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Players: James L. Pavitt

Retired Official Defends the CIA's Performance

By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 5, 2004; Page A23

In April, James L. Pavitt became the first director of the CIA's clandestine service ever to testify publicly before Congress. While he was not technically undercover as the deputy director of operations, just about everything he was in charge of for five years was.

Having retired in August after 31 years at the CIA, Pavitt has become the agency's most senior public advocate, defending the spies and analysts who have come under attack by Congress, the 9/11 commission, the White House and, most recently, their new CIA director, former House Intelligence Committee chairman Porter J. Goss.


Retired CIA deputy director of operations James L. Pavitt, sitting in his garden, said he will take a job in the private sector. (Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

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In Profile

James L. Pavitt

Title: Former deputy director for operations, CIA

Education: Bachelor's degree, University of Missouri.

Age: 58.

Family: Wife; four children.

Career highlights: Joined the CIA in 1973 after stint as Army intelligence officer. Posted in Vienna, East Berlin, Budapest and Malaysia and was chief of station in Luxembourg. In 1992, appointed senior director and special assistant to the president for intelligence programs. Held senior positions in the nonproliferation arena, and became associate deputy director for operations in 1997, and deputy director for operations in 1999.

Pastimes: Art collector, particularly primitive American art.

Pavitt thinks invading Iraq "was the right thing to do" because, even though no weapons of mass destruction were found and no direct link to al Qaeda was established, Saddam Hussein had tried to assassinate former president George H.W. Bush.

"Were they terrorists in their own right?" he said. "Yes, I believe they were."

At the same time, Pavitt believes the postwar occupation has been marred by misguided initial decisions to exclude the State Department from managing relations with an emerging Iraqi leadership, as well as decisions to disband the army and disqualify all former Baath Party members from working in the new government.

The way the United States encouraged reconciliation of former Communist Party members in Eastern Europe after the Soviet Union dissolved "offered some insights on the way we could deal with Iraq," Pavitt said in the first lengthy newspaper interview since his retirement. "Not everyone who was a Baathist was an ardent supporter of Saddam Hussein, or some kind of criminal. There were people who felt they had to be part of the party."

Earlier this year, the Bush administration softened its de-Baathification program. It has also allowed some former military officers to join the new army and has put a U.S. ambassador in charge of the reconstruction and of nonmilitary U.S. relations with Iraq's interim government.

But on the more general chaos of the occupation, Pavitt said the CIA "made it clear, as I recall it, that the possibility and prospect for insurgency was real and genuine."

"The window we had on the ground in Iraq after the fighting stopped was a brief window. . . . Anyone who believed we could walk into Baghdad and be greeted as liberators for very long, I think simply didn't know very much about the history of Iraq. . . . Trying to hold Iraq together with concepts that are important to us -- democratic institutions and so forth -- is going to take some time. I don't think anybody should be surprised it's rough going," he said.

To succeed in Iraq now, he said, sitting in his family room in front of a crackling fire and surrounded by original art that he has collected over the years, "will require flexibility, perhaps more flexibility than we've seen in the past."

Pavitt's directorate of operations was responsible for knowing the plans and intentions of Osama bin Laden and other terrorists, for inserting CIA paramilitary units into Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and for sending secret teams into Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand and Somalia to snatch al Qaeda members with the help of local security forces.

His operatives were the first to fire Hellfire missiles mounted on an unmanned aerial vehicle at an al Qaeda convoy in Sudan, killing them all, including a U.S. citizen. They interrogate the likes of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh and have secretly transported dozens of terrorists around the world. They recruited and debriefed foreign agents with information about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction before the war and were assigned to kill or capture the Iraqi leader once the war began.

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the surprisingly strong and growing insurgency in Iraq, Pavitt's department has been chastised frequently, and in public, for what it did and did not do in Iraq and to stop al Qaeda.

In one recent authorization bill, the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee, then chaired by Goss, warned that the CIA's spy operations were headed "over the proverbial cliff" and that "the nimble, flexible, core-mission-oriented enterprise the D.O. [directorate of operations] once was, is becoming just a fleeting memory."


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