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Dusko Doder

Dusko Doder, a former Moscow correspondent for the Washington Post, is the author of Shadows and Whispers: Power Politics Inside the Kremlin From Brezhnev to Gorbachev and the Gorbachev biography Heretic in the Kremlin. His latest book, written with Louise Branson, is Milosevic: Portrait of a Tyrant (Free Press).

  • Court Reporter

    On June 4, 1961, John F. Kennedy held his last meeting with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna.

    Dusko Doder

  • Covert Ops October 17, 2002

    Did the CIA Blow the Call?

    Shortly after Ronald Reagan became President of the United States, the nation's capital got a second morning newspaper. Eventually, Dr. Ronald Goodwin, formerly the Rev.

    Dusko Doder

  • Biography June 13, 2002

    A Bombmaker of Conscience

    We are all fascinated by the lives of the powerful and famous, and in the last part of the twentieth century Andrei Sakharov became one of Russia's most famous. He burst onto the world stage in the summer of 1968, and seemingly overnight he went from the high-clearance obscurity of thermonuclear

    weapons to world fame. His essay advocating "convergence" of capitalism and socialism, which was smuggled to the West, was extraordinary. It did not matter that its contents were naïve and sophomoric (he envisioned a world government by the year 2000). Its author was the "father" of the Soviet H-bomb, someone who understood that life and civilization could be incinerated in an hour's time and as such commanded instant respect. Moreover, he was a member of the elite, whose views were "profoundly socialist" and who abhorred the "egotistical ideas of private ownership and the glorification of capital." But there were deeply heretical undertones in his thinking. He insisted that the Soviet Union needed economic and political reforms, and if necessary a multiparty system, even though he did not regard the latter as an essential step "or even less, a panacea for all ills."

    This was, of course, the time of the Prague Spring, when the peoples of the Communist part of Europe followed with sympathy and apprehension Prague's reformist Communist leaders taking Czechoslovakia down the path of democratization. A nascent democratic movement had emerged in Russia in the mid-1960s as well, spreading through large sections of the intelligentsia. "What so many of us...had dreamed of seemed to be finally coming to pass in Czechoslovakia," Sakharov said later. "Even from afar, we were caught up in all the excitement and hopes and enthusiasm of the catchwords: 'Prague spring' and 'socialism with a human face.'"

    All hopes were squelched on August 21, 1968, when Russian tanks entered Czechoslovakia and arrested the reformers. It was also a fateful moment for Sakharov: His essay had transformed him into the leading personality of a small dissident movement. The regime ended his career at the secret weapons lab in Turkmenistan but allowed him to work at the Institute of Physics in Moscow. After a decade of defending dissidents, he was arrested in 1980 and exiled to the closed city of Gorky (now Nizhni Novgorod), where he was force-fed when he attempted a hunger strike. The dramatic struggle between a lone individual and a mighty totalitarian state ended with an astounding concession by the state: On December 16, 1986, the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, personally invited Sakharov to return to Moscow and "go back to your patriotic work." It was an act of contrition that also enhanced Gorbachev's reputation in the West.

    In this first English-language biography of Sakharov, Richard Lourie offers a beautifully written and engaging account of the physicist's life. Lourie is a distinguished author and a leading translator of Russian literature. He also translated Sakharov's own Memoirs, which they had discussed at length. Lourie has had extended help from Elena Bonner, Sakharov's second wife, and the portrait of their marriage is one of the most insightful aspects of the book. But writing a biography of so complex a figure as Sakharov is more difficult than it may seem, in part because his life was the stuff of which myths are made. It had two distinct phases.

    In the first he eagerly served the state and performed his great bomb-making accomplishments. It was a period of Stalinist terror and appalling privations in which Sakharov accepted everything with "cheerful fatalism." Like Voltaire's Dr. Pangloss, he clung to his belief that everything Stalin did was for the best, that creating the most destructive weapons mankind had known was his patriotic duty, that "the Soviet state represented a breakthrough into the future." Even the repugnant KGB system of informing seemed to him a normal fact of life, an "ordinary link in the network of surveillance that enveloped the whole country." When the dictator died in 1953, Sakharov was deeply moved. "I am under the influence of a great man's death," he wrote to his wife. "I am thinking of his humanity."

    The second period--one of political activism, open dissent and real sacrifices by Sahkarov--has been meticulously documented in the press. Needless to say, he was lionized in the Western press and awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. Yet his impact on the events that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union remains unclear. As a leading actor in the dissident movement, he seemed from the beginning a tragic figure who most fully reflected its strengths and weaknesses. Sakharov not only lacked charisma, as Andrei Amalrik said, but he also rejected the leadership role bestowed upon him by the dissidents. Sakharov, Amalrik says in Notes of a Revolutionary, wanted to be "a solitary monk under a leaky umbrella whose voice in the defense of the oppressed would be heard because of his moral prestige."

    It is difficult to explain the almost complete break between these two periods. It coincides roughly with the publication of his controversial essay, "Reflections on Progress, Co-Existence, and Intellectual Freedom," and the death of his first wife. What made him do his U-turn, or, in Professor Philip Morrison's apt image, what made him go "from a Teller to an Oppenheimer"?

    We can only speculate what went on in Sakharov's head. His explanation seems incomplete. He said he confronted a "moral dilemma" at the time of the 1955 H-bomb test because his calculations of death by fallout over the generations made it clear that the total numbers were staggering. He was also appalled by the ecological consequences and began advocating a ban on nuclear testing.

    An incident at a banquet to honor a successful test may have had a greater impact on Sakharov. His toast at the banquet--"May all our devices explode as successfully as today's, but always over test sites and never over cities"--was immediately countered by Air Marshal Mitrofan Nedelin, who wanted to put the scientist in his place by telling a crude story:

    "An old man wearing only a shirt was praying before an icon: 'Guide me, harden me. Guide me, harden me.' His wife who was lying on the stove said: 'Just pray to be hard, old man, I'll take care of the guiding.'" "And so," said the air marshal, "let's drink to getting hard."

    Sakharov felt "lashed by a whip." An exceedingly proud man, he was humiliated before his colleagues. He drained his glass and never said another word for the rest of the evening. He was, he said later, shocked into a realization that he and his colleagues had created a terrible weapon whose uses "lie entirely outside our control."

    After the first successful test, in 1953, Sakharov's self-confidence was at a peak. Still "outwardly modest," inwardly he was "actually quite the opposite." The director of the atomic weapons program, physicist Igor Kurchatov, had called him "the savior of Russia!" He had replaced Igor Tamm, his mentor, as scientific head of the hydrogen bomb project. He alone had written a report on his conception of the next generation of nuclear weapons and delivery systems; he attended a Politburo meeting that approved it. To outsiders he seemed able to walk on water. He enjoyed every privilege the state could bestow. He had the attribute of highest importance: a high-frequency phone, a direct line to all leaders. He was made a Hero of Socialist Labor, the nation's highest honor (for the first of three times). He was elected to full membership in the Soviet Academy of Sciences, bypassing the usual period of candidacy (Tamm's had lasted twenty years in an election before he became a full member).

    Yet, as Yuli Khariton, the director of the secret weapons lab, put it, Sakharov's immense self-confidence was both his strength and his failing. Sakharov "felt his own strength and could not imagine anyone understanding better than he." When others found the solution to a problem he was unable to solve, Sakharov would set about with "exceptional energy" to search for the flaws in it. Not finding them, he was forced to admit that the solution was correct.

    If the 1955 test was the turning point in his thinking, it was reflected only in his interest in and advocacy of a ban on nuclear testing. Clearly he had little understanding of the politics of nuclear weapons or the domestic political pressures that Nikita Khrushchev was facing.

    Ignoring his pleas, Khrushchev insisted that the largest Soviet bomb ever be tested so it would coincide with the Communist Party Congress (and the expulsion of Stalin's body from the Lenin Mausoleum in Red Square). Having been overruled and slavishly following orders, Sakharov proposed that not one bomb but two be tested at the same time. This would provide sufficient information to eliminate the need for further testing for a long time. Even more bizarre was his grandiose proposal for a giant, atomic-powered torpedo with a 100-megaton charge that could inflict enormous casualties on enemy ports. A Russian admiral Sakharov tried to consult would not give him the time of day. As a military man, the admiral believed in "open battle" and was disgusted and outraged by the idea of merciless mass slaughter.

    By 1957 the Russians had sent Sputnik into orbit and the competition for the control of outer space became a top priority. In the 1960s the space program was allocated the largest chunk of the research budget. Sakharov and other bomb-makers were shunted aside. This may be one of the reasons for Sakharov's foray into political theory, though Lourie does not explore it. But Sakharov is a hard man to assess. For example, his role in enabling Russia to detonate its first hydrogen bomb just nine months after the Americans is indisputable, but his accomplishments as a physicist must await final judgment. So far, none of his peers have placed him in the pantheon of top Russian physicists. None doubted his talent, but the common judgment may have been summed up by Lev Landau, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, who called him "outstanding" and said: "While I would not consider him a genuine theoretical physicist, he is rather a 'constructive genius.'" Tamm, another Nobel Prize winner, was more generous. Sakharov's tragedy, Tamm said, was "that he had to sacrifice his great passion--elementary-particle physics--first to create an atomic and hydrogen bomb," then sacrifice it a second time in the struggle for social justice.

    It's even harder to assess him as a man. I first met him in the hospital of the Academy of Sciences in 1967, where he was a patient. I was visiting another patient, the writer Nikolai Erdman, who took me "to say hello" to Sakharov, who was recovering from a hernia operation. First impressions often gel into lasting images. I have subsequently written dozens of stories about him, and I never had any doubt that he was a rare good man who was prepared to oppose evil. As an absent-minded and eccentric professor, he was unassuming and humble. Yet his benevolent smile somehow demanded respect. He was born into a family that belonged to that section of nineteenth-century intelligentsia that believed it their duty to fight Russia's backwardness and authoritarianism. There was a sense of entitlement about him, something that must have come about from special considerations and privileges that had been extended to him over the years. Following the publication of his controversial essay, he was banned from military projects but accepted the position offered him at the Physics Institute, working under Tamm. He accepted. Neither side had entirely given up on the other. What if Sakharov came up with a new discovery? At the time, neither science nor politics had much meaning for Sakharov, who was grieving for his late wife and looking after his 12-year-old son, Dima.

    Sakharov was still a unique figure, both admired and envied. His unanimous election to the Soviet Academy of Sciences was without precedent for two reasons: Not only had he not completed his doctorate (he was a candidate of science), but his work was so classified that more than 99 percent of those who voted for him had no idea why he was honored. Academic Vasily Yemelyanov, who headed the Soviet atomic energy commission in the 1950s, told me in an interview how Khrushchev had asked him to insure Sakharov's election without revealing his role in the H-bomb project. Yemelyanov replied that that was impossible. People are going to ask questions. After all, Sakharov, 32 at the time, was a molokosos (baby). "You tell them that he had done a great service to the state but you are not at liberty to reveal what it is," Yemelyanov quoted Khrushchev as saying.

    Sakharov was still viewed as salvageable when two prominent dissidents were incarcerated in psychiatric institutions: Gen. Pyotr Grigorenko and biologist Zhores Medvedev, twin brother of Marxist historian Roy Medvedev, a friend of Sakharov's who distributed his original 1968 essay in samizdat form. Roy Medvedev's book about Stalin, Let History Judge, which Sakharov read in samizdat, played a major role in his developing politics. As Soviet policy hardened under Leonid Brezhnev, open dissent turned into a concerted opposition to a return to Stalinism. Sakharov created an international incident in 1970 when he appeared at an international symposium held in Moscow and announced that he was collecting signatures in defense of Medvedev, who was under psychiatric detention. A week later he protested directly to Brezhnev. Medvedev was freed in mid-June, but Grigorenko remained incarcerated for four years.

    A void of ostracism, however, began to form around Sakharov. He had crossed over to the other side. This became irrevocable when he met his second wife, Elena Bonner, a die-hard political dissident.

    Ironically, Sakharov was finally happy, being married to a woman he loved and who shared his ideas. Like God's fool from the Russian tradition, he was regularly challenging the lies on which the system was constructed yet not ending up in jail, because God's fool was the only person who could speak the truth to czars. The authorities, unwilling to lash out at Sakharov himself, instead targeted Bonner's children. Bonner herself was reviled in the press. Sakharov fought back--hunger strikes were his ultimate weapon. The state had considerable success in radicalizing his image and making it appear that the human rights movement was used by Sakharov to obtain exit visas for his family and friends.

    Lourie presents a compelling account of Sakharov's personal odyssey, going behind the glossy picture we painted and repainted over the years. If there is a serious shortcoming here it is that Bonner's role has been, perhaps inadvertently, minimized. The book leaves the reader with a sense of disappointment that this genuinely great man did not have a more lasting effect. But we'd be remiss to forget the electrifying impact on Russia of his return from internal exile in 1986. Even more significant was his decades-long struggle to keep alive the best traditions of the Russian intelligentsia. Like his beloved Pushkin, he will remain loved because--in the poet's words--"I've struck the chords of kindness/and sung freedom's praise in this cruel age,/calling for mercy to be shown the fallen."

    Dusko Doder

  • Global Organizations May 9, 2002

    Milosevic, Still at War

    It is probably safe to say that the war crimes trial in The Hague of the former Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic is not going well. At least so far. No credible witnesses have come forward to testify against the man who is credited with starting four Balkan wars. No documentary evidence has been advanced to prove his "command responsibility" for murderous ethnic conflicts. The prosecution's bungling has turned what was once touted as a "water-tight case" into a battle of wits, allowing Milosevic to mount a fifth war--legal and psychological--against the court itself.

    It is, of course, an uneven battle. The court is supported by the might of the United States and its vast eavesdropping and intelligence-gathering facilities. Behind the scenes, Americans have tried to induce some of Milosevic's former henchmen to testify against him. (That includes the notorious paramilitary leader known as Arkan, who was gunned down inside the Belgrade Intercontinental two weeks after he lunched there with an American intermediary for the CIA.) Publicly, the United States has linked all financial assistance to Serbia to the extradition of suspected war criminals; the hope is that some of them may provide the needed information about Milosevic's "command responsibility."

    The former dictator, on the other hand, has to rely mainly on himself, his wife and a few supporters. The image of a solitary individual standing up against the world not only appeals to his vanity but also seems to energize him. His defense strategy is brilliantly cunning, designed to play on Serbia's psychological vulnerabilities and continued Serb resentment of the 1999 NATO bombing. From the outset he has said that the court is illegal, that it is NATO's victors' justice and that he would not accept its judgment. Yet, acting as his own defense attorney, he has used the tribunal as a stage for his antics, playing the role of a defiant David to NATO's Goliath, the victim of powerful foreign enemies, and in the process doing all he can to make his a trial of the whole Serbian nation.

    Opinion polls suggest that his strategy is working in Serbia. Even though four out of five Serbs want to see Milosevic tried in a Serbian court for crimes committed against his people, a majority applaud his stand at The Hague.

    This is unfortunate. This public perception is likely to discourage potential witnesses from coming forward. In the absence of compelling evidence against him in court, Milosevic's political rehabilitation becomes a distinct possibility. More significant will be the impact on the world's first permanent court--which is to be established also in The Hague--to replace ad hoc courts like the one sitting in judgment of Milosevic. But it is up to the ad hoc tribunal to come up with the precedent-setting legal standard of "command responsibility" (the conditions under which a tyrant, even if not directly involved, can be held responsible for crimes committed by his subordinates).

    This raises several broader questions: What sort of justice, exactly, is being served in The Hague? Why is it that the prosecution, having claimed to have a water-tight case, appears to be flailing in the dark? Was the court manipulated by the Clinton Administration? What exactly was the secret intelligence that the United States and British governments supplied during the 1999 Kosovo war to prompt the court to indict Milosevic?

    Louis Sell is one of those rare anonymous State Department officials who venture to write books in their retirement. He was highly regarded by his superiors and held the rank of political counselor in two major embassies: Belgrade and Moscow. His tour in Belgrade, from 1987 to 1991, coincided with Milosevic's rise to power and the outbreak of war in Yugoslavia. This has placed him in the middle of things. Scores of secret cables, sensitive intelligence reports, raw National Security Agency telephone intercepts and even satellite photos landed on his desk each day. He not only had access to everything the analysts and spooks produced on the Yugoslav crisis but was one of the few people capable of placing such material in the proper context. (He had served in Yugoslavia in the 1970s and is fluent in Serbo-Croatian.) He returned to the region in 1995 as political deputy to former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, then the European Union's chief negotiator for the former Yugoslavia. After the Kosovo war, Sell served as director of the International Crisis Group in Kosovo.

    By background and experience, Sell is a bureaucratic insider. Unlike the more senior officials--Richard Holbrooke or Gen. Wesley Clark--he has no need to defend his reputation. Nor is he a man prone to self-glorification. His twenty-eight years in the State Department conditioned him to shun the limelight. This may be why he could apparently not bring himself to give the reader his own take on events. Instead he has chosen a journalistic format, relying mainly on published sources--news dispatches, opinion columns and books. This was a poor choice. He knows far more than most authors he quotes in his Slobodan Milosevic and the Destruction of Yugoslavia.

    Indiscriminate reliance on Western press reports is risky. For example, Sell reproduces a German tabloid story about Milosevic's alleged involvement in drug trafficking. Far too often he resorts to "Western journalists" as the only source of this or that information; far too often the phrase "everybody knew that..." crops up in the narrative as the sole source for a given Serbian crime. Although he tries to write dispassionately, his anti-Serb bias gets in the way from time to time. In one instance, he writes that the high command in Belgrade sanctioned the July 1995 attack on Srebrenica; the source for the assertion is a book published in 1994. Is this sloppy writing? Careless editing?

    Sell does offer a shrewd assessment of the former dictator. He sees him as someone "without any core beliefs or values other than his own political survival." Milosevic, he writes, "was not very good at using power for anything other than keeping it." He was an enormously destructive figure. Obsessed with power, he deliberately impoverished not only Serbia's economy but also its intellectual and social fabric "in order to eliminate the very capacity for independent alternatives to emerge."

    The book follows familiar lines; I doubt whether it contains anything that has not been said before. One does come across interesting tidbits: Washington took an almost instant dislike to Carl Bildt, because he "had not developed the habit of deference to Washington" and was unwilling "to take direction." Needless to say, Bildt did not last long in the job.

    There is, of course, nothing surprising nowadays in high-level American officials expecting deference from little nations or their representatives. But this is only a part of America's post-cold war attitude toward the rest of the world. It also permeates US policy in the Balkans. Despite the rhetoric about justice and eagerness to help the people of Serbia, the book suggests that the United States was interested in the Hague court as a political tool rather than a mechanism that would add another dimension to international law by holding individual leaders responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Everything that would detract from Washington's policy--whatever that policy is at any given moment--must be dismissed out of hand or ignored. With a sleight of hand, Sell dismisses British and French experts who found conclusive proof that Muslim snipers had fired on their own people in order to stimulate sympathetic media coverage for their plight. He ignored Canadian Gen. Lewis MacKenzie, who said he had personally seen a similar incident. Sell also ignores the fact that Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger accused Milosevic of war crimes in Bosnia and Croatia in December 1992; Eagleburger's speech in Geneva no longer fits the official narrative.

    Within a year, Milosevic had reinvented himself as a born-again peacemaker. By 1995 he was the "guarantor" of peace in Bosnia. (He was, indeed, most responsible for the successful outcome of the peace talks at Dayton, Ohio.) He shared the stage with Bill Clinton during the signing ceremonies in Paris. Clinton flattered him. "It's nice to hear your voice," Clinton told the dictator. The American President, aboard Air Force One to visit US troops in Bosnia, chitchatted with the Serbian dictator about the Dayton agreement. "I know it cannot go ahead without you," Clinton said, according to a recently published transcript of the conversations monitored by Croatian intelligence.

    So, even though "it had long been clear that Milosevic was responsible for ethnic cleansing and other Croatia and Bosnia," Sell tells us, he was not indicted, because the Clinton Administration was unable to find a "smoking gun" that would directly link him to the misdeeds. We are led to conclude that the Administration did not assign high priority to the task.

    On the eve of the Kosovo war, however, the US government became active in seeking to tie Milosevic to war crimes in Kosovo in early 1999. The State Department's war crimes intelligence review unit was given a boost: The number of its analysts and the urgency of its task were increased. Having no diplomats or spies in Serbia, Sell reports, analysts used satellite photos to study troop movements inside Kosovo. The outcome was "precisely the kind of evidence needed to indict Milosevic on the basis of 'imputed command responsibility'" for ordering ethnic cleansing or failing to stop it. Canadian jurist Louise Arbour, the chief prosecutor at the time, must have known that the intelligence she was given did not meet the standards of proof required in a court of law. She traveled to Washington, London and Bonn apparently seeking a policy context for the tribunal's action against Milosevic; but she got "totally ambiguous" responses. As NATO planes continued to bomb Yugoslavia, the flow of intelligence material reaching the tribunal increased, but most of it was part of NATO's massive propaganda campaign against Milosevic. This must have preyed on the minds of the prosecutors, leading them to believe that they had a substantial case that would hold up in court. Indeed, the initial indictment was confined to war crimes committed in Kosovo in 1999.

    The tribunal may indeed have been manipulated by outside forces, as some of its officers feared. As is frequently the case in the Balkans, a story always seems clear at a distance, but the closer you get to the scene of events the murkier it becomes. The drafters of the indictment--somewhat to their surprise later--had not taken into account the fact that Kosovo was a secessionist province that had declared independence in 1991, as a result of which it was placed under Serbian police rule. The province remained quiet as long as the Albanian struggle was confined to peaceful means. However horrific the Serbian repression, it did not include ethnic cleansing. But by 1997, the Albanians had taken up arms. Milosevic had an armed insurrection on his hands. Moreover, when the Kosovo war ended, the liberated Albanians had lost their moral high ground; they embarked on a killing spree of the defeated Serbs under the noses of NATO peacekeepers.

    Once Milosevic was deposed, the legal weaknesses of the Kosovo indictment became painfully obvious, and the prosecutors moved to include Croatia and Bosnia, the latter being the prime stage for the charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Like Sell, I too have no doubt that Milosevic is guilty as charged, at least with respect to most counts dealing with Bosnia. I witnessed a good deal while covering his wars from 1990 to 1996. But it is crucial that this be established in a court of law. Although the pool of Milosevic's partners in crime has been shrinking (most recently with the suicide of his former police minister), a number of them are still at large. The tribunal needs these former Serbian officials; some should be offered immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony. The prosecutors should work with local Serbian authorities and hire local private investigators rather than depend on the might of the United States to force the extradition of suspected criminals. Without such witnesses and in the absence of spectacular documentary evidence, the tribunal is heading for disaster.

    On late-night television the other day I watched Spencer Tracy and Marlene Dietrich in the 1961 movie Judgment at Nuremberg, about the trials of Nazi war criminals. It was a riveting courtroom drama. The evidence against the accused was overwhelming. By comparison, the Hague tribunal is more like the trial of Al Capone, the Chicago mobster who was responsible for a series of gangland murders. Although everybody knew Capone was guilty, police could not prove it. Eventually he was sent to jail for tax evasion. One way or another, I suspect, Milosevic will end up spending many years in jail. Let's hope this will be done for the right reasons.

    Dusko Doder

  • Nation History January 31, 2002

    Of Moles and Men


    Dusko Doder


  • Politics November 8, 2001

    Air Power Politics

    Dusko Doder reviews David Halberstam's War in a Time of Peace.

    Dusko Doder

  • Politics July 27, 2001

    Kosovo: A General Lament

    In mid-June of 1999 NATO's first military campaign ended in victory over Yugoslavia. It may have been the first war in history in which the winning side suffered no combat casualties. America's coercive diplomacy had worked. Yet for Wesley Clark, the US Army general who led the NATO forces in the fight, "it didn't feel like a victory." Most other NATO leaders felt "simply relieved" the whole affair was over.

    A few weeks later, Clark was rewarded by being summarily relieved of his command, notified via phone call by Hugh Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Within an hour he received another long-distance call from a reporter in Washington who had been tipped off. It may just be a rumor, Clark said, hoping to find a graceful way out. He immediately called Shelton back, suggesting that premature publicity would be humiliating to him personally. "All you have to do is correct the leak and say it's just rumor," Clark pleaded. That was impossible, Shelton said. The Pentagon had already notified Congress about his replacement. Clark then phoned Defense Secretary William Cohen, who was traveling in Japan. When Cohen finally accepted the call, he was brief: The decision had been made and "you should know it's been cleared by the White House."

    This dramatic passage helps explain why Clark wrote this book. Waging Modern War is dressed up as an analysis of the changing nature of contemporary conflict; the struggles over Bosnia and Kosovo are indeed presented here as a string of high-powered conferences, press briefings and frantic phone exchanges. But they provide the background for Clark's other war--against his own superiors in the Pentagon--and the infighting in Washington's bureaucratic jungle makes for more fascinating reading.

    The villains in this rather bitter tale are Cohen, Shelton, Army Chief Dennis Reimer and other mostly unnamed Pentagon officials who restricted "my interactions within the broader U.S. government," as well as the media and Congress. The Joint Chiefs prevented him from achieving a clear military victory--by resisting "their obligation to win" and failing to "support" him. Shelton is portrayed as a detached and vague executive without "Washington experience" or understanding of how NATO works; Reimer is depicted as a Machiavellian figure plotting in the shadows to undermine the man whom he once considered a potential Army chief of staff.

    In short, Clark insinuates that he was set up, just as a friendly Congressman had warned him. His requests were ignored. He was muzzled. At one point Cohen ordered him "to get his f---- face off the TV." His 800-plus aircraft using the latest weaponry seemed unable to inflict significant damage on Slobodan Milosevic's military and police forces. But how could they do it when each target had to be approved by the White House? Indeed, it is not difficult to imagine Clark's frustrations. But the way he relates them seems designed to seduce the reader into believing that if only he had been allowed to execute his strategy--for example, to deploy Apache helicopters--the course of the war would have been different.

    The Apache issue is in some ways a central unifying theme of the narrative. The modern helicopters, tanks and artillery pieces that Clark assembled in northern Albania were never used because the Joint Chiefs thought the plan too risky. The vulnerabilities of the Apaches in the rugged and inhospitable Albanian Alps were all too evident; a couple of them were lost in training missions near the steep mountain walls that form the natural frontier between Yugoslavia and Albania.

    But the Apache issue is something of a red herring. The real policy disagreements centered around the use of American power in conflicts where US national interests are ill defined or missing, as we can see from the following two exchanges recorded by Clark.

    First, at the White House Clark contends he was knocking on an open door in offering his view that Milosevic would back down if confronted by the threat of airstrikes. He finds National Security Adviser Sandy Berger "interested" and "receptive." "And you think the air threat will deter him?" Berger asks. "Of course, there's no guarantee. But, yes," Clark replies. There are no follow-up questions--Berger only "nodded in assent"--presumably because he had heard similar advice from two top civilian experts on Milosevic and the Balkans, Madeleine Albright and Richard Holbrooke. (Albright publicly likened Milosevic to a "schoolyard bully" who would collapse after a few punches.)

    At the Pentagon, however, Clark's hunch sets off alarm bells. "What...if the air threat doesn't deter him?" Gen. Joe Ralston asks. "It will work," Clark says, adding that he knows Milosevic "as well as anyone." Ralston persists: "OK, but let's just say it doesn't. What will we do?" "We'll bomb," Clark replies. "Right, but you know that there are real limitations on what the Air Force can do," Ralston says. "And what if the bombing doesn't work?" Clark: "I think that's unlikely, but in that event, I guess we'd have to do something on the ground, directed at Kosovo." What if that doesn't work, asks Ralston. We'll keep going, replies Clark, suggesting a full-scale ground involvement. But it would not come to that, Clark assures Ralston, because he knows that Milosevic does not want to get bombed.

    In Waging Modern War, Clark breezily dismisses Ralston's concerns as "innate conservatism" and proceeds to outline his own bold views on war in the post-cold war era. Traditional US military education, he says, still focuses on Clausewitz's assertion that "no one in his right mind would, or ought to, begin a war if he didn't know how to finish it." Clark continues:

    In practice, this proved to be an unreasonable standard. In dealing with complex military-diplomatic situations, the assertion of power itself changed the options. And trying to think through the problem to its conclusions in military terms always drove one to 'worst-case' analysis. Had we done this in Bosnia we could well have talked ourselves out of participating in any agreement.

    Later, when the war was going badly and the skepticism of the Joint Chiefs was vindicated, the question of an eventual ground invasion became another source of contention. The Joint Chiefs had considered a ground campaign from the north, while Clark insisted on the southern strategy--moving troops from Albania into Kosovo. In arguing against the northern option, Clark asserts that "the Yugoslav military would be well prepared to defend" the approaches through the Pannonian flatlands north of Belgrade. His other concerns were "the problem of urban warfare in Belgrade, or the determined resistance of the Serb population along the way."

    But Clark is on very shaky ground here. The basic Yugoslav defense posture has been based on the realization that the country could not rely on frontal defenses or actions by regular armed forces against a superior enemy entering the northern flatlands, which are natural tank country. (There are no military fortifications of any kind between the Hungarian border and Belgrade, although Yugoslavia had acquired a substantial number of American TOW antitank missiles.) The basic defense force was a universal citizens' militia known as the territorial army. The role of the regular armed forces was to slow down an expected Russian attack from the north and withdraw into the mountains and merge with the territorial army to conduct defense in depth, or partisan warfare.

    The strength of this defensive nation-in-arms concept, quite apart from the recognition of realities, rests on its message to potential invaders that the price of an attack will be high. Ironically, it was shown to be highly effective during the Yugoslav wars. When Slovenia and Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991, both had strong territorial armies (which were always under local control) and were capable of successfully resisting a far better equipped Yugoslav army, which was under Milosevic's control.

    Clark offers no evidence in his memoir of having made a sustained attempt to understand the enemy's defense doctrine. He suggests that the Pentagon's reluctance to commit US ground forces to a campaign in the rugged and inhospitable mountains reflected the capriciousness of the Joint Chiefs. Some of them, he says, were "almost looking for reasons why the ground attack in Kosovo would not work rather than how to make it work." In questioning the "quality" of the Joint Chiefs' advice to President Clinton, Clark says that "none of them had seen or studied the terrain in northeast Albania." But speaking as someone who has crossed, several times, all of the six mountain passes between the former Yugoslavia and Albania, I find their skepticism entirely reasonable. I could not imagine an Abrams tank negotiating any of them without prior extensive engineering road work.

    Moreover, the general is apparently unaware that Yugoslavia had a close military relationship with the United States ever since President Truman unilaterally offered several planeloads of US military communications equipment to Tito in 1949. For a while, Yugoslavia was formally linked to NATO by virtue of the Balkan defense pact that Tito concluded with Greece and Turkey, both NATO members. The Pentagon had a fairly detailed knowledge of Yugoslavia's defenses. (American pilots knew the exact location of the underground military communications center outside Belgrade; they unsuccessfully tried to destroy it during the first day of the war.) The Yugoslavs, unlike the Iraqis, knew well how the US military operates; most of their senior officers had passed through US military academies.

    But tactical disagreements only highlight a deeper split in Washington's establishment about how to manage America's pre-eminence in the post-cold war world. On one side were defense and foreign policy experts around President Clinton who saw American hegemony as a way to solve the world's problems. The "laptop bombardiers," as these experts are sometimes referred to, insisted that the United States and its allies could and should use force against a sovereign country in order to halt the abuse of human rights by its regime against its own citizens. (This was first applied in Bosnia, not in Rwanda, where, at roughly the same time, far more people were massacred within a far shorter period of time.) The assertion of power in this context was described as a moral act driven solely by our commitment to humanitarian values.

    The Joint Chiefs, on the other hand, were wary of this policy and its implications, sticking to the proposition that power should be used to defend or advance US national interests.

    It is not clear at which point Clark parted company with his old military comrades to join the laptop bombardiers, led by Albright and Holbrooke. Nothing in his earlier career suggested the likelihood of such a departure. A native of Arkansas, Clark was a West Pointer, a Rhodes scholar and a veteran of the Vietnam War, in which he was wounded. When he was a colonel, in 1986, his commanding officer, General Reimer, was greatly impressed by Clark and talked about him as a future Army chief of staff. A few weeks later, at age 43, Clark won his first star.

    But only after the arrival in the White House of another Rhodes scholar from Arkansas did Clark's career really take off. He added three stars during Clinton's first term even though his promotion to four-star general in 1996 was expressly opposed by the Army. Nor was Clark the Pentagon's candidate for the post of Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. Clark hints that his personal relationship with the President may have helped him. (In one of his first meetings with the Joint Chiefs, Clinton asked the Army chief if he knew "my friend, Wes Clark.")

    It seems clear that the change in Clark's thinking occurred after he arrived in Washington in 1994 and came under Holbrooke's spell. The general admired the diplomat's compelling personality, his hyperactive ambition and his activist, can-do approach. (During one of their first private talks about the Bosnian war, Holbrooke asked Clark, "Don't you think we ought to bomb?") Clark volunteered to join Holbrooke's Bosnia mission and observed him bluffing the Balkan warlords, negotiating deals of great consequence on the fly, stitching things together as he went along and at the signing of the Dayton accords gaining public adulation rarely accorded to a diplomat. Holbrooke's view on coercive diplomacy and the crucial importance of the media gradually became Clark's own. Even his Army loyalty was shaken; he came to share Holbrooke's view that his military superiors in Washington were consciously sabotaging the Dayton peace process. ("Wes, do you understand that there are members of the Joint Chiefs who want our efforts [in Bosnia] to fail," Holbrooke tells Clark. "Not Shali," Clark thinks, defending only the chairman at the time, Gen. John Shalikashvili, but not the other five service chiefs.)

    After a structured Army life, Bosnia vaulted Clark into another, far more interesting orbit, where he hobnobbed with European leaders, negotiated with Balkan warlords, attended glittering diplomatic functions and received constant media attention. More important, Bosnia in Clark's mind "had set a pattern that could be applied again"--this time in the emerging Kosovo crisis. He seems oblivious to the fact that Bosnia and Kosovo--although only seventy miles apart--have two vastly different ethnic mixtures with vastly different histories. There's nothing in this book to suggest that Clark ever closely examined the political purpose of the assertion of American power in Bosnia or what would eventually happen to that unhappy territory now that Dayton had compelled three ethnic communities to form a multiethnic state favored by only one of them (the Muslims).

    Grave decisions affecting the lives of millions are based on the hunches of a few laptop bombardiers without regard to their ultimate outcome. Clark, perhaps inadvertently, concedes this point. After the attack on Yugoslavia began in March 1999, he writes, "a number of us had begun to ask in private about the political goals of the campaign."

    There you have it. The Pentagon's concern about the lack of strategic clarity was not irrational, as Clark would have us believe. Milosevic did not cave. Except for Britain's Tony Blair, who declared the NATO attack to be "bombing with compassion," other NATO allies were wary to various degrees about the whole venture. Once it became clear that Serbia would not collapse, Clark's (and the Administration's) only option was to bomb Serbian civilian infrastructure with the intention of rendering the daily life of the population impossible.

    But the deliberate destruction of nonmilitary targets violated the very international law that NATO claimed to uphold. Most questionable and legally troubling was the intimidation bombardment of the editorial offices of Belgrade television in full knowledge that civilian casualties were inevitable. (One should not exclude the possibility that war crimes charges will be leveled at some future date against those who ordered it, as human rights advocates have suggested.) Clark makes only a fuzzy reference to the strike on "the television facility." (The transmitter, which one might ordinarily think of as the "facility," is located some twenty miles away, on top of Mt. Avala.)

    The nearly three months of bombing inflicted severe damage on the Serbs, while their neighbors suffered collateral economic pain. It ended through diplomacy, with the help of Russia's Boris Yeltsin; Russia was rewarded with the rescheduling of more than $4 billion in debt payments. But quite apart from making matters worse in the Balkans, the intervention extended America's open-ended commitment to maintain troops in the area. Kosovo itself is in ruins--economically, psychologically and politically. It is also clear that the intervention sowed dragon's teeth, insuring continuation of the profound civil and nationalist strife that is now developing in neighboring Macedonia.

    Clark's book about halfway wars like the one against Serbia is, in essence, an excellent manual on How Not to Wage Modern War. Not that the author would consent to this title. A halfway war, of necessity, has to look like a Nintendo war, in which supersonic jets and high-tech weapons defeat barbarian demons on the ground without spilling a drop of American blood.

    The prosecution of such wars has to be carefully programmed. Since they don't involve national survival, appeals to patriotism don't work. Clinton and his advisers knew from the beginning that they would be unable to muster public support for the use of ground forces--which means the prospect of body bags coming home--for an affair in which the United States was not directly threatened. "Nothing would hurt us more with public opinion than headlines that screamed, 'NATO LOSES TEN AIRPLANES IN TWO DAYS,'" Clark reasoned. Which meant that the planes would remain at high altitudes as they proceeded to hit their targets.

    Equally important is the justification that was advanced in the months leading up to the attack. Clark presents it as "the moral and legal imperative" to destroy Milosevic's military and police, who "were committing or aiding the ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo. Naturally, I turn to Clark's description of the Kosovo situation, because I spent a good deal of time as a reporter in Kosovo--first in 1975-76 and later between 1990 and 1996--which gives me a background from which to measure his accuracy. I find his descriptions one-sided and appallingly misleading.

    To begin with, Clark ignores the fact that the Albanian Kosovars proclaimed independence in 1991 and organized a parallel government, complete with their own school and health systems. He states merely that the "mistreatment" of Albanians in 1998-99 was "the source of NATO's action." The difference is important: The Kosovo Albanians had been mistreated ever since Milosevic came to power. The province came under direct police rule in 1989. Schools were shut. All Albanian civil servants were fired. Most people lived off remittances sent by relatives working abroad. Yet when Milan Panic, in trying to dislodge Milosevic in a December 1992 election, promised the Albanian Kosovars everything short of independence if they would take part in the balloting (the solid Albanian bloc of nearly 900,000 votes could have been decisive), the Albanians refused. "We begged them to stand in the elections," former British Foreign Secretary Lord David Owen, who accompanied Panic, told me. "But they were totally secessionist.... It's like talking to Scottish nationalists; these are not people you can do business with." Milosevic tried to break the nonviolent secessionist movement through constant pressure: police raids on villages, perpetual searches, financial penalties and other forms of harassment. Although the repression was horrendous, there was no "ethnic cleansing" at that point. Nor did the outside world respond to the Kosovars' appeals for help.

    Only after the Kosovars began an armed struggle against the Serbs in 1997 did the outside world begin to pay attention. The newly formed Kosovo Liberation Army quickly raised tensions through a campaign of assassinations of Serb officials. By mid-1998, Kosovo was engulfed in a war for independence, with the KLA controlling more than a third of the province. Milosevic was now dealing with a serious insurrection. Predictably, he resorted to massive force. At that point, the Serbs began conducting major raids on villages suspected of harboring KLA guerrillas, and the villagers began fleeing to escape Serb artillery shellings.

    Even this was not the type of ethnic cleansing that had been carried out earlier in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia itself, with the aim of changing the ethnic composition of designated regions. Clark, however, sticks to a cartoon version of Kosovo's crisis: NATO had to attack Serbia to force Milosevic to stop ethnic cleansing. The focus on this indisputably malevolent despot--we have to "hurt" him, "break [his] will" and remove him from power--seems to reflect the need to convince the public of the wickedness of Milosevic and the Serbs.

    I suspect that Clark's harshness toward Milosevic may be in part based on personal embarrassment. At one time he was cozy with the Serbian leader, and the dictator's abandonment of his onetime Bosnian and Krajina allies helped Holbrooke's and Clark's careers. In turn, Holbrooke and Clark helped rehabilitate Milosevic at Dayton, making him the "guarantor" of the Bosnian peace treaty. ("He's always liked you," Holbrooke told Clark while urging him to intervene with Milosevic.) Who would now admit being friendly with an accused war criminal, today awaiting trial at The Hague? How else can one explain that Clark, having worked the other side of the street and repeatedly assured his superiors that he knew Milosevic as well as anyone else, came to realize in 1998 that he should be removed from power and that this revelation was imparted to him by a Bosnian Serb leader, Biljana Plavsic, herself now under indictment and awaiting trial in The Hague?

    Truth is the proverbial first casualty of war. Usually it takes years to learn what really happened during a war. We now know that some atrocity stories were exaggerated. A young Albanian woman named Rajmonda was all over cable television during the war, explaining that she had started killing Serbs after they killed her sister, only to admit after the war's end that this was not true. ("If this small lie...made some kind of impact on what Western countries did in Kosovo, then it's worth it," an Albanian commentator said later.) Most figures--including Clark's account of the number of Serbian tanks destroyed--were vastly exaggerated. So were claims by the US government and NATO about the number of missing Albanians feared dead: On April 19, 1999, the State Department put the figure at 500,000, while Defense Secretary Cohen reduced it to 100,000 on May 16. (After the war, the International Committee of the Red Cross said 3,368 Albanians were missing, and it has their names. There may be a few thousand more still unaccounted for, but the totals are nowhere near the US projections; The Hague's indictment of Milosevic lists about 600 Albanians who died in Kosovo.)

    But lies and exaggerations are natural parts of warfare, as is news management, at which Clark seems to have been quite effective: On the night of the assault on Belgrade, he had an aide call Tom Brokaw of NBC News to complain about his use of the phrase "American-led airstrikes." The wording, Clark said, would get the mission "on the wrong foot with the public." (The fact that the phrase was accurate is indisputable; for example, Clark himself notes that 99 percent of bombing targets were selected by the United States.)

    Clark briefed journalists and gave interviews "to protect the credibility of the campaign." He also understood the need to feed journalists material in background briefings, and he found media representatives to be quite cooperative. Journalists attending his briefings, he says, asked questions that displayed "a sense of underlying moral purpose and unity here (except for the one Serb journalist present)." Sadly, this simple statement says more about the press coverage of the war than any critical analysis I have read.

    But books are different; they lack the excuse of a daily or weekly deadline. They require candor and dispassionate judgment. Clark's memoir is disappointing, which is unfortunate, because Kosovo was NATO's first but probably not last war. Clark was apparently still feeling hurt and humiliated when he wrote it. There is something tragic about his view of himself, a sense that he was there alone fighting Milosevic and the Pentagon, cajoling and hectoring reluctant allies, and waging the battle for public opinion--and in the end being abandoned by his superiors. "The stress of the relationship with Washington had been the worst part," he thought after the war ended.

    The problem is that he is not completely candid. I realized that early on, while reading his account of a 1994 meeting with the notorious Bosnian Serb military leader Gen. Ratko Mladic, who a year later was accused of war crimes by The Hague's international tribunal. The two apparently got on so well that they agreed to exchange hats. I remember looking at newspaper photographs of them with their hats switched and thinking that the picture told me a great deal about Clark's judgment. Clark makes no mention of the friendly hat-swapping in Waging Modern War. It occurred at a time when anti-Serb sentiments in Washington were running high. Only connoisseurs understand why he experienced what he calls a "painful few days" after meeting Mladic, and why that left a "profound impression" on him: To have a friendly meeting with a Serb was, as he puts it, "reputation-breaking" stuff.

    At the time Clark was still making a career in the military; we shouldn't be surprised if the picture comes back to haunt him, should he try to build another career, in politics.

    Dusko Doder

  • Non-fiction May 31, 2001

    We’re All Ears

    An accomplished journalist weaves a narrative about the NSA that includes sympathetic portraits of key players.

    Dusko Doder

  • Covert Ops May 31, 2001

    We’re All Ears

    What sticks in my mind more than any particular accomplishment of the supersecret National Security Agency is its mammoth size. Only a few miles from my home, I now know, exists a secret Orwellian town where tens of thousands of people live and work. It is surrounded by barbed-wire fences, massive boulders and thick cement barriers, all hidden by tall earthen berms and thick forests. Armed police patrol the boundaries of Crypto City, as this restricted area near the sleepy hamlet of Annapolis Junction, Maryland, is called. Telephoto surveillance cameras peer down. Heavily armed commandos dressed in black and wearing special headgear are on standby in case of trouble.

    Beyond lies a forbidden city unlike any other on earth. Its main business is global eavesdropping; its mission is to obtain secrets about foreign enemies and friends alike, and to identify terrorist threats, drug trades, illegal arms sales and so on, all by intercepting voice, phone and radio communications. Using math, cryptology, statistical and other techniques, the NSA can break any code or cipher. The raw material is collected by its spyplanes, ships, satellites and through various other technical means, then is processed by the largest, most powerful electronic brain on earth.

    More exact details of this forbidden city remain secret. County officials say they have no idea how many people work there, and no one will tell them. But James Bamford, in his Body of Secrets, offers some clues. The city's post office distributes 70,000 pieces of mail a day; there are more than 37,000 cars registered there. The local police have more than 700 uniformed officers and their own SWAT team. The city's consumption of electricity--to power six acres of computers, twenty-five tons of air-conditioning equipment and more than a half-million lightbulbs--costs nearly $2 million per month. In case of power outages, its own power-generating plant can quickly produce enough wattage for a community of more than 3,500 homes. It has its own fire department as well as twenty-three separate alarm systems and 402 miles of sprinklers, feeding 210,000 sprinkler heads. There are theaters, a bank, kindergartens, fitness centers, gas stations, clubs (even its own Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual Employees--"GLOBE"--club). Religious services are held in an unbuggable room, where priest and minister have security clearance far above Top Secret.

    At the heart of this community is the NSA headquarters; with 3 million square feet of floor space, it could accommodate the entire US Capitol building four times over. The headquarters building almost metaphorically represents the NSA as well: From the outside, it looks like a stylish modern office building of dark one-way glass. But the real building is hidden under this reflective glass and is protected by a skin of orange-colored copper and unique windows--a thick outer pane, five inches of sound-deadening space, a thin copper screen and an inner pane. The protective shielding is designed to keep all sounds--and indeed any type of electromagnetic radiation--from getting out. It is used throughout much of the city to keep what is said to be the largest body of secrets ever compiled.

    Created at the height of the cold war, the NSA was to be the eyes and ears of the Central Intelligence Agency after the Communists drew an impenetrable "iron curtain" around their borders and effectively put human spies out of action. Its very existence has been so highly classified that few people outside the top echelons of government knew much about it. Until, that is, Bamford's first book, The Puzzle Palace, was published in 1982.

    Body of Secrets is more than an update of Bamford's previous effort. It includes an engaging and informed history of signals intelligence during World War II, chronicling the breaking of Japan's ciphers and Britain's success in cracking Germany's code. After the war's end, the United States insisted on hosting the opening session of the United Nations in San Francisco to enable it to "eavesdrop on its guests," Bamford says. "Like cheats in a poker game they [the Americans] were peeking at their opponents' hands." For a few years after 1945, the United States also read encrypted Soviet communications. But one Friday in 1948--it is still known as Black Friday among intelligence watchers--all Soviet ciphers went dark. Just as the Americans had successfully penetrated secret Soviet networks, so the Russians had penetrated the Army Security Agency. After that, Washington apparently knew little about Communist intentions. In 1950, when the North Koreans invaded the South, Washington was caught by surprise. Ditto on China's entry into the war. With the Russians having just exploded a hydrogen bomb, the situation was getting more perilous. The loss of effective intelligence work prompted the Director of Central Intelligence, Walter Bedell Smith, to tell the National Security Council that he was "gravely concerned" by "ineffective" intelligence operations. President Truman, on Election Day 1952, scrapped the Pentagon-run operation and created in its place a new agency to be largely hidden from Congress, the public and the world.

    Bamford, an accomplished journalist, weaves a narrative about the NSA that includes sympathetic portraits of key players and detailed accounts of such highly publicized events as the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam War and the capture of the spy ship Pueblo by North Korea. There are many heretofore undisclosed tidbits of information. President Eisenhower, for example, was personally micromanaging each U-2 high-altitude surveillance flight over Russia but refused to admit it after Francis Gary Powers was shot down in 1960. Further, Eisenhower instructed his Cabinet officers to lie about it while testifying under oath. The famous Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which officially plunged the United States into the Vietnam War, was passed by Congress on the strength of Robert McNamara's "unequivocal proof" of a North Vietnamese attack on a US ship; that "unequivocal proof" turned out to be a "major blunder by NSA, and the 'hard evidence' on which many [in Congress] based their votes for the war never really existed."

    Beyond this there is Bamford's somewhat speculative account of an Israeli assault on the US spy ship Liberty during the 1967 Middle East war. Bamford argues that it was a coldblooded action by Israel but offers no evidence of the culpability of the Israeli political leadership. The attack may well have been sanctioned by an Israeli military commander, but it is hard to imagine the top Israeli politicians signing off on such a risky venture, which carried enormous potential dangers for their state.

    The NSA is only one component of the US intelligence community, and for a good deal of its existence it has been subservient to the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Its business was to collect raw information that was then analyzed by other agencies. The Director of Central Intelligence--head of the CIA--supervised the whole process. All along there has been, to be sure, a good deal of institutional and bureaucratic rivalry among the agencies, which is presented by Bamford in readable and dramatic fashion. Underlying these rivalries is a doctrinal issue: the conflict between old-fashioned, cloak-and-dagger human intelligence (humint) versus high-tech signals intelligence (sigint). The NSA, which spends the lion's share of the $30 billion annual intelligence budget, reflects America's predilection for gadgetry and high tech.

    If there is a serious shortcoming in this massive book, it is the failure to provide a critical assessment of the mission for which the NSA was founded: to provide Washington with accurate information on the political, military and economic state of the Soviet Union. For most of the second half of the twentieth century, the NSA had one singular objective: "to break the stubborn Russian cipher system and eavesdrop on that nation's most secret communications," Bamford writes. But there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the NSA ever cracked a single high-level Russian cipher system. That being the case, what are the nation's most precious secrets that Bamford keeps mentioning are held in a fantastic system capable of storing 5 trillion pages of text--a stack of papers 150 miles high--allowing for almost instant retrieval of any piece of information? What is there to be retrieved?

    Not much, I suspect. From personal experience I know that whenever the NSA did successfully accomplish something--it managed to decrypt Russian voice communications in the early 1970s and for a long time eavesdropped on the phone conversations of Soviet leaders talking in their limousines--word of its success filtered out. Washington, apart from its almost bottomless appetite for "intelligence," is also a town where anything worth knowing is quickly disclosed by gossiping officials eager to show that they are in the loop. One such official told me in early 1973 about a car accident involving Soviet Premier, Alexei Kosygin. He knew exactly when it happened and where, but nothing more. As a young reporter, I rushed breathlessly to my office, already envisioning it on the front page of the Post the next morning. I had no idea how this information had been obtained; now I know that we would have blown an important intelligence operation had we published the story. But executive editor Ben Bradlee knew it was sensitive enough to require consultations with the Post's legal counsel Joseph Califano and Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms. After protracted haggling the story was scrapped, but not because of Helms's talk about dire consequences: Only if Kosygin was hurt and a leadership change was imminent, Bradlee said, would he run the story.

    In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, US intelligence stood accused of having failed in its primary mission. Since few people knew much about the NSA, blame naturally fell on the CIA; critics said it had overestimated the Soviet military threat and not foreseen the economic and political demise of our prime adversary. Stansfield Turner, Director of Central Intelligence from 1977 to 1981, talked about the "enormity of failure" in a 1991 article in Foreign Affairs, in which he alleged that "I have never heard a suggestion from the CIA, or the intelligence arms of the departments of defense or state, that numerous Soviets recognized a growing systemic economic problem." William Odom, NSA director from 1985 to 1988, argued in 1994 that the CIA was superfluous and should be disbanded. "The only serious issue here is whether you want to continue to pay all these people.... I consider...their analytical effort a welfare transfer package," he stated at the Harvard Intelligence and Policy Project, conducted by professors Ernest May and Philip Zelikow.

    How did US policy-makers get into such a state of ignorance? Solid though the product of an intelligence service may be, it is only as good as the uses to which it is put. Governments--all governments--gather, conceal, suppress and manipulate "intelligence." American leaders have frequently done so to serve their political objectives. Richard Nixon, under the rubric of "national security," tried to use the intelligence community to hide his involvement in the Watergate scandal; he also used the NSA to secretly target antiwar protesters. In the late 1970s Congress outlawed wholesale, warrantless acquisition of raw telegrams and arbitrary watch lists containing the names of Americans, but the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act did not cover Americans living abroad.

    The product, by the late 1970s, was no longer solid. Internal bureaucratic struggles consumed the community. Once an unwanted stepchild of the CIA--the NSA director was initially denied a seat on the Intelligence Advisory Committee--the NSA had in fact grown large and powerful. Its original mandate was to collect intelligence, not analyze it, but by the late 1970s the NSA began hoarding its information. The material it distributed was sanitized, according to then-Director of Central Intelligence Turner, who charged it with "deliberate withholding of raw information from the true analytic agencies. NSA wants to get credit for the scoop."

    Under Ronald Reagan, arguably the most zealous cold war President, the intelligence community regained its footing to become once again the chief tool of US foreign policy. Its anti-Soviet activism led to the criminal excesses of the Iran/contra scandal. The chief strategist of malfeasance was William Casey, the first Director of Central Intelligence to be a member of the Cabinet as well. Casey chose as his deputy Robert Gates, a hard-line anti-Soviet analyst. Odom was their soulmate, "an arch-conservative military hard-liner" who wanted the NSA to assume a greater analytical role.

    Throughout the 1980s the intelligence community provided Congress and the public with exaggerated accounts of Soviet military and economic prowess. The slick annual Pentagon review called "Soviet Military Power" showed the Russians developing and deploying ever-more dangerous weaponry. America was facing a "window of vulnerability"--a time when the Soviet Union, an indestructible colossus, could start a nuclear war. Paul Nitze and his Committee on the Present Danger speculated that the Russians could win such a war, owing to their extensive civil defense network and capacity to absorb a US retaliatory strike but deliver the final nuclear blow. As late as October 1988, top CIA analyst Robert Gates warned that "the dictatorship of the Communist Party remains untouched and untouchable. A long competitive struggle with the Soviet Union lies before us." When the Senate intelligence panel asked Gates earlier what the intelligence community was doing to prepare American policy-makers for the consequences of Gorbachev's reforms, Gates replied: "Quite frankly, without any hint that such fundamental change is going on, my resources do not permit me the luxury of sort of just idly speculating on what a different Soviet Union might look like."

    Yet we all know that in 1989 the Soviet empire was dismantled; in 1991 the Soviet Union itself collapsed, and American leaders were clueless. What went wrong?

    Reagan's Secretary of State George Shultz, who says in his memoirs that he was "misled, lied to" by the CIA, reveals that Casey had effectively usurped the prerogatives of the Secretary of State and had run an alternative foreign policy. Casey could do so because he controlled the analytical process, the estimates, covert action and counterintelligence. Casey's views, Shultz writes, "were so strong and so ideological that they inevitably colored his selection and assessments of materials. I could not rely on what he said, nor could I accept without question the objectivity of 'intelligence' that he put out, especially in policy sensitive areas."

    Gorbachev was initially described as "just talk, just another Soviet attempt to deceive us," Shultz says. "When it became evident that the Soviet Union was, in fact, changing, the CIA line was that the changes wouldn't really make a difference."

    Casey and Gates systematically ignored their own specialists and overstated the "evidence" of Soviet arms procurement programs, and the state of the Soviet economy in general, to buttress their argument. Douglas MacEachin, director of the CIA's Office of Soviet Analysis from 1984 to 1989, has testified that the pattern of self-deception was promoted by an Administration eager to rebuild US military power. The intelligence community aided the effort by inflating projections of Soviet military strength.

    "Never mind that the Soviet Union never in ten years, from the late 1970s through the entire 1980s, ever lived up to the projections that were made," MacEachin said. "We projected these huge forces, then used those projections as a rationale for our [military] spending, and they never lived up to those projections." Richard Kerr, deputy director for intelligence, took a memo to that effect from MacEachin before the National Foreign Intelligence Board--but it wasn't mentioned, even as a footnote, in the final documents.

    The problem here was not one of honest people with strong views having honest disagreements. Rather, it was a blatant politicization of intelligence. Hawks were in charge; those who disagreed were singled out for being "soft" on communism. Robert Blackwell, a high-level CIA official, talked of palpable tension at Langley. "Whether anything was being twisted or reordered upstairs or not, people felt that they were under extra burdens to somehow be very careful about how things were said." MacEachin said the Reagan Administration "thought of us as the enemy." The implication was, he added, "that part of the national threat was that the CIA undercut our ability to rebuild our national forces."

    MacEachin's successor, George Kolt, had set up in September 1989 a supersecret contingency planning group "looking at the possibility of the collapse of the Soviet Union and what we do." This was rejected by the higher-ups, however. Robert Gates's views on Russia had not changed. A month before the collapse of the Berlin wall, Vice President Dan Quayle publicly referred to Gorbachev as a "master of public relations" and called perestroika a "form of Leninism."

    Gates was consistent to the end. When on August 19, 1991, Kremlin hard-liners mounted a coup attempt against Gorbachev, Kolt called President Bush's National Security Adviser, Brent Scowcroft, saying the coup might not succeed and implicitly suggesting that the White House condemn the coup leaders. Gates saw no reason to hope the coup would fail, and President Bush's initial pronouncements were noncommittal. As Gates explained later, "Based on all prior experience in Russian and Soviet history, when you know at the outset that you've got the KGB and the army and the party all together in a coup attempt, the chances of it not succeeding...are near zero."

    Something is obviously wrong with what Bamford calls the largest, best-funded, and "most advanced spy organization on the planet." The entire intelligence community has grown lazy and fat over the years. In the case of the NSA, there is a cozy relationship between it and parts of private industry: Former top NSA officials often end up working for TRW, Honeywell, E-Systems or Booz-Allen & Hamilton. Eavesdropping equipment alone is a $2 billion-a-year market.

    Is our money being spent wisely? A former intelligence analyst, Robert Steel, who now runs a private intelligence firm called Open Source Solutions, recently demonstrated to the Presidential Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board that he could produce more usable information more quickly by using open sources and the Internet than the intelligence community could get from its secret work (his demonstration included satellite photography and military orders of battle).

    I'm not suggesting outsourcing here. But what is the point of having a powerful spy agency in the sky--eavesdropping on friend and foe alike--when we are caught by surprise by India's nuclear tests in 1998? Or when, as during the Gulf War, we are unable to locate Saddam Hussein's Scuds?

    Not so long ago, the United States declared war on terrorism. Yet there are only two references to Osama bin Laden in this book (one of them being that the NSA, "to impress cleared visitors," occasionally plays audiotapes of bin Laden talking to his mom), and other well-known groups suspected of international terrorism are not even mentioned. Perhaps there is a great deal of information about them in 50-100 million documents that the NSA classifies each year--more than all other agencies of the US government combined. But I wonder who reads these documents and evaluates their content. As someone who is bilingual, I seriously question the quality of work of the NSA computers said to translate up to 750 pages of Russian text per hour. NSA language training itself sounds pretty skimpy: Chinese and Japanese take "two years," Bamford reports, but this reads as more than presumptuous to anyone even remotely familiar with Chinese (a literate Chinese uses between 20,000 and 40,000 individual characters, which take many years to learn). Michael Hayden, the current NSA director, does assure us that "There is a whole other addition there [in training] to turn someone who has working knowledge of the popular language into a cryptolingist." Good Lord! Is Hayden kidding us or does he believe this? I hope it is the former.

    "That NSA has the technical capability to intercept and store enough information to wallpaper much of the planet is unquestionable," Bamford writes. "What is in doubt, however, is the agency's ability to make sense of most of it."

    In the acknowledgments to Body of Secrets, Hayden is the first person on the author's list of thank-yous. Which is an important clue. The NSA is an agency in search of a new mission. Some of its work remains invaluable, especially tactical intelligence needed by the Pentagon. But sigint now has far less strategic value. Moreover, digital communications, fiber-optic cables and powerful encryption software make it nearly impossible for the NSA to dominate the ether the way it did a decade ago. There is also a growing realization in Congress that something is wrong. In 1998 the House Intelligence Committee threatened to withhold funding unless the agency made "very large changes" in its "culture and methods of operation." For several years auditors found that the NSA had ignored laws and regulations, that its financial statements were not in order and that it had mismanaged its expensive high-tech systems. Hayden's attempt at candor may be a way to rally support.

    Judging by the book's last chapter, NSA leaders hope that new scientific breakthroughs--fabricating computing devices out of biological entities, using biological processes to manufacture nonbiological devices--will solve their problems. The computer of the future, we are told, is going to be constructed from both mechanical and living parts. It will be 100 billion times faster than the fastest PC today. What that means when it comes to problems of terrorism, international organized crime, arms proliferation, narcotics trafficking, illicit trade and such issues is a mystery.

    Just think, though, how impressive it will be!

    Dusko Doder

  • Politics May 17, 2001



    New York City

    Dusko Doder's assertion, in "Balkans Breakdown" [April 30], that Greece was against the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's (FYROM) existence is erroneous and unfounded, especially in light of Greece's continuous support for FYROM during the Balkan crisis. Besides condemning the terrorist attacks against FYROM's northwestern regions, Greece from the beginning firmly reiterated its support for its Balkan neighbor. In his message to FYROM Prime Minister Georgievski, Greek Prime Minister Simitis stressed that "Greece considers the sovereignty and territorial integrity of FYROM within its internationally recognized borders essential for the stability in our region and unequivocally condemns all violent acts aiming at its destabilization."

    Simitis assured Georgievski that Greece, in close cooperation with its partners in NATO and the EU on the situation, called on the international community to take appropriate measures to avoid further escalation in that sensitive region. Greek Foreign Affairs Minister George Papandreou, who was among the first to visit Skopje and offer support, said that Greece was prepared to participate in a multinational force aiming at protecting FYROM.

    Regarding Greece's position on the use by FYROM of the name "Macedonia," Simitis reiterated that in his recent talks with Georgievski they agreed that this matter must be resolved as quickly as possible.

    Greek Press and Information Office


    Vienna, Va.

    As an information official, Dr. Gemelos is paid to have a selective memory. A few facts: In 1992, both Greece and Serbia were engaged in relentless harassment of the new Macedonian state. The Greeks banned the tiny country's access to the port of Thessaloniki, while the Serbs banned export of food to Macedonia. The Serb and Greek leaders, Slobodan Milosevic and Konstantin Mitsotakis, actively considered Macedonia's partition. In April 1992, after Milosevic returned from Athens, he publicly proposed a Greek-Serb confederation. Prime Minister Mitsotakis backed away from this idea when some key people in the ruling New Democracy Party publicly broke away. The grand old man of conservative politics, George Rallis (the former prime minister, whose father and grandfather were also prime ministers) resigned his parliamentary seat protesting Mitsotakis's policy toward Macedonia, which he said was endangering Greece's ties to Europe.

    Dr. Gemelos quotes George Papandreou, whose father was elected prime minister in 1993 on a platform denouncing the incumbent Mitsotakis for taking part in UN-sponsored talks to resolve the Macedonian crisis. "Greece cannot and should not accept a nation with the name Macedonia on its borders," Papandreou insisted. In November 1993 he terminated UN-sponsored talks on resolving the Macedonian-Greek conflict. In February 1994, he imposed a total embargo on Macedonia. The Greek government's slogan, which could be seen everywhere, was: "Macedonia has been a part of Greece for 3,200 years."

    It is perhaps most telling that Dr. Gemelos does not refer to Macedonia as Macedonia but as FYROM--nine years after that unhappy territory became a fully fledged member of the United Nations.



    Washington, D.C.

    Bill Hartung, in "Bush's Nuclear Revival" [March 12], asserts a view widely held by the peace community that the Bush Administration's nuclear posture review, and the push for a National Missile Defense (NMD), will rekindle a nuclear arms race. If only it were that simple. In all likelihood, the Bush review has intensified the internal conflict within the military establishment between burgeoning conventional- weapons spending and the enormous costs of supporting excessively large nuclear targeting requirements. There's a good chance that nuclear weapons will be cut further. DOE weapons labs are already looking for a new "niche market" by pushing for new, low-yield precision nuclear "bunker busters." In addition to enormous operations and maintenance costs of deployment, nuclear weapons states are being forced to internalize additional large costs of nuclear material legacies, and to shore up deteriorating and dangerous nuclear weapons facilities. These factors add greatly to the cost of maintaining the roughly 7,500 existing nuclear weapons. Even after significant reductions over the past ten years, the real costs of the DOE's nuclear weapons program have nearly tripled. In effect, the "balloon mortgage" of the nuclear arms race is just coming due.

    If past is prologue, George W. Bush will have to contend with the legacy of his father, who after a similar nuclear weapons posture review in 1990 imposed a moratorium on nuclear testing, eliminated battlefield nukes and removed other tactical nukes from deployment, ceased production of fissile materials, initiated a major downsizing of the weapons production complex, entered into an agreement to purchase 500 metric tons of highly enriched uranium from Russian nuclear weapons, teed up the ratification of START I and initiated START II negotiations. George W.'s campaign rhetoric was very clear about his promises to take unilateral nuclear disarmament steps.

    Specifically for Russia, deployment of NMD could mean serious harm to existing arms agreements, which is bad enough. However, the enormous expense of nuclear weapons is leading Russia to unilaterally slash its nuclear arsenal to pay for more urgent conventional-force requirements. To compensate for the loss of revenues from the Defense Ministry, the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry is actively trying to obtain hard currency by offering Russian sites as nuclear waste dumps for the commercial nuclear industry. A more imminent threat to the world than NMD comes from the spread of excess fissile materials in the former Soviet Union.

    The nuclear arms buildup scenario by China is less certain, given China's minimal nuclear deterrent capability. However, the days of huge nuclear buildups based on the concept of "how many times the rubble will bounce" are over. China and other nations merely have to look at the enormous and tragic debacle created by the United States and Russia over the past half-century. Provocative acts not connected to NMD, like pushing for "usable" nuclear weapons, can unleash efforts by China and other countries to do the same.

    The NMD program is meant to open the door for a major weaponization of space using an array of next-generation nonnuclear weapons. NMD is just the first step in achieving the Pentagon's long-range objective of US military domination of space, where weapons are envisioned to do things like cripple the electrical infrastructures of entire nations.

    The consequences of NMD testing and deployment by other nations are likely to be mixed. They will probably take the form of economic and military acts that will alienate the United States from its historical friends and former enemies at a time of growing global political instability. But these problems should not be confused with a steep new cold war-era buildup of nuclear weapons. That nuclear arms race cannot be restarted.



    New York City

    I thank Robert Alvarez for his thoughtful response to my editorial. He has a long and distinguished record of dealing with nuclear issues, both as a nongovernmental expert and at the Energy Department, and I respect his judgment.

    My concern about the Bush nuclear posture--at least the variant supported by advisers like Stephen Hadley and Robert Joseph, both of whom participated in the National Institute for Public Policy's hair-raising study on this issue--is not necessarily that it will lead to huge numerical increases in global nuclear weapons stockpiles. My concern is that by pushing a technical solution to nuclear dangers (missile defense) while pressing for a new generation of allegedly more "usable" low-yield nuclear weapons, the Bush Administration will re-legitimize nuclear weapons as an "acceptable" instrument of coercive diplomacy and outright warfare. This in turn could push China to build hundreds or perhaps as many as a thousand or more nuclear-armed missiles to augment its current force of eighteen. Russia would be more inclined to keep its nuclear forces on alert, increasing the possibility of an accidental launch in some future crisis. And all bets would be off in terms of capping the nuclear programs of India and Pakistan or the nuclear ambitions of states like Iran and Iraq. The danger would not be increasing numbers of weapons, but an increased risk that one of them might be used in a regional conflict.

    I do not dismiss Alvarez's extremely important arguments. The economic and environmental costs of sustaining cold war-style nuclear arsenals are coming home to roost. There are obvious incentives for Washington, Moscow and Beijing to reduce these forces, if for no other reason than that they will gobble up resources that could be used for other military purposes. And given the daunting technical obstacles standing in the way of fielding even a modest missile defense system, Bush's dream of a multitiered missile shield is by no means inevitable. Funding priorities that may compete with ballistic missile defense in the Pentagon budget include weaponizing space, building a new generation of lighter, "smarter" weapons and increasing the mobility of US forces--not to mention building all those big-ticket weapons platforms left over from the drawing boards of the cold war. Even if the Pentagon decides not to pursue a major nuclear buildup, the Bush Administration's highly militarized approach to foreign policy is worth opposing in its own right, even if it is accompanied by some reductions in the numbers of nuclear weapons, but that's a longer discussion.

    Despite the excellent points made by Alvarez, my fear is that if Bush doesn't hear strong, clear opposition to the more destructive elements of his emerging nuclear doctrine--from the media, the public, Capitol Hill and cooler heads in his own party--he may resist the strong logic favoring denuclearization in pursuit of a deluded and dangerous ideology of nuclear superiority that should have long since been tossed into the dustbin of history. Given his Administration's behavior in its first few months, I'm not inclined to trust the good intentions or common sense of the Bush foreign policy team on a matter as sensitive and dangerous as nuclear weapons policy.


    Robert Alvarez, Dusko Doder, William D. Hartung and Dimitris Gemelos