The new Pentagon papers
By Karen Kwiatkowski
I spent time that summer exploring the neoconservative worldview and trying to grasp what was happening inside the Pentagon. I wondered what could explain this rush to war and disregard for real intelligence. Neoconservatives are fairly easy to study, mainly because they are few in number, and they show up at all the same parties. Examining them as individuals, it became clear that almost all have worked together, in and out of government, on national security issues for several decades. The Project for the New American Century and its now famous 1998 manifesto to President Clintonon Iraq is a recent example. But this statement was preceded by one written for Benyamin Netanyahu's Likud Party campaign in Israel in 1996 by neoconservatives Richard Perle, David Wurmser and Douglas Feith titled "A Clean Break: Strategy for Securing the Realm."
David Wurmser is the least known of that trio and an interesting example of the tangled neoconservative web. In 2001, the research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute was assigned to the Pentagon, then moved to the Department of State to work as deputy for the hard-line conservative undersecretary John Bolton, then to the National Security Council, and now is lodged in the office of the vice president. His wife, the prolific Meyrav Wurmser, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute, is also a neoconservative team player.
Before the Iraq invasion, many of these same players labored together for literally decades to push a defense strategy that favored military intervention and confrontation with enemies, secret and unconstitutional if need be. Some former officials, such as Richard Perle (an assistant secretary of defense under Reagan) and James Woolsey (CIA director under Clinton), were granted a new lease on life, a renewed gravitas, with positions on President Bush's Defense Policy Board. Others, like Elliott Abrams and Paul Wolfowitz, had apparently overcome previous negative associations from an Iran-Contra conviction for lying to the Congress and for utterly miscalculating the strength of the Soviet Union in a politically driven report to the CIA.
Neoconservatives march as one phalanx in parallel opposition to those they hate. In the early winter of 2002, a co-worker U.S. Navy captain and I were discussing the service being rendered by Colin Powell at the time, and we were told by the neoconservative political appointee David Schenker that "the best service Powell could offer would be to quit right now." I was present at a staff meeting when Bill Luti called Marine Gen. and former Chief of Central Command Anthony Zinni a "traitor," because Zinni had publicly expressed reservations about the rush to war.
After August 2002, the Office of Special Plans established its own rhythm and cadence separate from the non-politically minded professionals covering the rest of the region. While often accused of creating intelligence, I saw only two apparent products of this office: war planning guidance for Rumsfeld, presumably impacting Central Command, and talking points on Iraq, WMD and terrorism. These internal talking points seemed to be a mélange crafted from obvious past observation and intelligence bits and pieces of dubious origin. They were propagandistic in style, and all desk officers were ordered to use them verbatim in the preparation of any material prepared for higher-ups and people outside the Pentagon. The talking points included statements about Saddam Hussein's proclivity for using chemical weapons against his own citizens and neighbors, his existing relations with terrorists based on a member of al-Qaida reportedly receiving medical care in Baghdad, his widely publicized aid to the Palestinians, and general indications of an aggressive viability in Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program and his ongoing efforts to use them against his neighbors or give them to al-Qaida style groups. The talking points said he was threatening his neighbors and was a serious threat to the U.S., too.
I suspected, from reading Charles Krauthammer, a neoconservative columnist for the Washington Post, and the Weekly Standard, and hearing a Cheney speech or two, that these talking points left the building on occasion. Both OSP functions duplicated other parts of the Pentagon. The facts we should have used to base our papers on were already being produced by the intelligence agencies, and the war planning was already done by the combatant command staff with some help from the Joint Staff. Instead of developing defense policy alternatives and advice, OSP was used to manufacture propaganda for internal and external use, and pseudo war planning.
As a result of my duties as the North Africa desk officer, I became acquainted with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) support staff for NESA. Every policy regional director was served by a senior executive intelligence professional from DIA, along with a professional intelligence staff. This staff channeled DIA products, accepted tasks for DIA, and in the past had been seen as a valued member of the regional teams. However, as the war approached, this type of relationship with the Defense Intelligence Agency crumbled.
Even the most casual observer could note the tension and even animosity between "Wild Bill" Luti (as we came to refer to our boss) and Bruce Hardcastle, our defense intelligence officer (DIO). Certainly, there were stylistic and personality differences. Hardcastle, like most senior intelligence officers I knew, was serious, reserved, deliberate, and went to great lengths to achieve precision and accuracy in his speech and writing. Luti was the kind of guy who, in staff meetings and in conversations, would jump from grand theory to administrative minutiae with nary a blink or a fleeting shadow of self-awareness.
I discovered that Luti and possibly others within OSP were dissatisfied with Hardcastle's briefings, in particular with the aspects relating to WMD and terrorism. I was not clear exactly what those concerns were, but I came to understand that the DIA briefing did not match what OSP was claiming about Iraq's WMD capabilities and terrorist activities. I learned that shortly before I arrived there had been an incident in NESA where Hardcastle's presence and briefing at a bilateral meeting had been nixed abruptly by Luti. The story circulating among the desk officers was "a last-minute cancellation" of the DIO presentation. Hardcastle's intelligence briefing was replaced with one prepared by another Policy office that worked nonproliferation issues. While this alternative briefing relied on intelligence produced by DIO and elsewhere, it was not a product of the DIA or CIA community, but instead was an OSD Policy "branded" product -- and so were its conclusions. The message sent by Policy appointees and well understood by staff officers and the defense intelligence community was that senior appointed civilians were willing to exclude or marginalize intelligence products that did not fit the agenda.Staff officers would always request OSP's most current Iraq, WMD and terrorism talking points. On occasion, these weren't available in an approved form and awaited Shulsky's approval. The talking points were a series of bulleted statements, written persuasively and in a convincing way, and superficially they seemed reasonable and rational. Saddam Hussein had gassed his neighbors, abused his people, and was continuing in that mode, becoming an imminently dangerous threat to his neighbors and to us -- except that none of his neighbors or Israel felt this was the case. Saddam Hussein had harbored al-Qaida operatives and offered and probably provided them with training facilities -- without mentioning that the suspected facilities were in the U.S./Kurdish-controlled part of Iraq. Saddam Hussein was pursuing and had WMD of the type that could be used by him, in conjunction with al-Qaida and other terrorists, to attack and damage American interests, Americans and America -- except the intelligence didn't really say that. Saddam Hussein had not been seriously weakened by war and sanctions and weekly bombings over the past 12 years, and in fact was plotting to hurt America and support anti-American activities, in part through his carrying on with terrorists -- although here the intelligence said the opposite. His support for the Palestinians and Arafat proved his terrorist connections, and basically, the time to act was now. This was the gist of the talking points, and it remained on message throughout the time I watched the points evolve.
But evolve they did, and the subtle changes I saw from September to late January revealed what the Office of Special Plans was contributing to national security. Two key types of modifications were directed or approved by Shulsky and his team of politicos. First was the deletion of entire references or bullets. The one I remember most specifically is when they dropped the bullet that said one of Saddam's intelligence operatives had met with Mohammad Atta in Prague, supposedly salient proof that Saddam was in part responsible for the 9/11 attack. That claim had lasted through a number of revisions, but after the media reported the claim as unsubstantiated by U.S. intelligence, denied by the Czech government, and that Atta's location had been confirmed by the FBI to be elsewhere, that particular bullet was dropped entirely from our "advice on things to say" to senior Pentagon officials when they met with guests or outsiders.
The other change made to the talking points was along the line of fine-tuning and generalizing. Much of what was there was already so general as to be less than accurate.
Some bullets were softened, particularly statements of Saddam's readiness and capability in the chemical, biological or nuclear arena. Others were altered over time to match more exactly something Bush and Cheney said in recent speeches. One item I never saw in our talking points was a reference to Saddam's purported attempt to buy yellowcake uranium in Niger. The OSP list of crime and evil had included Saddam's attempts to seek fissionable materials or uranium in Africa. This point was written mostly in the present tense and conveniently left off the dates of the last known attempt, sometime in the late 1980s. I was surprised to hear the president's mention of the yellowcake in Niger in his 2002 State of the Union address because that indeed was new and in theory might have represented new intelligence, something that seemed remarkably absent in any of the products provided us by the OSP (although not for lack of trying). After hearing of it, I checked with my old office of Sub-Saharan African Affairs -- and it was news to them, too. It also turned out to be false.
It is interesting today that the "defense" for those who lied or prevaricated about Iraq is to point the finger at the intelligence. But the National Intelligence Estimate, published in September 2002, as remarked upon recently by former CIA Middle East chief Ray McGovern, was an afterthought. It was provoked only after Sens. Bob Graham and Dick Durban noted in August 2002, as Congress was being asked to support a resolution for preemptive war, that no NIE elaborating real threats to the United States had been provided. In fact, it had not been written, but a suitable NIE was dutifully prepared and submitted the very next month. Naturally, this document largely supported most of the outrageous statements already made publicly by Bush, Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld about the threat Iraq posed to the United States. All the caveats, reservations and dissents made by intelligence were relegated to footnotes and kept from the public. Funny how that worked.
Starting in the fall of 2002 I found a way to vent my frustrations with the neoconservative hijacking of our defense policy. The safe outlet was provided by retired Col. David Hackworth, who agreed to publish my short stories anonymously on his Web site Soldiers for the Truth, under the moniker of "Deep Throat: Insider Notes From the Pentagon." The "deep throat" part was his idea, but I was happy to have a sense that there were folks out there, mostly military, who would be interested in the secretary of defense-sponsored insanity I was witnessing on almost a daily basis. When I was particularly upset, like when I heard Zinni called a "traitor," I wrote about it in articles like this one.
In November, my Insider articles discussed the artificial worlds created by the Pentagon and the stupid naiveté of neocon assumptions about what would happen when we invaded Iraq. I discussed the price of public service, distinguishing between public servants who told the truth and then saw their careers flame out and those "public servants" who did not tell the truth and saw their careers ignite. My December articles became more depressing, discussing the history of the 100 Years' War and "combat lobotomies." There was a painful one titled "Minority Reports" about the necessity but unlikelihood of a Philip Dick sci-fi style "minority report" on Feith-Wolfowitz-Rumsfeld-Cheney's insanely grandiose vision of some future Middle East, with peace, love and democracy brought on through preemptive war and military occupation.I shared some of my concerns with a civilian who had been remotely acquainted with the Luti-Feith-Perle political clan in his previous work for one of the senior Pentagon witnesses during the Iran-Contra hearings. He told me these guys were engaged in something worse than Iran-Contra. I was curious but he wouldn't tell me anything more. I figured he knew what he was talking about. I thought of him when I read much later about the 2002 and 2003 meetings between Michael Ledeen, Reuel Marc Gerecht and Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar -- all Iran-Contra figures.
In December 2002, I requested an acceleration of my retirement to the following July. By now, the military was anxiously waiting under the bed for the other shoe to drop amid concerns over troop availability, readiness for an ill-defined mission, and lack of day-after clarity. The neocons were anxiously struggling to get that damn shoe off. That other shoe fell with a thump, as did the regard many of us had held for Colin Powell, on Feb. 5 as the secretary of state capitulated to the neoconservative line in his speech at the United Nations -- a speech not only filled with falsehoods pushed by the neoconservatives but also containing many statements already debunked by intelligence.
War is generally crafted and pursued for political reasons, but the reasons given to the Congress and to the American people for this one were inaccurate and so misleading as to be false. Moreover, they were false by design. Certainly, the neoconservatives never bothered to sell the rest of the country on the real reasons for occupation of Iraq -- more bases from which to flex U.S. muscle with Syria and Iran, and better positioning for the inevitable fall of the regional ruling sheikdoms. Maintaining OPEC on a dollar track and not a euro and fulfilling a half-baked imperial vision also played a role. These more accurate reasons for invading and occupying could have been argued on their merits -- an angry and aggressive U.S. population might indeed have supported the war and occupation for those reasons. But Americans didn't get the chance for an honest debate.
President Bush has now appointed a commission to look at American intelligence capabilities and will report after the election. It will "examine intelligence on weapons of mass destruction and related 21st century threats ... [and] compare what the Iraq Survey Group learns with the information we had prior..." The commission, aside from being modeled on failed rubber stamp commissions of the past and consisting entirely of those selected by the executive branch, specifically excludes an examination of the role of the Office of Special Plans and other executive advisory bodies. If the president or vice president were seriously interested in "getting the truth," they might consider asking for evidence on how intelligence was politicized, misused and manipulated, and whether information from the intelligence community was distorted in order to sway Congress and public opinion in a narrowly conceived neoconservative push for war. Bush says he wants the truth, but it is clear he is no more interested in it today than he was two years ago.
Proving that the truth is indeed the first casualty in war, neoconservative member of the Defense Policy Board Richard Perle called this February for "heads to roll." Perle, agenda setter par excellence, named George Tenet and Defense Intelligence Agency head Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby as guilty of failing to properly inform the president on Iraq and WMD. No doubt, the intelligence community, susceptible to politicization and outdated paradigms, needs reform. The swiftness of the neoconservative casting of blame on the intelligence community and away from themselves should have been fully expected. Perhaps Perle and others sense the grave and growing danger of political storms unleashed by the exposure of neoconservative lies. Meanwhile, Ahmad Chalabi, extravagantly funded by the neocons in the Pentagon to the tune of millions to provide the disinformation, has boasted with remarkable frankness, "We are heroes in error," and, "What was said before is not important."
Now we are told by our president and neoconservative mouthpieces that our sons and daughters, husbands and wives are in Iraq fighting for freedom, for liberty, for justice and American values. This cost is not borne by the children of Wolfowitz, Perle, Rumsfeld and Cheney. Bush's daughters do not pay this price. We are told that intelligence has failed America, and that President Bush is determined to get to the bottom of it. Yet not a single neoconservative appointee has lost his job, and no high official of principle in the administration has formally resigned because of this ill-planned and ill-conceived war and poorly implemented occupation of Iraq.
Will Americans hold U.S. policymakers accountable? Will we return to our roots as a republic, constrained and deliberate, respectful of others? My experience in the Pentagon leading up to the invasion and occupation of Iraq tells me, as Ben Franklin warned, we may have already failed. But if Americans at home are willing to fight -- tenaciously and courageously -- to preserve our republic, we might be able to keep it.
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