By JOSEPH VITALE
There is a Biblical verse etched into the Central Intelligence Agency’s lobby wall that reads: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
These are the words Ray McGovern, FCRH ’61, lives by, but believes his former employer, the CIA, has abandoned.
McGovern, a Bronx native, graduated from Fordham College before entering the military and then being recruited by the CIA to be an analyst under President Kennedy.
Having done briefings for every president until President George H.W. Bush, he has impressions and remembrances of each that are as sharp as his mission to seek truth in a world he sees masked in lies all too often.
In an interview, he recounted his experiences with various presidents, telling stories both formal and personal.
“Now, tell me what you think of these blue suited guys in the Air Force,” he recounted President Lyndon B. Johnson saying.
“They have this big new weapon — the B52. And they were really strong and they have these great big bows and they’re going to seal off the Ho Chi Min Trail. What do you guys think?,” he said, infusing his well-rehearsed LBJ inflections.
He also recounted his Russian lessons with President George H.W. Bush in pronouncing Mikhail Gorbachev’s last name.
“It’s really easy sir: ‘Garbage’ and then, ‘off.’ Trust me,” he recalled. “And he did.”
“Mr. Reagan never got it,” he quipped, mimicking the President’s gross mispronunciation.
After 27 years of such intimate experiences in the sphere of national intelligence, McGovern retired and turned to political activism, promoting responsible behavior and proper use of information by U.S. intelligence agencies. In 2003, he helped form Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), with the mission of exposing the various ways in which the Iraq War was falsely justified.
Having appeared on various television programs and written open letters to the likes of President Obama and Intelligence employees, he currently heads the “Speaking Truth to Power” section of Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C.
McGovern has supported and applauded many whistleblowers who have shared his mission of bringing the truth to the public eye.
The list includes Chelsea Manning, a private in the United States Armed Forces, Tom Drake, a former senior executive for the National Security Agency and Julian Assange, the editor and founder of WikiLeaks.
Most recently, McGovern has supported and praised Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who leaked documents revealing classified information regarding national data surveillance programs.
McGovern visited Snowden in Russia and was present when he received the Sam Adams Award, which honors an intelligence worker who has exemplified integrity and ethical values.
“What people don’t know about Edward Snowden, in particular those who want to vilify him, or you know, shoot the messenger, is that he had a copy of the U.S. Constitution on his desk in Honolulu,” McGovern said. He also recounted the story of one of Snowden’s colleagues, who relayed that Snowden questioned the NSA’s actions in relation to the Fourth Amendment.
McGovern recently spoke at a Fordham Law School event, titled “Whistleblowers: Dissenters, Advocates, Criminals or Loyalists?”
The panel, which included three other panelists, spoke on issues ranging from how to protect oneself from the NSA when pursuing journalistic sources to the deceivingly ineffective legislations regarding whistleblowers.
The group assessed various controversies, from Edward Snowden’s leaks to, most recently, Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) speech regarding the CIA personnel illicitly snooping on Senate staffers.
The CIA, she claimed, has been examining Senate staffers’ computers to conduct a review of the agency’s practices under President George W. Bush.
One of the speakers, Julia Angwin, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, discussed her recently released book, Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance (2014). Angwin provided an account of her experience trying to minimize online footprint while contacting sources.
She listed a number of ways she lives a more private life so that she is not monitored.
“I use Duck Duck Go,” she said, referring to the website that does not track web history. She also is not listed on Facebook and LinkedIn, and encrypts her web and texting communication as ways of avoiding even the slightest possibility of NSA surveillance.
Among the other speakers, the event included Mike German, a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program, and David Pozen, an associate professor at Columbia Law School, who is an expert on constitutional law, national security law, public law and information law and policy.
McGovern, who spoke at length regarding his experiences in the CIA, continues to make waves in the media and on the larger scale of issues of intelligence.
“We are sowing seeds,” he concluded. “And who knows how God will make those seeds grow?”
He then quoted Rabbi Heschel, who famously claimed, “We are not all guilty, but we are all responsible. Indifference to evil is worse than evil itself.”
McGovern, at age 74, refuses to resort to indifference.