Former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency James Woolsey broke into the national security business by picking fights, and things haven’t changed much since.
While attending the 1968 wedding of a college friend and the daughter of then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Nitze, Woolsey found himself at odds with the father of the bride.
The one-time head of Yale Citizens for Eugene McCarthy didn’t see eye to eye with the Johnson administration’s Vietnam policy.
“It was Lieutenant Woolsey versus Deputy Secretary of Defense Nitze,” Woolsey said yesterday in an interview with The Dartmouth.
Yet Nitze clearly saw something he liked in the Tulsa-born Army Captain, because when Nitze headed up the U.S. Delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks I in Helsinki, he extended an invitation to Woolsey.
“Send Woolsey along — he may not know what he’s talking about, but at least he’ll speak up,” Nitze told Woolsey’s boss at the time.
More than 30 years later, though he has remained officially in the private sector since leaving the CIA in 1995, Woolsey is still making headlines as one of Washington’s strongest supporters of an invasion of Iraq.
Frustrations with the domestic-minded Clinton administration compelled Woolsey to leave the CIA’s top position after just two years.
“My relationship with Clinton wasn’t bad — it just didn’t exist,” Woolsey said, noting that he met with Clinton in a private or semi-private setting only twice in the his tenure. By contrast, President Bush began meeting with current CIA Director George Tenet on a weekly basis long before Sept. 11.
Woolsey recalled an inside joke centered around the 1994 crash of a small private plane on the White House lawn. According to Woolsey, the punchline was: “That must be Woolsey still trying to get in for an appointment.”
Though Woolsey’s directorship came during peacetime conditions, he did confront a major challenge when, in one of the worst spy scandals in the national history, Aldrich Ames was exposed as a Russian mole.
Despite the hardships, Woolsey praised intelligence work as “extremely gratifying.”
“There’s always a chance that the thing you’re working on is of vital importance,” he said. Though the pay is relatively low, Woosley compared the job satisfaction afforded to that of businessmen who may make substantial amounts of money but wonder if their work has much value.
In intelligence, “Your psychic income is quite substantial,” Woolsey said.
Of the tenfold increase in applicants the CIA has seen since Sept. 11, Woolsey said that he felt “delighted.” To fight the war on terrorism, which Woolsey expects to continue for years to come, the CIA needs “the best people in the country” for its three major categories of jobs: spies, analysts and scientists/engineers.
For students interested in intelligence work, Woolsey noted an analyst needs “skills you’d need in many ways to be a faculty member at Dartmouth.”
Spies, however, require an unpredictable set of talents. Some spies excel at everything, whereas others are suited for nothing but espionage.
Woolsey pointed out that other intelligence agencies need separate sets of talents; for example, the National Security Agency recruits exceptional mathematicians as code-breakers.
Despite the glamorous image, many of a CIA director’s peacetime responsibilities involve gathering resources and funding for the Agency’s programs.
During Woolsey’s term, he tried to obtain more money for Arabic language training — an idea that met with steep opposition in one of the four congressional committees it had to pass through.
Along with serving day-to-day duties as the Chief Executive Officer of the CIA, the Director also functions as the effective chairman of the board of the U.S. Intelligence Community — a group comprised of 13 groups, including the Defense Intelligence Agency, Department of State and Army Intelligence.
With nearly seven years of separation from his government career, Woolsey said that his reaction to Sept. 11 probably wasn’t much different from anyone else’s; he felt “stunned.” The only potential difference was that he probably had a more immediate sense that al-Qaida was responsible
All three of Woolsey’s sons were in New York at the time. He discovered days later that his youngest had boarded a subway bound from Brooklyn to the World Trade Center at roughly the same time as the second crash. When he entered the station, situated underneath the second tower, he noticed the rubble and assumed there had been a minor accident.
Woolsey’s son at first responded casually to a police officer’s advisement to leave, then hurried as the officer told him, “No — get out fast.” Less than a minute after the passengers had exited the station, the tower collapsed, likely killing the officer who had helped him.
“We feel a great debt of gratitude to the NYPD,” Woolsey said.