The CIA’s Counterterrorist Center has spent more than $15 million in the past three years funding studies, reports and conferences produced by former Democratic administration officials and other critics of the Bush administration.
The latest effort was a $300,000 grant by the CIA to the Atlantic Council for a study co-authored by Richard A. Clarke, the former counterterrorism official who wrote a best seller accusing the Bush administration of failing in the war on terrorism by invading Iraq.
“The products of the [center] have a consistent theme: They criticize the Bush administration and provide ammunition for the Kerry campaign,” said one U.S. official who has read the resulting reports and studies.
This official said the academic outreach is the Counterterrorist Center’s way of “buying off” criticism of the CIA and the intelligence community by providing hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts and conferences.
Disclosures of the funding come after a highly critical report of the September 11 commission that faulted the CIA for its counterterrorism efforts after the attacks. The report said the CIA, as of 1997, still identified al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as a financier and failed to understand that he was the leader of the terrorist group that directed the September 11 attacks.
Bush administration officials say the CIA’s funding of counterterrorism studies and conferences through the center, known as the CTC, raises questions about whether the agency is violating its charter by getting involved in activities that influence U.S. policy.
The funding also raised questions among administration and congressional officials involved in intelligence activities about whether the CIA selectively funds counterterrorism studies and conferences at liberal or Democratic-oriented research organizations, while shunning activities at Republican-oriented, conservative centers.
An investigation by The Washington Times of the CIA’s funding of think tanks shows that the CTC’s academic outreach program has not funded any studies or conferences at conservative organizations.
Bush administration intelligence and policy officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, disclosed other recent funding activities by the CTC program, in addition to the one at which Mr. Clarke was co-chairman. They include:
A grant of $250,000 to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, known as CSIS, headed by former Clinton administration Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre. The grant paid for a study on how other major powers are taking advantage of the Bush administration in the global war on terrorism.
A CSIS spokesman said that the center’s work is bipartisan and that it does contract work with both the Defense Department and CIA.
$200,000 for a conference paper produced by Steven Simon, a former Clinton administration National Security Council staff member, now with the RAND Corp. Mr. Simon’s paper was about how to restructure the U.S. government for the war on terrorism and was to be included as a chapter of a book. Mr. Simon was a deputy to Mr. Clarke.
A grant of $100,000 for Bruce Hoffman, vice president for external affairs and public spokesman for RAND and a frequent columnist and guest on National Public Radio commenting on terrorism issues. Mr. Hoffman was granted high-level security clearances at the CIA as part of his consultancy.
Warren Robak, deputy director of RAND’s Office of External Communications, said, “Although RAND has done research for the U.S. intelligence community for many years, we do not discuss details or confirm the existence of any individual contract.”
Travel fees to University of California at Los Angeles law school professor Khaled Abou El Fadl for a paper on U.S. treatment of Muslims.
Daniel Pipes, a specialist on the Middle East, has called Mr. El Fadl an Islamic extremist who supports “jihad” or holy war. A spokesman for Mr. El Fadl confirmed that he spoke at the CIA, but said he was not paid by the agency.
cFunding for conferences on the failure of U.S. public diplomacy at the Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, both viewed as liberal in political orientation.
The Atlantic Council study by Mr. Clarke, along with retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the Clinton administration’s top anti-drug official, was critical of the Bush administration’s approach to NATO and counterterrorism issues. A section of the report states that France has not sought to undermine the U.S. position in Europe.
Mr. Clarke went public earlier this year with accusations that President Bush failed to heed his warnings about the threat of al Qaeda before the September 11 attacks and wasted resources deposing former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Mr. Clarke, through a spokesman, declined to comment.
The CTC academic outreach program until recently was headed by CIA analyst Bonnie Mitchell, who had access to a budget estimated by U.S. officials at about $5 million per year in the past three years.
A CIA spokesman said Miss Mitchell was unavailable for comment.
The spokesman initially suggested that Miss Mitchell was an undercover agent, but changed that characterization when told that Miss Mitchell identified herself publicly at conferences and within international organizations as a CIA analyst.
Miss Mitchell did not return e-mails seeking comment on her role as head of academic outreach at the CTC, nominally under the director of central intelligence.
A CIA source said CTC Deputy Director Phil Mudd and CTC Analysis Director Pattie Kindsvater have sought to distance themselves from Miss Mitchell’s funding of think tanks. The CTC has more than 1,000 officials, half of them involved in analysis work.
CIA spokeswoman Anya Guilsher said characterizing the Counterterrorist Center’s academic outreach program as biased in favor of liberal perspectives is “flat wrong.”
“Contracts are generally awarded following a competitive bidding process, but are also sometimes awarded to specific contractors who have a proven record on a given technical issue or expertise in a particular field,” she said.
The outreach program is aimed at bolstering counterterrorism analyses and “our analytic product,” she said.
The contracts with think tanks, research institutions and “independent subject-matter experts” are an effort to broaden the agency’s contacts, she said.
Miss Guilsher declined to comment on the specific organizations or persons identified as working with the CTC.
Critics of the program in the U.S. intelligence community said the CIA funding skirts rules that prohibit the agency from engaging in domestic-intelligence activities.
One intelligence official said the agency also could be subtly influencing policy by allowing favored research organizations to provide input to intelligence analysts.
A congressional official involved in oversight said the CIA has not informed Congress of the CTC funding of academic research.
Atlantic Council President Christopher J. Makins said the NATO study “was supported by funds from multiple sources, including the U.S. government.”
Spokesmen for the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, American Foreign Policy Council and Hoover Institution said their organizations never have been asked by the CTC to co-host or co-produce any counterterrorism programs.
The think tank spokesmen also said their institutions have not had any contract work with the CTC.