Inman Out Of Picture, But Troubling Questions Remain

Douglas M. Bloomfield - Metro West Jewish News - February 3, 1994

When President Clinton named Admiral Bobby Ray Inman to be his next secretary of defense, I observed he was replacing "Israel's strongest friend in the cabinet with a giant question mark."

The answers started coming in quickly, climaxing with one of the most bizarre press conferences since those when Richard M. Nixon declared, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore" and "I am not a crook," and Ross Perot's charges of meddling in his daughter's wedding.

New York Times columnist William Safire deserves thanks for forcing the real Inman to reveal himself.

I am a Safire fan, although I often disagree with him, but I was somewhat skeptical about his motivation. Safire's December 23 column dripped sarcasm as he boasted about how "I asked [Inman] how a grown man could go through life calling himself "Bobby.'"

It was a petty and childish crack that made Safire's motivation suspect and undermined the legitimate news he had.

But Inman came to Safire's rescue, lending credence to the columnist's charge of the retired admiral's "anti-Israel bias" and general unfitness for the job.

Inman was behind efforts to tag Israel as the origin of reports of a Libyan hit squad headed for the United States, Safire charged. A U.S. anti-terrorism official familiar with the incident said the story actually came from an Arab source, who passed it on to the CIA, which "panicked" and soon barricades were erected in front of the White House and the Congress.

Following the Great nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1981, Israel's bombing of Saddam Hussein's Osirak reactor, Inman used his authority as deputy director of the CIA to slap a 250-mile limit on intelligence sharing with Israel, making Iraq, Iran and Libya a "non-threat." As Saddam and his Scud missiles later demonstrated, that was not only a very bad judgment call, but a very dangerous one as well.

The entire Inman incident raises many questions that linger beyond his abrupt withdrawal from public life.

  • What was the impact on Israeli security and early warning capabilities of Inman's restrictions on intelligence sharing? 1 (J4JP Note: Major!)
  • Was he eroding Israel's qualitative edge at a time when his president, Ronald Reagan, was pledging to protect it? Did he have his own agenda? 2 (J4JP Note: Yes and Yes!)
  • What consequences did Inman's Jewish fixation have on the CIA and National Security Agency, which he headed, and how much residue remains? 3 (J4JP: Much! See below.)
  • How did this guy get picked in the first place? Was there a code of omerta among his colleagues, friends and beneficiaries in the media and government to conceal the true Inman?
  • Is Inman just another thin-skinned, paranoid, nasalized, Texas dilettante with a flare for conspiracies who'd rather jump ship than fight when the going gets tough?
  • Did Admiral Inman's haste in abandoning ship indicate there might have been more and bigger torpedoes out there coming from Safire and other journalists who said they were looking into his past?
  • Did a true Washington insider and friend of so many important reporters think that after having been such a good and confidential source for so long that he was entitled to lifetime protection? Does the media give unfair protection to its favored sources?
  • What went wrong with the White House vetting process? Did anyone tell the president what kind of person he was nominating? Why didn't the president, after spending two and a half hours with the man, detect something?
  • Is the president's problem bad judgment, bad advice or both? Was he well served by senior advisers and former journalists Strobe Talbott and David Gergen who knew Inman for years and recommended his appointment?
  • After being burned by Inman, why did the president offer the job to Sen. Sam Nunn, who The New York Times has called "Clinton's chief nemesis on military issues"?
  • Why did the White House leak news that former GOP Sen. Warren Rudman also was considered for the job? Was the administration trying to tell opponents of Clinton defense policy that the president was ready to reverse himself and turn over the Pentagon to one of their own? Were these real offers or just window dressing to assuage the president's critics?
Deputy Defense Secretary William Perry has accepted the job, although reportedly with reluctance.

He is considered a good deputy, but he is not perceived as a forceful leader likely to inspire subordinates or the Pentagon brass.

While serving in the Carter administration as well as his current post, he has enjoyed good relations with his Israeli counterparts, according to a former top Israeli defense official. Perry was called open and friendly toward Israel and appreciative of its defense technology.

Inman made much of needing to establish his "comfort level" with President Clinton.

It was an insulting and arrogant statement to make in a Rose Garden ceremony, but it reveals the Achilles' heel of the Clinton presidency. The president's national security team is widely criticized for weakness; the hapless search for a new secretary of defense does nothing to reverse that image.

Note Regarding Numbers 1-2-3 Above

These are the 3 key questions, which lie at the heart of the Pollard case. Why did it take so long for them to be raised? And now that they have been raised will people finally begin to appreciate the nature of the threat Jonathan Pollard saw to Israel's security?

Particularly in regard to number 3 "How much residue remains?" Just look at the way these agencies went about derailing Pollard's original commutation request! They didn't just go after Pollard, though. Rather, by leaking inaccurate information suggesting that the materialPollard provided to Israel had somehow caused the destruction of virtually an entire Soviet information network, these organizations were actually trying to undermine Israel's perceived reliability as a recipient of "official" intelligence support. In other words, Jonathan Pollard was merely being used as an indirect means of sabotaging one of the most important aspects of the U.S.-Israel special relationship. The CIA's ongoing opposition to the commutation of Pollard's sentence, then had less to do with him, per se, than it does with the intelligence community's deep-seated hatred of Israel.

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