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Retired CIA leader writes about 32 years with agency

Photo of Riomar resident and former CIA deputy director Richard Kerr.

The headline-grabbing chapters of American history that occurred during Riomar resident Richard Kerr’s 32 years with the Central Intelligence Agency include the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam War, the taking of American hostages by Iran, U.S. bombing raids in Libya, the breakup of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War, and Operation Desert Storm in Iraq.

Kerr, who served as the CIA's deputy director for three years under President George H.W. Bush and as the Agency's acting director for three months in 1991, recounts all of these events in his newly published book, “Unclassified: My Life Before, During and After the CIA,” which was published by Rand-Smith and is available on Amazon.

Some of his most compelling work, though, was done after he left the CIA, when he headed a small team that assessed and critiqued the intelligence produced before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

That’s covered in Kerr’s memoir, too.

“We actually wrote three reports, but only the first one was unclassified,” Kerr, now 84, said of his team’s four-month review, which was authorized by then-CIA Director George Tenet and then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

The Kerr Report, as it was known, was based on a CIA-sanctioned review that was completed in July 2004, but it wasn’t published until October 2005, when its findings were first reported by USA Today.

“Most people weren’t happy with our conclusions, because we determined that the CIA had done a poor job of collecting and analyzing intelligence,” he added. “And as a result, there were some serious miscalculations. But my job wasn’t to please anyone.

“My job was to look into what happened and why.”

Kerr’s report described as “seriously flawed, misleading and even wrong” most of the CIA’s conclusions about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs. However, it found that the CIA’s analysis was correct in its assessment of cultural and political obstacles to stability in post-war Iraq.

The Bush administration “apparently paid little or no attention” to that assessment, the report stated.

“[What happened in Iraq] was a combination of poor information, poor analysis and bad judgment,” Kerr said. “I don’t believe there was any duplicity.”

Kerr said he was selected to head the review team because Tenet and Rumsfeld respected his professionalism, integrity, objectivity and experience. Rising rapidly through the CIA's ranks, he served in each of the Agency's four divisions – Intelligence, Operations, Administration and Science/Technology – before becoming deputy director.

“Over the years, I was sent to do all kinds of different jobs,” Kerr said. “I covered more ground than most people at the agency.”

During his CIA years, which spanned from 1960 to 1992, Kerr’s tasks included providing presidents with daily intelligence briefings and addressing hot-button issues around the world, but he was more involved in analyzing information and managing analysts than actual spying.

“As deputy director, I was involved with operatives all the time,” said Kerr, who held the U.S. intelligence community’s highest security clearance. “But as far as me being an operative in the field and recruiting agents? Not really.”

Still, Kerr saw plenty while serving under seven U.S. presidents, the last of which was Bush 41, who in 1991 presented him with the Presidential Citizen’s Medal, the second-highest civilian award bestowed by an American president.

He shares those experiences across 200 pages in his new book, which was released last week.

"There's a lot of meat in it, particularly on how decisions were made, but it's not a tell-all and there's no dirt in it," said Kerr, who has lived in Vero Beach for the past 10 years. "I wanted to reflect on my experiences, share my thoughts and offer some insight into how the CIA works."

While living in Vero, Kerr has periodically written op-ed columns for Vero Beach 32963 on national security issues.

Kerr also wrote, “The Dark Side of Paradise: Odd and Intriguing Stories from Vero Beach,” a collection of short stories in which he blends his CIA experiences with his life as a Florida retiree. It was published last May.