Ron Garrett is a global market analyst and business development specialist who lives in Morrisville. In the 1970s, he worked for the Army Security Agency at a field station in South Korea as an order of battle and electronic warfare specialist. He later helped analyze intelligence on the North Korean political hierarchy. Garrett left the intelligence services in 1979, became a university police chief, first at University of Puget Sound and then Pacific Lutheran University, both in Tacoma, Wash. Here's an edited transcript of an interview with Independent Weekly intern Liz Ragin about why he feels so strongly about Bush, the war in Iraq and the administration's assault on civil liberties.
The Independent: You mention you are a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers. What exactly is that and what do you do?
Ron Garrett: AFIO is for anyone who is either ex-intelligence services or is currently involved in security and corporate intelligence work. Most of the people that you meet up there are like myself, they were with military intelligence services, Air Force Security Service, things involved with the National Security Agency, other intelligence agencies. There are some people that were involved in defense security like the CIA, Bureau of Investigative Research, which is one you don't hear about too often, they keep real quiet, Federal Bureau of Investigation. You see a lot of government types, a lot of large corporate types up there.
INDY: Do the other members share the same feelings that you do?
GARRETT: You know, it really surprised me that a lot of them do. I think that prior to this business with Iraq, what was making everyone really nervous was the Patriot Act. Almost without exception everyone I know, and it's a big group, was very, very nervous that the Patriot Act has brought back and legalized practices that the Church Committee back in the '70s threw out because of Nixon's involvement in the assassination of Salvador Allende in Chile and that kind of stuff. I entered intelligence services in 1975; President Ford in '76 issued an executive order banning domestic surveillance, promising long prison terms in Fort Leavenworth for anyone in military intelligence services involved in that sort of stuff, and Reagan reissued executive order No. 333, which just restated all of that--at the exact same time he was involved in all the Iran-Contra nonsense. Now we have Iran-Contra felons all over the administration.
INDY: I saw that Bush Sr. is the chairman of the AFIO organization...
GARRETT: That's an honorary thing. Bush Sr. really was a diplomat all the way--went all around the world, got support from everybody, went in, stomped the Iraqi army to the ground, and backed off. So overall he had about as much honesty and integrity as you would expect from a president. And his son is not the same kind of man.
INDY: As a former intelligence officer, why are you so open with these criticisms of Bush and why are you not in support of his actions?
GARRETT: It isn't really as a former intelligence officer but more someone who believes in civil liberties, who gets really annoyed to see his Bill of Rights tampered with, and who gets really annoyed at seeing intelligence agencies ignored and perverted for personal political gain. I work with people from countries all over the world, and our reputation around the world is terrible now. Everybody in the entire planet believes we attacked Iraq to steal their oil, and I think that's exactly what's happened.
Even without a background in intelligence, I would have enough intelligence to know this guy's got to go. I think people will throw him out over the economy when it comes down to that. I think there will be people out of work thinking about these billionaires getting tax cuts, and they'll think about that and throw him out.
This is the first time I've ever seen people whisper when they criticize the President. They whisper when they criticize this guy like they are afraid someone is listening. I've never seen that in my lifetime, and something is terribly wrong in the country when people don't feel like they can discuss these things out in the open.
INDY: They sure felt they could with Clinton.
GARRETT: Sure they did, but at the end of the day, we're talking about a guy who had a sexual affair with an employee and lied about it, which is totally inappropriate, but compare that to killing thousands of people, getting three or four of our soldiers killed every day so that Halliburton can get a profit. So I know Clinton got caught playing around, he lied, didn't want his wife to be embarrassed and didn't want his kid to be embarrassed and I can understand that. But what I can't understand is how a president can tell his country that this guy's got nuclear weapons that he's going to drop on New York and Washington if we don't go get him when he knew good and well he doesn't have them. I mean, everybody who lost a son or daughter over there ought to be furious. There was no real threat.
INDY: In my government class this year my teacher told me that we know for a fact that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and most likely nuclear weapons. I was always kind of skeptical and not real positive, but it's hard when you are told at a place like school that something is fact--now I'm being told I was lied to by my president about the weapons of mass destruction.
GARRETT: If you read Jane's Security Briefing, which is a briefing that goes out every week, it's public information and a lot of times it's better information than what the CIA's got, what you see is that there was just less and less evidence of real ongoing activity from about '94 on. Inspectors went in in '98 and their issue was they weren't finding what they were expecting to find, and they were certain that the Iraqis were hiding them. I'm sure they tried, but chemical weapons and biotoxins all break down unless they are kept under special conditions--you can't just go bury a bunch of anthrax and expect it to stay viable. It won't. I'm one of those guys that's thinking, "If he's really got these things, we're gonna get about 100 miles into Iraq and he's gonna drop them on us." And our military commanders said that they went mile after mile after mile after mile without even signs of teargas or any of the really simple things he could have had. So, I wondered why wouldn't he just say "You know, I don't have these." It's because he's a neighborhood thug, and a neighborhood thug depends on the fear of his neighbors to get the goodies, and as long as everyone around him thought he had 500 pounds of sarin, he'll get his economic aid and all kinds of stuff. So if he says he's starting a uranium project, what he's really out for is a paycheck from the United States. That's what happened with Kim Il Sung--he said he was building nuclear weapons and we wrote him a check. You have to understand that if anyone ever really did believe that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons, we would have never invaded. We would have bombed them to the Stone Age, we wouldn't have sent troops in on the ground where they can be killed. No military commander in the world would do that.
INDY: Right now it seems like people are getting more and more skeptical, with headlines like, "Well, how much did Bush really lie to us?"
GARRETT: Well, you never know if he's really as stupid as everybody thinks, and Cheney and Rumsfeld are running the government, or if he is a lot more capable than everybody gives him credit for and he's too stupid to care. But at the end of the day, it goes back to his great-grandfather, who worked for Standard Oil, and everyone in his administration. These are people he grew up with, these are his friends from the energy business. Cheney, when he was in Congress, was all about Saddam being this wonderful guy, saying, "We gotta help him against the Iranians." Rumsfeld was the one Halliburton sent to try to get the pipeline contract with Hussein, which would have been $8 billion for them. So there's all kinds of things going on that the American public either doesn't want to believe or they just don't care.
INDY: Do you think the American people will get a clue before the election?
GARRETT: No. I think in an era where Bill O'Reilly is a popular TV show, it's very unlikely that there is enough intellectual firepower out in the American electorate that they are really going to notice or care. I think Sept. 11 hurt us the worst. It turned our brains off, and put us in super-patriot mode, so now if Karl Rove puts enough flags behind Bush's podium, everybody just salutes. I guess we don't have it anymore, but when I was going through school, we had civics classes where you learned to salute and love God and America and how to be a patriot, and that faded a little with Vietnam, but it's back full force now.
Somebody attacks our home soil, we want revenge. Well, the people that were responsible for it were Saudis, and the people who were responsible for them were Saudis, and the Saudi government is where we get so much of our oil. So I think what Bush really gets credit for is being a real bait-and-switch master, when it's Saudis that were at the top of the government that were responsible for this mess, getting everybody to think it was Iraq. If we were really going to go smash the country responsible for that, we would have bombed Riyadh and not Baghdad.
INDY: You said in an e-mail that our government is now more corrupt than ever before. That's a really strong statement. Why do you feel that and what do you feel we can do to rid the government of this corruption?
GARRETT: I think that there was a half-hearted effort to do it with the campaign finance reform. This business of having awarded a contract to Halliburton for the Iraqi oil fields before we ever even went to war while he was still standing at the podium saying "Saddam Hussein has time to come clean about his weapons of mass destruction." That's like me saying to you, "OK, until you come clean about your child molesting, you've got 'til such-and-such date or I'm going to kill you." You know that was like the proposition. Well if you don't have any weapons of mass destruction, you can't possibly come clean about them, can you?
Nobody in the world thinks that Saddam Hussein is a good guy, and if it was up to me I would have dropped a bomb on his house, killed him. There is no doubt about it that no matter what happens in Iraq, they were better off without him. As long as we don't let Iran happen again, but assuming that they end up with even a moderate leader, their government will be so much better off, so I'm happy for them.
What I'm not happy about is that there was absolutely no plan for Iraq after the war, it's a mess, they are floundering, they're not getting their act together.
And now that the Iraqis can buy satellite dishes, they're getting the word out over there. Everyone over there believes that we went over there to steal their oil; they don't believe we went to help them. Most of them are happy that Saddam is gone, but they don't think that we are any better.
So anyway, I'm happy the guy's dead. If I had gone I would have shot him myself, but we had him contained for a decade successfully and after going in there, everything we've found just confirms that we had him successfully contained, and I think we're going to be dealing with the consequences of this for a long time. I think next time something comes along, we're going to tell all our allies, "Look, we need your support, we need to get this guy or go in here," or whatever they're going to be like, "Yeah, yeah, what's he got that you want to steal?"