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Profile: Richard Kerr

Positions that Richard Kerr has held:

  • Deputy CIA director who lead an internal review of the CIA's prewar intelligence

Richard Kerr was a participant or observer in the following events:

CIA analyst Richard Barlow finds that a small group of senior US officials have been directly aiding the Pakistan nuclear weapons program by approving export licenses for US equipment to be shipped to Pakistan. The State Department is also withholding intelligence about the program from other US agencies to help Pakistan (see 1986). Barlow will later say, “They were issuing scores of approvals for the Pakistan embassy in Washington to export hi-tech equipment that was critical for their nuclear bomb program and that the US Commerce Department had refused to license.” Barlow complains to his boss, CIA Deputy Director of Intelligence Richard Kerr, who summons senior State Department officials to a meeting at CIA headquarters. Barlow will recall: “Kerr tried to do it as nicely as he could. He said he understood the State Department had to keep Pakistan on side—the State Department guaranteed it would stop working against us.” [New Yorker, 3/29/1993; Guardian, 10/13/2007]

Entity Tags: Office of Scientific and Weapons Research (CIA), Central Intelligence Agency, Richard Barlow, Richard Kerr, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

CIA manager Richard Kerr.CIA manager Richard Kerr. [Source: CIA]Officials designated to the Nuclear Export Violations Working Group (NEVWG), a top-secret panel aiming to prevent nuclear weapons technology being exported from the US, become suspicious of the State Department, and try not to share information with it. The panel, formed in mid-1986, brings together experts from the policy, law-enforcement, and intelligence communities. The group is suspicious of the State Department because it has a reputation for tipping off Pakistan about surveillance of Pakistani buyers of nuclear weapons technology in the US by sending diplomatic protests to the Pakistani government. A senior Customs Service official will say, “The State Department constituted a security problem for us.” One analyst will say of an operation to catch Pakistani agents in the US (see Before July 1987), “We were sure they’d manage to screw it up.” At one point CIA manager Richard Kerr summons senior State Department officials to a meeting for a “pointed discussion” about the steady flow of protests to Pakistan. Kerr will later say that the State Department is “extremely active” in the matter, but “What they were doing it for was to persuade the Pakistanis to stop.” [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard Kerr

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Ronald Reagan and Pakistani dictator Zia ul-Haq.Ronald Reagan and Pakistani dictator Zia ul-Haq. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]President Ronald Reagan in 1987 and 1988 and President George Bush in 1989 continue to certify that Pakistan does not have a nuclear weapon, a condition of continuing aid to Pakistan under the law (see August 1985). These certifications began in 1985 (see August 1985-October 1990) and are thought to be important because Pakistan is a key base for the CIA-backed Afghan mujaheddin, and cutting off aid to Pakistan might curtail CIA support for the anti-Soviet forces. According to journalist Seymour Hersh, the rationale behind the certifications is that there is “no specific evidence that Pakistan [has] indeed done what it was known to be capable of doing,” and produced a nuclear weapon. In addition, it is apparently thought that if the US continues to supply conventional weapons, Pakistan will not need a nuclear bomb, although Hersh says this is “a very thin argument, as everyone involved [knows].” However, CIA officer Richard Kerr will later say, “There is no question that we had an intelligence basis for not certifying from 1987 on.” By this time there is mounting evidence of Pakistan’s nuclear program (see 1987, (1987), and July 1987 or Shortly After). [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]

Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, George Herbert Walker Bush, Richard Kerr, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Tensions rise in India and Pakistan due to a crisis in Indian-held Kashmir, and the situation escalates to such a degree that strikes with nuclear weapons are considered. In January, Indian police open fire on pro-independence demonstrators in the province, killing fifty, which prompts the Pakistani government to step up support for pro-Pakistani militants operating there. There are also large protests and India blames Pakistan for the unrest, a charge which is partially correct and leads Indian authorities to try to suppress the protesters. India also moves offensive units to the Pakistan border, prompting the Pakistani army to mass on the other side. A US official will later say that the Pakistani military knew it could not hold out against the Indian army using conventional means: “The only way for the Pakistanis to deal with the Indians is to be able to take out New Delhi.… There’s no way that sending ten F-16s with conventional bombs is going to do it. Only the nukes could strike back.” Richard Kerr, a deputy director at the CIA, will later comment: “It was the most dangerous nuclear situation we have ever faced since I’ve been in the US government. It may be as close as we’ve come to a nuclear exchange. It was far more frightening than the Cuban missile crisis.” [New Yorker, 3/29/1993] The crisis is resolved by National Security Council member Robert Gates, who persuades the two sides to disengage (see May 1990).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Richard Kerr, Robert M. Gates

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Some US officials become concerned over mounting indications that Pakistan is preparing for nuclear war due to a crisis with India (see January-May 1990). Several signs lead to this concern:
bullet Intelligence from Germany reports that the Pakistanis have designed a nuclear warhead that could be fitted under the wing of an F-16. In addition, the US finds that Pakistan has learned to program the plane’s in-flight computer system to provide the correct flight path for a nuclear-bomb run, and that it has stepped up its F-16 training to practice what seems to be the dropping of a nuclear bomb.
bullet The NSA intercepts a call from army chief Mirza Aslam Beg to the Khan Research Laboratories facility in Kahuta authorizing technicians to put together a nuclear device.
bullet A US spy satellite sees that thousands of workers are evacuated from the site in Kahuta, a key facility in Pakistan’s nuclear program. A US analyst will comment later, “We thought the reason for the evacuation of Kahuta was that they expected a retaliatory attack by India, in response to a Pakistani first strike.”
bullet The US detects high-explosive tests, an essential element of the nuclear weapons triggered process, being conducted near a suspected nuclear storage facility. The US finds that the facility has an unusually high degree of security and has also been visited by A. Q. Khan, head of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.
bullet Satellite and other intelligence produces signs that the weapons are actually being deployed—a truck convoy from the suspected facility to a nearby Air Force base with secure zones similar to those used by the US military when transporting nuclear weapons.
bullet The US then comes to believe the nuclear weapons have been loaded onto aircraft. The analyst will comment, “They had F-16s pre-positioned and armed for delivery—on full alert, with pilots in the aircraft.”
However, opinion is split in the US over the imminence of a possible nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan. CIA officer Richard Kerr will comment: “There’s no question in my mind that we were right on the edge.… This period was very tense. The intelligence community believed that without some intervention the two parties could miscalculate—and miscalculation could lead to a nuclear exchange.” President George H. W. Bush sends National Security Council member Robert Gates to mediate between the two rivals (see May 1990). [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]

Entity Tags: Richard Kerr, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Vice President Dick Cheney, sometimes accompanied by his chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, visits the offices of US intelligence analysts working at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia “approximately 10” times. He interrogates them on their intelligence work on Iraq. Some analysts later complain that Cheney’s visits made them feel pressured to provide the administration with conclusions that supported the case for war. Other analysts will say they did not feel pressured. [Washington Post, 6/5/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 6/5/2003; Guardian, 7/17/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 336; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 242] Michael Sulick, deputy chief of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, will later recall, “It was like they were hoping we’d find something buried in the files or come back with a different answer.” As a result of these visits, Sulick believes that agency analysts became “overly eager to please.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 4-5] According to Ray McGovern, a 27-year veteran CIA analyst, these visits were “unprecedented.” [Common Dreams, 7/23/2003] In 2006, author Craig Unger will call the visits “a highly irregular occurrence.” Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman will recall: “I was at the CIA for 24 years. The only time a vice president came to the CIA building was for a ceremony, to cut a ribbon, to stand on a stage, but not to harangue analysts about finished intelligence.… When they go, it’s usually for some ceremonial reason, to hand out an award or to cut a ribbon. Then they get the hell out.” Former DIA analyst Patrick Lang will say: “Many, many of them [CIA analysts] have told me they were pressured. And there are a lot of ways. Pressure takes a lot of forms.” A State Department official will note: “For the vice president to be meeting with analysts, that was a real red flag. It was so unusual. It was clear that people were being leaned on. Usually, if a high-ranking official wants information, it gets tasked out through appropriate channels. It was highly unusual to lock these people in a room and keep pressing. It crossed the line between… intellectual inquiry and not accepting the real answer.” Another intelligence source says: “[Cheney] wanted them to make a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. He already got them to agree on nuclear weapons. But he wanted the al-Qaeda connection.” Retired CIA officer Richard Kerr, brought back to the agency to study intelligence failures, later describes “overwhelming consumer demand” on agency analysts, which Kerr will say results in flawed intelligence reports. The pressure brought on analysts, another source says, is “brutal.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 211; Unger, 2007, pp. 262-263] Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) also makes visits to CIA headquarters in Langley. [Guardian, 7/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Melvin A. Goodman, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Craig Unger, Richard Kerr, Newt Gingrich, Patrick Lang, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Citing personal reasons, CIA Director George Tenet announces he will be stepping down in the next month. President Bush praises Tenet’s service, but there is widespread agreement that significant intelligence failures occurred during his tenure, most strikingly 9/11 itself. Sources also suggest that Tenet, originally a Clinton appointee, has been made a convenient scapegoat for Bush administration intelligence failures in Iraq and elsewhere. [CNN, 6/4/2004; Independent, 6/4/2004] Tenet and the Bush administration are expecting harsh criticism from several reports expected to find serious failures in intelligence gathering and analysis related to the 9/11 attacks. Most damaging is an upcoming Senate Intelligence Committee report expected to single out the CIA for errors in its judgments before the Iraq war (see June-November 2004). Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) has warned the administration that the report will be so harsh that questions will be raised as to whether senior CIA officials should be held accountable. Tenet will be replaced by Deputy Director John McLaughlin until a replacement is named, and will eventually be replaced by Porter Goss (see September 24, 2004). A friend of Tenet’s, former Deputy Director Richard Kerr, says that Tenet “may have believed that he was hurting the president. He’s an honorable person, and he may have had that as a consideration.” Former Democratic senator David Boren, a close friend and mentor of Tenet’s, says Tenet is not leaving because of criticisms likely to be leveled at either him or the agency: “If criticism either actual or anticipated was a factor, he would have left a long time ago. It’s been months of his desiring to leave.” Bush has asked Tenet to remain in the job several times over the past few months. When Tenet told Bush of his intentions to leave on June 2, Bush asked him to stay through the end of the year. Tenet replied that summer is a natural break point and a good time for him to depart. All the camaraderie and mutual praise between the two men aside, many believe that Tenet is departing in part because he is seen as a possible political liability for Bush. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) says, “I don’t think there are any tears over there” in the White House over Tenet’s departure. Former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) believes that Tenet was in some way pushed to leave. “This president has been enamored of George Tenet, and has been reluctant to hold him or anyone else accountable, and that failure was becoming a bigger and bigger liability,” he says. According to Graham, Bush announces Tenet’s resignation for his own political well-being, “under circumstances where he is at the crime scene as short as possible.” Apparently, senior White House officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell learn of Tenet’s resignation just a few moments before it is announced to the press. Two Congressmen who knew last night of the resignation were Goss (R-FL) and John Warner (R-VA), the chairmen of the House Intelligence and Senate Armed Services Committees, respectively. [New York Times, 6/4/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Shelby, Pat Roberts, Richard Kerr, Porter J. Goss, John E. McLaughlin, George W. Bush, John W. Warner, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, David Boren, Colin Powell, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Iraq under US Occupation

The CIA announces that it has fired one of its officers, Mary McCarthy, who, it claims, “knowingly and willfully shared classified intelligence” with a newspaper reporter. McCarthy is alleged to have leaked information about the CIA’s network of secret overseas prisons to Washington Post reporter Dana Priest. The Post recently published a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of stories on the secret prison network; Priest was one of the main reporters for that series. McCarthy worked at the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General, which was investigating allegations that the CIA was torturing detainees at Iraqi prisons. The CIA claims McCarthy has admitted to the leaks, though it will not acknowledge that she was one of Priest’s sources for the prison stories. But McCarthy’s attorney, Ty Cobb, says that his client “emphatically denies she leaked any classified information and the facts would demonstrate that she would not even have access to any of the information attributed to her leaking to anyone.” She is “devastated,” Cobb says, that her long career will “forever be linked with misinformation about the reasons for her termination,” and that her firing was “certainly not for the reasons attributed to the agency.” Cobb notes that McCarthy is only 10 days short of retirement, and says, “Her hope had been to leave with her dignity and reputation intact, which obviously did not happen.” McCarthy has planned for some time to leave the agency and become a public interest lawyer. Her retirement process began well before the CIA began investigating the Post leaks. [New York Daily News, 4/22/2006; National Journal, 4/25/2006; Washington Post, 4/25/2006]
Aggressive Internal Probe - The CIA has conducted an aggressive internal investigation, administering polygraph tests to McCarthy and numerous other officials. “This was a very aggressive internal investigation,” says a former CIA officer. “[CIA Director Porter] Goss was determined to find the source of the secret jails story.” [New York Times, 4/21/2006] The agency has not asked the Justice Department to open a formal probe into the allegations against McCarthy, and resultingly, few expect that criminal charges will be filed against her or any others who may be accused of leaking information. [Washington Post, 4/25/2006] The Justice Department has already opened a probe of the leaks surrounding the Post stories, but no word of the results of that probe has been revealed. No reporters have been interviewed about the leaks: Post spokesman Eric Grant says, “No Post reporter has been subpoenaed or talked to investigators in connection with this matter.” Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. says that he cannot comment on the firing, but “[a]s a general principle, obviously I am opposed to criminalizing the dissemination of government information to the press.” [New York Times, 4/21/2006]
McCarthy Often Spoke to Reporters - A former CIA official tells a reporter that part of McCarthy’s job was to talk to the press in authorized interviews. “It is not uncommon for an officer, when they are designated to talk to the press, to let something slip, or not report every contact.” Former Deputy CIA Director Richard Kerr says of McCarthy: “She was a very qualified analyst in a variety of jobs. She had strong views sometimes, but I don’t know anyone who would describe her as a zealot or ideologue.”
CIA Officials Often 'Ignored' When Attempting to Bring Up Issues - Kerr adds that if McCarthy did leak classified information to the press, she behaved wrongly and should be held accountable. “If she believed there was something morally wrong or illegal going on, there were mechanisms within the system to go up the line, or complain,” he says. “The other possibility for her or anyone else is to quit and speak once you are outside.” Former CIA analyst and State Department counterterrorism official Larry Johnson disagrees, saying: “During this administration, there have been any number of CIA officers who have brought up issues through channels internally. There have been intelligence officers who have brought up things within their own agencies, and even spoken to Congressional intelligence committees or presidential commissions. But they have found themselves completely ignored.” [National Journal, 4/25/2006] A former intelligence official who knows McCarthy says: “Firing someone who was days away from retirement is the least serious action they could have taken. That’s certainly enough to frighten those who remain in the agency.” [Washington Post, 4/25/2006]
Senator Praises Firing - Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, praises the CIA’s action. However, he is allegedly guilty of a far worse intelligence leak (see April 21, 2006).
Critics Claim Partisan Basis for Leaked Information - Some supporters of the Bush administration will claim that McCarthy’s leaks were politically motivated, and will point to the fact that in 2004, McCarthy contributed $2,000 to the presidential campaign of Democrat John Kerry (D-MA). [Washington Post, 4/25/2006] Columnist Melanie Morgan will accuse McCarthy of having “leftist ties,” and calls her a “revolting… liberal Democrat [sic] activist” who colluded with Priest, another “leftist,” to publish information that would “undermine America’s fight against terrorism.” She will also accuse McCarthy and Priest of working to help defeat Senator Curt Weldon (R-PA) in his 2006 re-election bid, and of having “suspicious” ties to Sandy Berger, the Clinton administration’s national security adviser, and former counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke. She concludes: “The Clintonites are so desperate to regain power that they are willing to sell out our national security to do it. And the reporters who serve as agents for this effort are rewarded for executing their role in the effort.… And the people who are hurting America are being rewarded.” [WorldNetDaily, 4/28/2006]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), John Kerry, Leonard Downie, Jr., Central Intelligence Agency, Eric Grant, Larry C. Johnson, Dana Priest, US Department of Justice, Washington Post, Sandy Berger, Ty Cobb, Melanie Morgan, Mary McCarthy, Pat Roberts, Office of the Inspector General (CIA), Richard A. Clarke, Richard Kerr, Porter J. Goss

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Jim Lehrer interviews Richard Kerr and Ray McGovern about the firing of CIA official Mary McCarthy.Jim Lehrer interviews Richard Kerr and Ray McGovern about the firing of CIA official Mary McCarthy. [Source: PBS]In an interview on PBS, two former CIA officials agree that fired CIA official Mary McCarthy should have been relieved of her duties by the agency (see April 21, 2006 and April 24, 2006), but have very different opinions on the context of the firing. News anchor Jim Lehrer interviews Richard Kerr, a former deputy director of the CIA under President George H. W. Bush, and veteran CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who is an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s intelligence policies.
Moral and Legal Responsibility to Disclose War Crimes - McGovern says that McCarthy “was cognizant of war crimes [committed by the Bush adminsitration]. She needed to do something about that, from a moral and a legal perspective. And she chose this way to do it, because the other ways were blocked for her.” Kerr disagrees, saying “[i]t’s not at all clear to me that his description of the activity is fitting.” Either way, Kerr says, as a junior officer, McCarthy had no right to take her concerns public in any manner. “There’s all kinds of ways to go through the organization to make your feelings known, to give your views of it,” Kerr says, “[a]nd I think going out independently, with that kind of discipline, no intelligence organization can work that way.” McGovern agrees in principle, but says that McCarthy’s case is “exceptional.” McCarthy knew that the CIA was torturing prisoners in secret prisons around the globe (see November 2-18, 2005), and had no other means to alert the public to the war crimes being committed by the agency at the behest of the White House. McGovern says that her boss, CIA Inspector General John Helgerson, is “a creature of the director,” Porter Goss, who joined with Vice President Dick Cheney to push for authorization of torture, so she had no recourse by going through internal channels. Going to Congress would be pointless, McGovern says, because “the oversight committees—I hate to say this, but it’s a joke. She can’t get any redress from [Senator] Pat Roberts [(R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee]. I call him Patsy Roberts, because he’s a patsy for the administration.” She would fare no better in the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Peter Hoekstra (R-MI). She had no other option, McGovern believes. “I knew Mary pretty well,” he says. “She’s got a lot of integrity. And, you know, you can argue that she has a moral responsibility and a legal responsibility.… [I]f she’s in the chain of command and she sees these kinds of crimes being perpetrated, under Nuremberg and other international law, she is required… to do something.” Kerr’s rejoinder: the nation is locked in “a different kind of war than we’ve been in before. We are going to take actions and be proactive in a way we’ve never done before. One of the real questions is: Do we operate within the values, the traditional values of the American culture, or do we stretch those and become very proactive? I don’t think it’s at all certain that we can operate the way we have in the past.”
Going through Channels and/or Resigning - Kerr disagrees with McGovern’s characterization of the situation and of Helgerson, saying, “[I]t may not be as easy to do that today as it was in the past, but I never found a time in 32 years where I couldn’t march up the organization and talk to people about concerns I had.” Kerr believes McCarthy should have resigned and then “argued against the policy” without revealing classified information. McGovern agrees, but continues to argue that the secret CIA prisons violate the War Crimes Act and therefore, “[t]his is not American. This is not the country that we serve. And when we see this happening, somebody has to speak out.” Resigning would not have made any difference, McGovern says, because McCarthy would still be bound by her secrecy agreement and therefore could not have spoken out in any meaningful sense. Kerr’s “is a specious argument,” McGovern says.
Making an Example - McGovern says McCarthy was fired for one simple reason: to make an example of her to deter other potential CIA leakers. “It’s sort of a deterrent sort of intimidation technique,” he says. “They’re running polygraph exams for everyone now. In our day, we got one every five years. Now they’re polygraphing everyone, so it’s part of this intimidation technique. But she took that risk. And I admire her for that.” Kerr says that while he sympathizes with McCarthy’s position, the agency must maintain internal discipline above all other concerns: “And one way to do that is to begin working leaks.” [PBS, 4/24/2006]

Entity Tags: Peter Hoekstra, Jim Lehrer, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John Helgerson, Pat Roberts, Ray McGovern, Richard Kerr, Porter J. Goss, Mary McCarthy

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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