Harold P. Ford, analyst who publicly opposed Gates as CIA director, dies at 89

By T. Rees Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 12, 2010; 10:37 PM

Harold P. Ford, 89, a senior CIA analyst who made an early and accurate prediction of the outcome of the Vietnam War and drew headlines in the early 1990s when he spoke out against the nomination of his old boss Robert M. Gates as director of central intelligence, died Nov. 3 in Gaithersburg. He had pneumonia.

He was a longtime Bethesda resident before moving to Asbury Methodist Village retirement community, where he died.

Dr. Ford's studies on the Vietnam War shaped his reputation as an indispensable source of wisdom and objectivity. At the time, he was a significant contributor to the National Intelligence Estimates on the war.

According to his family, Dr. Ford staunchly believed that the CIA's duty was to present intelligence analysis to the president that was free of bias and did not feed the ideological appetite of whichever political party was in power.

Dr. Ford was an early proponent of withdrawing U.S. troops from combat in Vietnam. In journalist Tim Weiner's 2007 book on the CIA, "Legacy of Ashes," Dr. Ford is quoted advising John McCone, who was director of central intelligence, in 1965 that "we are becoming progressively divorced from reality in Vietnam" and "proceeding with far more courage than wisdom."

After serving as chief of station in Taipei, Taiwan, among other assignments, Dr. Ford left the CIA in the mid-1970s to serve as a consultant to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He later served as a legislative assistant on foreign and military affairs to Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.).

Dr. Ford returned to the CIA in 1980. He was vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council, a senior analysis advisory group, and retired in 1986 after briefly serving as the council's acting director. He continued to work for the CIA as a contractor in the agency's history department until the mid-1990s.

In 1991, Dr. Ford was among a few of the CIA's most veteran employees to speak publicly against Gates's nomination as director of central intelligence. They had worked together for years at the CIA, where Gates had been a senior manager.

In testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Dr. Ford said Gates was unfit to lead because he had purposely "skewed" intelligence analyses during his years at the CIA, particularly exaggerating threats from the Soviet Union.

"My view that Bob Gates has ignored or scorned the views of others whose assessments did not accord with his own would be okay if he were uniquely all seeing," Dr. Ford said in testimony. "The trouble is he has not been. Most importantly, he has been dead wrong on the central analytic target of the past few years - the outlook for change, or not, in the fortunes of the U.S.S.R. and the Soviet-European bloc."

Gates, who denied he had misled his superiors, won the nomination. Dr. Ford continued to speak out against Gates when he was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2006 to succeed Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense.

"It was tough for me because he'd been my boss and our personal relations were fine," Dr. Ford told the New York Times in 2006. "But the problem was the skewing of intelligence by him to suit what the consumer wanted to hear. I think there was no question about it."

Harold Perry Ford was born March 23, 1921, in Los Angeles. He received a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Redlands in California before joining the Navy during World War II. He served in the Pacific as a signal officer.

In 1949, he received a doctorate from the University of Chicago. He wrote his dissertation on Sino-Soviet relations.

Dr. Ford joined the CIA in 1950 - three years after its inception - and was responsible for providing support to covert operations arming anti-communist forces in China during the Korean War.

Later, he was among the first intelligence analysts to successfully predict that the relationship between China and the Soviet Union would turn increasingly frosty by the 1960s.

His wife of 65 years, Barbara Day Ford, died in 2008.

Survivors include a son, John Ford of Honolulu; and two granddaughters.

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