
panel's embarrassing and potentially explosive findings.
How often have we seen a Pentagon-sponsored report contradicting
a sitting president on a matter of such significance—and
before a crucial election? It is not so easy to grasp why the
media missed or ignored the story. Or perhaps it is.
Maybe the clue is in the timing. I gave a long interview on US
intelligence matters to another Times reporter a few weeks before
the election and at the conclusion of the interview I commented
that I certainly hoped his story would appear before November 2.
This reporter turned out to be as candid as he was embarrassed.
No, he confessed, his superiors at the Times had made it clear
that there was an embargo on criticism of the administration of
the kind I had offered until after the election. I expressed
amazement that the New York Times—once courageous publisher
of the Pentagon Papers that helped bring an end to our last
ill-conceived war—would allow itself to be so intimidated.
He replied, with undisguised embarrassment, that this is simply
the way it is today.
Again, I find myself wondering how long the Times sat on the
material reported by Shanker. Did it have the story before
November 2? What does it mean that the Times published
Shanker's report only after a decent post-election
interval? Also interesting is the date ultimately chosen to run
it—the day before Thanksgiving, a very poor time to attract
the attention such a story might otherwise evoke. Yet another
sign of wimpish desire to pander to administration
...and Times Surgery
Of equal interest is how the Times abridged the story itself.
Shanker did quote from the key paragraph beginning with
"Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom''
(quoted in full above). But he or his editors deliberately cut
out the next sentence about what Muslims do object to; i.e., U.S.
"one-sided support in favor of Israel and against
Palestinian rights,' and support for tyrannical regimes.
The Times did include the sentence that immediately followed the
omitted one. In other words, the offending middle sentence was
surgically removed from the paragraph like a malignant tumor.
Editing Bin Laden, As Well
Similarly creative editing showed through the Times'
reporting on Osama Bin Laden's videotaped speech in late
October. Several paragraphs of the story made it onto page one,
but the Times saw to it that the key point Bin Laden made toward
the beginning of his remarks was relegated to paragraphs 23 to 25
at the very bottom of page nine. Buried there, dwarfed by a large
ad for Bloomingdales, was Bin Laden's revealing claim that
the idea for 9/11 first germinated after "we witnessed the
oppression and tyranny of the American-Israeli coalition against
our people in Palestine and Lebanon.'
If, as suggested earlier, one were to look for
"context,' precious little is provided by the Times.
A "newspaper of record' might have noted that even
the risk-averse 9/11 commissioners pointed out on page 147 of the
Commission Report that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind and
executioner of the 9/11 attacks, was motivated by "his
violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring
Israel.' Was that not news fit to print?
Four More Years
With the mainstream media co-opted, and four-year older but
familiar national security faces in place for the
president's second term, it is a safe bet we are in for the
same inept, misguided policies—only more so. Sadly,
Secretary of State Colin Powell's relatively moderate views
had little visible impact on policy decisions. Still, when he is
gone the president's circle of advisers will have an even shorter
diameter. And it is highly unlikely that Powell's
designated successor, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, will be any more
astute than in the past in seeking counsel from experienced
statesmen like her former patron, Gen. Scowcroft.
Foreign leaders are aghast...and have been for years. In
August 2002, British senior Labor backbencher Gerald Kaufman, a
former shadow foreign secretary, warned that the
"hawks' in the U.S. administration were giving the
president poor advice:
"Bush, himself the most intellectually backward American
president in my lifetime, is surrounded by advisers whose
bellicosity is exceeded only by their political, military and
diplomatic illiteracy. Pity the man who relies on Rumsfeld,
Cheney and Rice for counsel.'
On the afternoon of February 5, 2003, after Secretary of State
Colin Powell made his embarrassingly memorable speech at the UN,
my colleagues and I of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for
Sanity (VIPS) drafted and sent a short memorandum to the
president, which concluded with this observation:
"After watching Secretary Powell today, we are convinced
that you would be well served if you widened the discussion
beyond... the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for
which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the
unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.'
Instead, the circle has been squeezed still tighter—as
with wagons. And those widely known in Washington as "the
crazies' when they were middle-level officials and the
president's father was in the White House are now even more
firmly ensconced. They remain in charge of things like
war—the very same folks who brought us the
"cakewalk' that became war in Iraq.
Hold onto your hats!
Ray McGovern's (RRMcGovern@aol.com) duties during his
27-year career as an analyst at the CIA included daily briefings
of then-Vice President Bush and the most senior national security
advisers to President Ronald Reagan. McGovern is on the Steering
Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
An earlier version of this article appeared on Tompaine.com