Robert Gates and Those ‘Transfer Cases’

Robert Gates: Chancellor of William & Mary in full regalia. 
Image via

By Ray McGovern, Sept. 1, 2021

My longtime colleague at CIA, Mel Goodman, has written an instructive article about our decades-ago co-worker Robert Gates, whom Mel labels the “Poster Child for Bureaucratic Deceit”. (See: ) Sadly, I can vouch for the correctness of Mel’s findings.

Gates’s case is emblematic of how it is that ambitious, brown-nose functionaries (as well as rising four-stars) can ooze themselves into top positions and do irreparable harm. The only hope of preventing this in the future is to expose how the system now works, so I feel bound to add my two cents (plus a confession for having been Gates’s branch chief 50 years ago).

Goodman’s piece was occasioned by Gates’s key role in the deaths of hundreds of thousands in Afghanistan and Iraq. I have followed Gates particularly closely since he took the job as defense secretary in late 2006 as Donald Rumsfeld finally heeded his generals’ advice that the Iraq war was hopeless, and that “surging” still more troops into Iraq in 2007 would simply compound a long list of errors.

Enter Robert Gates and “wing-man” Gen. David Petraeus who said they thought the surge a great idea. Its main purpose, actually, was to allow Cheney and Bush to leave office without losing a war. The cost? “Only” 1,000 additional U.S. troops delivered to Dover in “transfer cases”. Writing in November 2008 I reviewed the play by play and posed a question: “Robert Gates: As Bad as Rumsfeld?” (See: ). Few of those watching closely thought the question in that title as off the wall as it had first sounded.

Goodman: Guts and Integrity

Mel Goodman was a very professional analyst of impeccable integrity. With an acute sense of horror, he watched Gates and his mentor William Casey (Ronald Reagan’s CIA Director) squander what had been CIA’s coin of the realm — its reputation for independent, unvarnished (Truman called it “untreated”) intelligence analysis. For example, Gates appointed sycophants like John McLaughlin, who had zero experience in Soviet affairs, to lead Soviet analysis and to warn loudly that Mikhail Gorbachev was merely a clever Commie and that the Communist Party would never give up power in the USSR.

Gates had quickly learned that parroting his avuncular, Russophobe patron Casey (and preventing objective analysis of the USSR) was a super-quick way to climb the career ladder. And Gates closely followed Casey’s example. In an unguarded moment on March 15, 1995, Gates admitted to Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus that he had watched Casey on “issue after issue sit in meetings and present intelligence framed in terms of the policy he wanted pursued.”

Whether Gates truly believed the Communist Party of the Soviet Union would never fall is an open question. What is clear is that he was a windsock — the perfect word for him (courtesy Mel Goodman).

It bears mention that Gates’s surrogates — like McLaughlin and his ilk — bubbled quickly to the top. McLaughlin and the other malleable managers promoted under Gates were the same ones who “loyally” saluted Gates’s Doppleganger George Tenet, when “bureaucratic deceit” was needed to “justify” launching a war of aggression on Iraq in 2003.

Nuclear Exchange Barely Avoided in 1983

As for Goodman, we have him and a couple other gutsy analysts of Russia to thank for being alive today.  In Nov. 1983, they put their careers at risk, when they tried to warn the White House that the Soviets were interpreting a large U.S. nuclear exercise named “Able Archer” as preparations for the real thing — actual war.

CIA Deputy Director Robert Gates brushed them off. So they made an end-run around Gates to Director William Casey, despite knowing full well that Casey himself was normally reluctant to believe that the Russians could actually be afraid of the U.S. Thankfully, Mel et al. succeeded in convincing Casey this time. Whew!

The release earlier this year of documents on the Nov. 1983 Able Archer exercise prompted Mel Goodman to send this letter to The Washington Post; it was published on Feb. 22, 2021. Here is the text:


Opinion: The ‘war scare’ and the CIA

The Feb. 18 news article “Newly released documents shed light on 1983 nuclear scare with Soviets” was an important reminder of the dangers of any military exercise that involves nuclear weapons, but it omitted a very important detail. KGB officer Oleg Gordievsky, who reported to British intelligence, was a source of the intelligence alert and the “war scare.” A group of CIA analysts convinced CIA Director William Casey that the “war scare” was real, and Casey ignored his deputy director for intelligence, Robert Gates, who argued that the Soviets were merely crying wolf. Because of our efforts, Casey convinced President Ronald Reagan that the “war scare” was real and our nuclear weapons command exercise was made less threatening. Then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used the “war scare” to persuade Reagan to pursue disarmament talks with the Soviet Union. 

Melvin A. Goodman, Bethesda

The writer, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, was a Soviet foreign policy analyst at the CIA from 1966 to 1990.


Mel Goodman and I have the book on Gates, so to speak. So did the late Robert Parry, who published much of his own analysis of Gates, as well as ours, on Consortium News, the website Parry founded on 1995 for independent investigative reporting. To supplement what Mel writes in his recent article, let me quote from a piece I wrote in 2011 when Gates joined some of the rats leaving the sinking ship of the Iraq and Afghan war policies.  I focused on Gates’s uncanny ability to schmooze — not only with pundits like the adoring David Ignatius, but in this particular case with the editor of The Boston Globe. In March 2011 I posted (See: ) “How to Read Gates’s Shift on the Wars”. Excerpts below:


The Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) is always ready with fulsome praise for Gates’s “candor” and “leadership” – and even for his belated recognition that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were nuts.

Certain kinds of public candor are so unexpected that they have the shock value of a gunshot at theopera,” purred a Boston Globe editorial on March 1, 2011 about Gates’s belated admission that only a crazy person would commit U.S. ground forces to wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan. The editorial then lamented Gates’s planned retirement later in the year and urged President Barack Obama “to look hard for a successor with some of Gates’s unusual leadership qualities.”


Unusual leadership qualities, indeed.  Without doubt, it was surprising when Gates inserted the following comment into his speech on Feb. 25, 2011 at West Point:

“But in my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General [Douglas] MacArthur so delicately put it.”

Those of us who have known Gates for many years couldn’t help but wonder what he was up to, what was the ulterior motive behind his decision to put distance between himself and these two misbegotten wars

Having overseen two wars, was Gates signaling that he knew the conflicts would come to a “no good end”, and thus was he creating a public record for himself as something of a war skeptic, a Washington Establishment savant? Gates noted that 80 young West Point cadets had fallen in battle since 9/11 (and surely some in his audience would join them in filling future “transfer cases” from the feckless wars that Gates now says should qualify any supporter for a visit to the local psychiatrist.

The Final Straw

Gates finished his “Farewell Address” at West Point with these words:

As some of you have heard me say before, you need to know that I feel personally responsible for each and every one of you, as if you were my own sons and daughters; for as long as I am secretary of defense that will remain true. … I bid you farewell and ask God to bless every one of you.

Additional reading:

— “The Danger of Keeping Robert Gates”, by Robert Parry (See: )

— “The Reality of Robert Gates”, by Paul Pillar (See: )

“Ages 2 to 40 Years Old…”

Drone attack near Kabul Sunday killed 10 of Ahmadi & Nejrabi families, ages 2 to 40 years old.

Absent General Petraeus there is no one to surmise Afghans killed their own children to exaggerate civil casualties, as he did in Feb 2011:

Afghanistan Is a Debacle – But You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

PHOTO: Ukrainian government blocks drinking and agricultural water deliveries via the North Crimean Canal to the residents of Crimea. This suspension hit agricultural lands, increased the salt level in the waters of the Gulf of Sivash, and negatively affected health.

By Edward Lozansky – Monday, August 30, 2021

If one scans this week’s headlines they are all gloom and doom, running from despair and humiliation to disaster and debacle. But rarely do you see calls for a fundamental reset of the failed U.S. foreign policy of perpetual wars and a rethink the global leadership paradigm.

This is not surprising, since the mainstream media are, with rare exceptions, an essential part of the powerful lobby MICIMATT (the term coined by the former CIA analyst Raymond McGovern, who was responsible for Ronald Reagan’s morning briefs) that is actually in charge of this policy.

MICIMATT means “Military-Industrial-Congress-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank” complex. Here are some results of its activity for the last 20 years.

According to the Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs of Brown University: over 801,000 people have died in the post-9/11 wars due to direct war violence, and several times as many due to the reverberating effects of war; over 335,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting; 38 million — the number of war refugees and displaced persons. These horrific numbers do not include wounded but they are usually several times higher than those who are killed. According to Newsweek, “in 20 years of fighting, there have been almost 11,000 American deaths (including contractors) and more than 53,000 have been physically broken, while countless others suffer from traumatic brain injuries and other post-traumatic disorders.”

These numbers account only for American victims. Imagine their magnitude on the world scale. The author of this story, William Arkin, concludes that “after two decades of fighting, in fact, not one country in the Middle East—not one country in the world—can argue that it is safer than it was before 9/11. Every country that is now a part of the expanding battlefield of perpetual war is an even greater disaster zone than it was two decades ago.”

When I repeat Ronald Reagan’s famous “you ain’t seen nothing yet” I have in mind today’s visit of the Ukrainian delegation to Washington, where they will beg for more money and arms as well as doubling their efforts to drag America into yet another war, this time with nuclear Russia.

Needless to say, the MICIMATT will do everything possible to accommodate the visitors. The Ukrainian project was theirs in the first place. The same political technology that was used in Afghanistan to create, arm, and finance the Taliban against the Soviets is being now used to turn Ukraine against Russia. It started from the first day after collapse of the USSR 30 years ago.  This time it is even more cynical than in Afghanistan, since we are talking about attempts to turn into enemies two Christian countries closely linked by centuries-long family, religious, economic, and cultural ties.  I placed “family” in the first place, since it has always been my belief that it is one of the most precious western values, but it looks like it is not so for MICIMATT.

Russia is accused of annexing the Crimean peninsula and fomenting rebellion in the Donbas area, but besides being historically Russian territories with an ethnic Russian majority population it was a Western-backed coup in February 2014 that provoked Moscow into these actions.  There are endless analyses from people in the know who present a clear picture of what happened at that time. 

Just a few examples: “It’s not Russia that’s pushed Ukraine to the brink of war”, – says Seumas Milne in the Guardian, – “The reality is that, after two decades of eastward NATO expansion, this crisis was triggered by the west’s attempt to pull Ukraine decisively into its orbit and defense structure, via an explicitly anti-Moscow EU association agreement. No Russian government could have acquiesced in such a threat from the territory that was at the heart of both Russia and the Soviet Union. Putin’s absorption of Crimea and support for the rebellion in eastern Ukraine is clearly defensive, and the red line is now drawn: the east of Ukraine, at least, is not going to be swallowed up by NATO or the EU.”

This is from Ted Carpenter of the CATO Institute: “The extent of the Obama administration’s meddling in Ukraine’s politics was breathtaking… it was startling to have diplomatic representatives of a foreign country—and a country that routinely touts the need to respect democratic processes and the sovereignty of other nations—to be scheming about removing an elected government and replacing it with officials meriting U.S. approval…It was a grotesque distortion to portray the events in Ukraine as a purely indigenous, popular uprising. The Nuland‐Pyatt telephone conversation and other actions confirm that the United States was considerably more than a passive observer to the turbulence. Instead, U.S. officials were blatantly meddling in Ukraine. Such conduct was utterly improper. The United States had no right to try to orchestrate political outcomes in another country—especially one on the border of another great power.”

As Peter Kuznick from American University noted: “The U.S.-backed Ukrainian coup was the product of decades of U.S. maneuvering in its ill-fated quest for unipolarity. Zbigniew Brzezinski had written in his 1997 book Grand Chessboard that “Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.” Other neocons like Wolfowitz, Libby, and Hadley shared this view. So when Bush called for NATO expansion to Ukraine and Georgia in 2008, the game was over so far as Putin was concerned. U.S. Ambassador to Russia William Burns, the current CIA director, sent Washington a confidential cable with the subject line “Nyet mean nyet: Russia’s NATO enlargement redlines.”

John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago wrote this in the Foreign Affairs:

“The United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the Ukrainian crisis. The taproot of the trouble is NATO enlargement, the central element of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit…For Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president—which he rightly labeled a ‘coup’—was the final straw. He responded by taking Crimea, a peninsula he feared would host a NATO naval base.”

Finally, here is the opinion of the former U.S. Ambassador to USSR Jack Matlock in Time magazine titled: “Let Russia Take Crimea.”

“The fact is, like it or not, Ukraine is almost certainly better off without Crimea than with it. Nothing weakens a nation more than holding territory whose residents prefer to belong to another country. Though they may be difficult for all relevant parties to accept, the premises of a solution to the Ukrainian mess are clear: 1) The new constitution should provide for a federal structure of government giving at least as many rights to its provinces as American states have; 2) The Russian language must be given equal status with Ukrainian; and 3) There must be guarantees that Ukraine will not become a member of NATO, or any other military alliance that excludes Russia.”

Apparently, none of the participants of the pathetic “Crimean Platform” that met on August 23 in Kyiv to discuss how to return Crimea to Ukraine paid any attention to the opinion of the wise American diplomat. Instead of talking to ordinary folks in Crimea they preferred to engage in a fruitless discussion organized by the comic actor-turned President Zelensky – who is desperately trying to appease radical nationalists and the neo-Nazis who strikingly resemble their Afghan Taliban prototypes.  Not a single Crimean Platform participant, or for that matter any Washington official, has criticized Zelensky for his water blockade to Crimea to the people that he claims belong to Ukraine.

Depriving people from drinking water is an international crime but it looks like they preferred to ignore it.  No one raised alarm when the head of the “Servant of the People” pro-presidential faction David Arahamiya and Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany Andriy Melnyk warned Kyiv may be forced to acquire nuclear weapons to safeguard the country’s security if NATO does not accede to its membership demand.

Biden has a choice: build on the strategic stability talks with Putin that would be beneficial for both nations and mankind or listen to MICIMATT, and jump from Afghan to Ukrainian debacle, this time threatening Armageddon.


Edward Lozansky is president of American University in Moscow.

On Holding the Generals Accountable

Ray McGovern interview, August 23

On Monday I gave a 54-minute interview ( See: to Joanne Leon and Kelley Lane of Around the Empire. They had asked me to elaborate on my article Hold the Generals Accountable This Time, which I had written ten days earlier. (See: )

What Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller posted on Facebook a couple of days after my interview put flesh on my observations regarding senior U.S. military officers — whether they are just dumb or insubordinate or both. (See:

The courageous Scheller should be at Dover AFB today to speak the grim truth — there is no escaping it — that his fellow Marines and the others died in vain, and that no one is likely to be held accountable.  AND that it is all foreordained to happen again, if the media put the inevitable “patriotic” gloss on the return of the bodies in the “transfer cases” known, back in the day, as coffins or caskets.

During Monday’s interview, we were able to discuss grim truths about military leadership at the top (or the lack thereof) and name some names as to who should be held to account.  We talked about the vestigial organ called “National Intelligence Estimates” NIEs, and why they have fallen into disuse (more on that later); about how the prostitution of intelligence on Vietnam, which my colleague Sam Adams and I observed up close and personal and which ALWAYS happens when the U.S. Army is at war; about how you defeat terrorism (hint: it’s like eliminating malaria); about how Obama let himself be pushed around by the likes of Petraeus and Gates (and Biden, by the likes of McKenzie, Austin, and Milley); about how Daniel Hale is a fitting recipient of the 20th award by Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence; and about the key role played by the corporate media in defending culprit corporate-generals — media and generals both key parts of the MICIMATT — Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank complex.

The discussion seemed to be bordering on hopeless, so I closed with a word of encouragement, citing I. F. Stone and his dismal-sounding, but nonetheless uplifting words. Perhaps they can inspire those of us dedicated to spreading truth around for as long as we can:

“The only kinds of fights worth fighting are those you’re going to lose, because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins.”  

Meanwhile, we have to try to keep some balance — and even some sense of humor, as we continue to keep on keepin’ on.  Required most of all, I believe, is solidarity. I recall a large banner at the Catholic Worker’s Jonah House in Baltimore. “The first duty of authentic discipleship is to support one another.” Let’s do that.