The appointment of Dr. Henry Kissinger, celebrated national security adviser and secretary of state under Presidents Ford and Nixon in the 1960s and early 1970s, to head an independent commission for investigating the September 11 attacks, signifies that Washington acknowledges American intelligence deficiencies in combating international terror.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and counter-terror experts, who draw this conclusion, point out that very few people recall today that Kissinger, in addition to his distinctive talents as a diplomat – inventor inter alia of shuttle diplomacy and detente – was also deeply involved in the Great Game, the counterintelligence contest of the Cold War years waged by the United States, the Soviet Union and China. Unlike many of his colleagues, who dabbled in the cloak and dagger trade in its conventional sense, Kissinger perfected a technique for bending his intelligence connections and access to top secret data to the achievement of his diplomatic and strategic goals.
Doubling as Nixon’s national security adviser and secretary of state, Kissinger was the recipient of top secret intelligence from all of America’s undercover agencies, including the CIA. He became familiar with the networks of double agents run by all three powers, as well as their conduits for trading information, messages and warnings. As a statesman, he put his knowledge of the ins and outs of the intelligence maze to work – not only to send messages to Cold War adversaries, but also to fashion diplomatic gambits. In more than one instance, he was able to gain points by flooring his interlocutors by this knowledge.
In two striking instances, Kissinger fashioned historic breakthroughs by applying this special technique. One was in setting up the first visit by an American president to Communist Beijin to launch what became known as “ping pong diplomacy”.
In the late 1960s, early 1970s, Warsaw was a key international counter-intelligence hub. The head of Polish military intelligence at the time was Col. Ryszard Kuklinsky, one of the bright stars of Warsaw Pact and close friend of Soviet marshals and generals. That Kuklinsky had been recruited as an American double agent was one of the best-kept secrets of the day. Kissinger, who was one of the few in the know, used Kuklinsky’s own double agents – Chinese, British and Russian – to arrange the landmark 1972 meeting between Nixon and Mao Zedung and conceal it from Moscow until too late. Kissinger was authorized by President Nixon to use this serpentine route to achieve the goal of selling detente to the Chinese leader, as one in the eye for Moscow.
A few months later, Kissinger was on a plane to the Soviet capital to peddle detente to the Kremlin as a means of containing Chinese expansion. Leonid Brezhnev and the KGB wizard Yuri Andropov pretended to accept the warming up of Moscow-Washington relations, only to exploit the lull to secretly prepare the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
During this conflict, when detente was on the point of degenerating into a nuclear crisis between the United States and the Soviet Union, Kissinger once again took advantage of his undercover connections to reach the Russian leaders and defuse the crisis.
As to the relevance of these Cold War skills to the 9/11 inquiry, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and counter-terror experts maintain that by appointing this veteran diplomatic innovator to head the 9/11 inquiry, President George W. Bush has armed himself with a sort of national intelligence adviser.
Our experts have maintained, ever since the al Qaeda attacks in New York and Washington, that this fundamentalist network did not possess the necessary intelligence infrastructure for carrying out those attacks. It must have had professional help.
When President Bush went to war in Afghanistan, he struck a military and personal pact with Russian president Vladimir Putin because, for victory, he needed access to Russian intelligence data on the clandestine services feeding Osama bin Laden and his operatives. Not all those services were Arab or Muslim.
In DEBKA-Net-Weekly 77 (September 20, 2002), our intelligence experts offered the same argument in relation to the approaching US campaign against Iraq in an article titled: Iraqi Intelligence Must Be Destroyed.
As in Afghanistan, so too in Iraq, Russian intelligence is the most conversant of any in the world on the sinister complexities of Iraq’s undercover agencies – mainly because Moscow put them together in the first place, especially the counterintelligence units. Very few Americans in or out of politics and intelligence have this kind of knowledge. Henry Kissinger – not despite his age, but because of it – is one of those few. He is possessed moreover of the diplomatic skills for applying it. During his career in government, the former secretary of state made a study of Russian tradecraft and applied his knowledge in the service of President Nixon.
The Kissinger appointment reveals certain key elements in President Bush’s perception of the role of intelligence in the global war against terror:
1. He is one of the few leaders to acknowledge the direct connection between Cold War intelligence bodies and the undercover agencies supporting al Qaeda today. This connection, the CIA has always preferred to ignore for reasons stemming from internal agency history. Bush trusts that the independent commission’s findings and Kissinger’s leading role in formulating them will force the CIA to look at – and draw conclusions from – the relevance of the past for the present, thereby opening itself up to a thorough program of reform.
2. By doing so, the CIA will assure itself of a continuing key role in the war against terror. The president has offered his encouragement to the agency’s heads to see the light; he has refrained from setting up a rival intelligence organ at the new Homeland Security Department.
3. Bush sends the same message to the FBI which, despite the blows to its reputation from such affairs as the Hanssen case, will not be challenged by an upstart rival if it accepts the new commission’s recommendations.
4. This is of course bad news for the new Homeland Security Department, which will have to make do without its own clandestine arm and depend on the CIA and FBI for intelligence input.
Bush and Kissinger both realize that a genuine reform program will be a painful process for the CIA, forcing it to turn its back on past practices and start acting against networks some of which it created in the first place. Only then, will the Central Intelligence Agency be fit to take on the sophisticated intelligence machinery supporting bin Laden and al Qaeda. This task will take time and America faces many dangers in the interim.