Colonel Larry Wilkerson to Receive 2009 Sam Adams Truthtelling Award

This year's award--the 7th one given by the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence--could not be more timely with regard to the wars being waged in Afghanistan-Pakistan and will be presented to former Chief of Staff at the State Department, Col. Larry Wilkerson, USA (ret.) this Wednesday, October 21, at American University in Washington DC.

Impetus for Sam Adams Award: Intelligence, Truth and the War of Numbers

The lengthy introductory remarks that I reposted here about last year's SAAII award to Danish intelligence officer, Army Maj. Frank Grevil, did not include the background of the award which has been given annually since 2002. Most of the recipients since 2002 have risked or sacrificed their careers, and some have even faced prosecution-imprisonment for their devotion to truth in the intelligence profession. In fact, Maj. Grevil had just been released from four months in prison when he received last year's award. His offense? Giving to the Danish press documentary proof that the Danish Prime Minister (who is now Secretary General of NATO) was being untruthful about WMD in Iraq.

The challenge of knowing and then telling the truth about intelligence matters are greatly heightened during periods of war. Sam Adams' unique history during the Vietnam War is described in the following Atlantic review of his book, War of Numbers that was published after his death.


CIA analyst Sam Adams fought the intelligence establishment about its Vietnam policy like David fought Goliath

War of Numbers is an insider's account of the battles that went on in the U.S. intelligence community during the Vietnam War, written by a young CIA analyst who single-handedly discovered massive fraud and political maneuvering on the part of the CIA, the military, and the White House. Adams discovered, in short, that the numbers were being cooked and that U.S. troops were actually fighting a much larger army than they suspected. Outraged, Adams battled the CIA and the military bureaucracies to get the real numbers acknowledged -- and thus to save lives. Adams's efforts eventually cost him his job. Adams wrote an account of his experiences in a Harper's cover story in May, 1975, and after that helped CBS put together a documentary on the topic, for which the station was sued (unsuccessfully) by General Westmoreland. That suit led to the declassification of reams of formerly secret intelligence documents from the Vietnam era, and Adams in the 1980s was preparing to work through it all to write a definitive account of the numbers question. In 1988, however, he died prematurely of a heart attack. Although Adams was never able to tell his full story, he did leave behind a gripping personal account of his time at the CIA, which Thomas Powers and Steerforth Press published in 1994 as War of Numbers...

Sam Adams wrote about intelligence in a way that nobody has ever done before. The level of seriousness and the richness of detail in the book are unique in the literature of studies about intelligence matters. But the book also has a charming, friendly, open quality to it; it's a very personal account. Adams writes with a remarkable level of candor and almost Boy Scout-like enthusiasm for finding out the truth, getting it right, and telling what really happened.

War of Numbers is among a very small number of books that have to do with the actual conduct of intelligence matters during Vietnam. I'm not talking about clandestine and covert actions, sending guerrillas into remote corners of the world, or the running of the secret wars in Laos. I'm talking about understanding the war. At the top of any nation's war-making capacity there's got to be a brain -- something that understands what the policy is, what the country is trying to do, what the tools are at its disposal, and how it's going to make things work. The intelligence business is right at the heart of that.

Our whole problem in Vietnam from beginning to end was a failure fully to understand what we were trying to do. We didn't know what the situation was really like, or what the forces really were that were opposing us. War of Numbers is about all that -- and about how we got it all wrong. There's no way you can understand how things went so badly without having some feel for the way in which policy makers on high deliberately ignored reality because they were having political trouble in Washington. That's what this book is about: the truth.

IraqAfPakisNam? Déjà vu?

The answer is undoubtedly yes when it comes to truth being the first casualty of these wars. As it turns out, another great Vietnam era truth-teller, Daniel Ellsberg (subject of a new film documentary The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers) will also be on hand to make remarks, along with a former CIA colleague of Sam Adams (and Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity co-founder) Ray McGovern and prior recipients of the SAAII award including myself. (For my part, I plan to briefly discuss the factors that work to keep officials and the public from "knowing the truth" in these situations.)

With President Obama now standing at a similar crossroad as LBJ did during the Vietnam War, deciding whether to acquiesce to his general's demands for more troops and facing the prospect of much longer and costly wars, can there be someone better to keynote and get the award than Colonel Wilkerson with his 31 years' military service that goes back to the Vietnam War, spans the birth-to-burial of the "Powell Doctrine" (and its supposed lessons learned from the Vietnam tragedy), and contains his first-hand insights into the egregious errors made by the Bush Administration in launching and waging the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Wilkerson has stood by his earlier description of Cheney and Rumsfeld as having formed a cabal to hijack the decision-making process: "I'm worried and I would rather have the discussion and debate in the process we've designed than I would a diktat from a dumb strongman... I'd prefer to see the squabble of democracy to the efficiency of dictators."

Another Vietnam vet, Colonel Andrew Bacevich diagnosed the problem very similarly: "National security policy has long been the province of a small, self-perpetuating, self-anointed group of specialists...dedicated to the proposition of excluding democratic influences from the making of national security policy. To the extent that members of the national security apparatus have taken public opinion into consideration, they have viewed it as something to manipulate."

Historically elections have done little to end wars. The need for exposing official lies and revealing more truth about strategic national interests and security and about the reality on the ground is undoubtedly at the same high level as it was when Sam Adams fought the "War of Numbers" during Vietnam.

So you're invited to come hear what Colonel Wilkerson and others have to say. The SAAIA award event is open to the public.


Ward Circle Building, Room 2, American University
Wednesday, October 21 at 8:10 pm

Keynote Speaker:

Col. Larry Wilkerson (USA, ret.) Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell during the critical period from August 2002 until January 2005; Served as Army officer for 31 years; recipient of 2009 Award from Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence

Additional Speakers:

Daniel Ellsberg, Former Defense and State Department official who released the Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971, for which he was put on trial facing a possible sentence of 115 years; Author, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers; Subject of newly released documentary "The Most Dangerous Man in America," which he was called at the time by Henry Kissinger
Coleen Rowley, Former Special Agent and Division Legal Counsel, Minneapolis FBI, who called the FBI director's attention to serious flaws that might have prevented 9/11; Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2002; Sam Adams Award Recipient, 2002
Craig Murray, Former U.K. Ambassador to Uzbekistan, who exposed the use of torture, declaring, "I would rather die than have someone tortured in attempt to give me more security." Sam Adams Award Recipient, 2005
Ray McGovern, Veteran CIA analyst, whose duties included preparing and briefing the President's Daily Brief under Nixon, Ford, and Reagan; Co-founder Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS); Colleague of Sam Adams
Peter Kuznick, Professor of History; Director, American University's Nuclear Studies Institute; Co-writer (with Oliver Stone) "Secret History of the United States" (forthcoming on Showtime)

The late Sam Adams, in calculating the number of Vietnamese Communists under arms, came up with more than twice the number Gen. William Westmoreland, Commander of U.S. forces, would allow the Army to acknowledge. The country-wide offensive at Tet in January-February 1968 proved Sam right.

Sponsored by Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, American University History Department, American University's Nuclear Studies Institute