"The intelligence process is a bit like virginity," says Ray McGovern, who worked as a CIA analyst for 27 years. "Once you prostitute it, it's never the same. Your credibility never recovers.
"Watching what has happened with Iraq over the past several months has been like watching your daughter being raped."
Such is an indication of the extraordinary depth of feeling within the US intelligence community as the Bush administration's basis for the war in Iraq - the weapons of mass destruction, the dark hint of links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qa'ida - has been shown to have been built on air.
Mr McGovern worked near the very top of his profession, giving direct advice to Henry Kissinger during the Nixon era and preparing the President's daily security brief for Ronald Reagan. Now he is co-founder of a group of former CIA employees called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, or Vips for short.
What the Bush White House has done, he believes, is far worse than the false premise that dragged the United States into the Vietnam War - a reported second attack on a US destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin which later turned out not to have taken place. "The Gulf of Tonkin was a spur-of-the-moment thing, and Lyndon Johnson seized on that. That's very different from the very calculated, 18-month, orchestrated, incredibly cynical campaign of lies that we've seen to justify a war. This is an order of magnitude different. It's so blatant."
Mr McGovern accuses Mr Bush of an extraordinary act of chutzpah - taking advantage of his authority as President of the United States to make people believe there must be something to his insistent allegations that Iraq possessed potentially devastating weaponry.
"Many of us felt there had to be something there ... If this had been another country, one would have written a convincing analysis that this guy is lying through his teeth, that there are no weapons in Iraq. But people thought, the President can't say he knows something if he doesn't. That was persuasive, in a way.
"Now we know that no other President of the United States has ever lied so baldly and so often and so demonstrably ... The presumption now has to be that he's lying any time that he's saying anything."
It will, Mr McGovern believes, take a change of president and a change of CIA director to even begin to repair the damage done by what he sees as an overt politicisation of the intelligence business. But even that may not be enough.
"Unless what has happened in the past year and a half is recognised as a scandal, in which the CIA has been badly abused, then there's no hope," he said. "I pin my hopes mostly on the press these days. Turns out, surprise surprise, that even the US press doesn't like to be lied to."Reuse content