Long Strange Journey: A Whistleblower’s Tale

02.28.11 | 3 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

In the vast literature of intelligence-related memoirs, the new book “Long Strange Journey” by Patrick G. Eddington stands out in several ways.

Eddington entered the intelligence arena as an imagery analyst for the CIA’s National Photographic Intelligence Center.  Imagery analysis is a predominately technical activity and is not normally considered a hotbed of intrigue or controversy.  Nor has it been widely featured in the intelligence “literature of discontent.”  Eddington provides an introduction to the world of light tables, mensuration and the now-defunct world of the NPIC analyst.

Then Eddington himself defies easy stereotyping.  As an Army veteran, a political conservative, and a person of faith, he might have been voted least likely to rock the boat and to become a whistleblower.  But that’s what he did.

Shaken by an encounter with a Gulf War veteran suffering from an exposure to some unidentified toxin, he began a personal investigation at CIA into what would soon become known as Gulf War Syndrome, a collection of symptoms that afflicted thousands of soldiers.  In the face of official denials of the presence of chemical or biological agents in the Iraq of Desert Storm, Eddington audaciously undertook his own “clandestine” or “covert” search of classified CIA intelligence databases in an attempt to discover the truth.

“I aggressively gathered all the cable traffic and reporting on Iraqi NBC [nuclear, biological and chemical] operations before, during, and after the war,” he writes.  “My cipher-lock door was frequently closed during these clandestine electronic fishing expeditions.  If someone knocked, it gave me just enough time to lock my computer screen and prevent anyone ‘uncleared’ from inadvertently learning of my Gulf War-related inquiry.”

The second half of the book is a gripping, slow-motion train wreck of a story, as Eddington attempts to air his newly discovered findings to his superiors at CIA, to military officials and to congressional overseers.  They are mostly unresponsive, and frequently hostile.  Eddington is eventually ostracized, and feels driven to leave the intelligence community in disgust.  This is Eddington’s account, and the thought processes of his bosses, colleagues and adversaries that led them to reject or downplay his efforts are not clearly articulated here.  Yet over time, his core allegations concerning the exposure of American service personnel in Iraq to chemical agents have been ratified and broadly accepted.

“There is no small irony in the fact that Agency officials who spent years claiming no chemical weapons were deployed in the first Gulf War were later forced to recant those claims, only to go on to erroneously claim that Saddam retained WMD stocks when none in fact existed,” he wrote.  “The mindset that produced both failed estimates was the same — a refusal to reevaluate a long-held institutional position in the face of contravening evidence.”

From Eddington’s point of view, he was “forced out by a system that values consensus over creativity, conformity over conscience.”

This impassioned first-person account raises challenging questions that go beyond the particulars of Eddington’s story.  How can government organizations and especially intelligence agencies best be organized to nurture disparate and politically inconvenient views?  What are the appropriate limits of dissent within a government organization?  How can congressional oversight of intelligence be invigorated?  How can intelligence and national security whistleblowers be protected?

See “Long Strange Journey: An Intelligence Memoir” by Patrick G. Eddington, February 2011.  See also the author’s website here.

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