WASHINGTON: On most days, the Pentagon’s Early Bird, a daily compilation of up to 50 news articles on defense-related issues taken mostly from the US and British press, does not shy from reprinting hard-hitting stories and columns critical of the Defense Department’s top leadership.
But few could help but notice last week that the Bird, as the widely-circulated bulletin is better known, omitted an opinion piece distributed by the Knight-Ridder news agency by a senior Pentagon Middle East specialist, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, who worked in the office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, until her retirement in April.
“What I saw was aberrant, pervasive and contrary to good order and discipline,” she wrote. “If one is seeking the answers to why peculiar bits of ‘intelligence’ found sanctity in a presidential speech, or why the post-Saddam (Hussein) occupation (in Iraq) has been distinguished by confusion and false steps, one need look no further than the process inside the office of the secretary of defense.’’
Kwiatkowki went on to charge that the operations she witnessed during her tenure in Feith’s office, and particularly those of an ad hoc group known as the Office of Special Plans (OSP), constituted “a subversion of constitutional limits on executive power and a co-optation through deceit of a large segment of the Congress.’’
Kwiatkowski’s charges, which tend to confirm reports and impressions offered to the press by retired officers from other intelligence agencies and their still-active but anonymous former colleagues, are likely to make her a prime witness when Congress reconvenes in September for hearings on the manipulation of intelligence to justify war against Iraq.
According to Kwiatkowski, the same operation that allegedly cooked the intelligence also was responsible for the administration’s failure to anticipate the problems that now dog the US occupation in Iraq, or, in her more colorful words, that have placed 150,000 US troops in “the world’s nastiest rat’s nest, without a nation-building plan, without significant international support and without an exit plan.”
Kwiatkowski’s comments echo the worst fears of some lawmakers who have begun looking into the OSP’s role in the administration’s mistaken assumptions in Iraq. Some are even comparing it to the off-the-books operation run from the National Security Council during the Reagan administration that later resulted in the Iran-Contra scandal.
“That office was charged with collecting, vetting, disseminating intelligence completely outside the normal intelligence apparatus,” David Obey, a senior Democrat in the House of Representatives, said last month. “In fact, it appears that the information collected by this office was in some instances not even shared with the established intelligence agencies and in numerous instances was passed on to the National Security Council and the president without having been vetted with anyone other than (the secretary of defense).’’
Actually, little is known about OSP, which was originally created by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, to investigate possible links between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda. While only a dozen people officially worked in the office at its largest, scores of “consultants,’’ were brought in on contract, many of them closely identified with the neo-conservative and pro-Likud views held by the Pentagon leadership.
There have been published reports that a similar informal group coordinated closely with the OSP from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office, but these have not been confirmed.
Headed by a gung-ho former navy officer, William Luti, and a scholarly national security analyst, Abram Shulsky, OSP was given complete access to reams of raw intelligence produced by the US intelligence community and became the preferred stop for defectors handled by the Iraqi National Congress (INC), led by Ahmed Chalabi.
It also maintained close relations with the Defense Policy Board (DPB), which was then chaired by neo-conservative Richard Perle of the American Enterprise Institute and Feith’s mentor in the Reagan administration.
Perle and Feith, whose published views on Israeli policy echo the right-wing Likud Party, co-authored a 1996 memo for then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that argued that Saddam Hussein’s ouster in Iraq would enable Israel to transform the balance of power in the Middle East in its favor.
The DPB included some of Perle’s closest associates, including former CIA director James Woolsey and former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who played prominent roles in pushing the case that Iraq represented an imminent threat to the US and that its regime was closely tied to Al-Qaeda and other such networks.
Chalabi and the INC were considered by the official intelligence agencies, including the State Department’s Intelligence and Research Bureau, the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency to be untrustworthy, but it was they who persuaded the Defense Department and Vice-President Dick Cheney that US troops would be greeted by Iraqis as liberators and that an easy transition to a democratic rule was assured once Saddam Hussein was ousted.
In her article, Kwiatkowski wrote that OSP’s work
was marked by three
First, career Pentagon analysts assigned to the secretary’s office were generally excluded from “key areas of interest’’ to Feith, Wolfowitz, and Rumsfeld, notably Israel, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. “In terms of Israel and Iraq, all primary staff work was conducted by political appointees, in the case of Israel, a desk officer appointee from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy,” a think tank closely tied to the main pro-Israel lobby in Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Second, the same group of appointees tended to work with like-minded political appointees in other agencies,
especially the State Department, the NSC, and Cheney’s office, rather than with those agencies’ career analysts or the CIA. “I personally witnessed several cases of staff officers being told not to contact their counterparts at State or the National Security Council because that particular decision would be processed through a different channel.”
The CIA’s exclusion from this network could help explain why Cheney and his National Security Advisor, I. Lewis Libby, a long-time associate of Wolfowitz, frequently visited the agency, in what was widely regarded by analysts as pressure to conform to the assessments made by OSP.
This exclusion of professional and independent opinions both within the Pentagon and across government agencies, according to Kwiatkowski, resulted in “groupthink,” a technical term defined as “reasoning or decision-making by a group, often characterized by uncritical acceptance of conformity to prevailing points of view.” In this case, the prevailing points of view were presumably shaped by the neo-conservative views of people like Feith, Wolfowitz and Perle, and the “intelligence” provided by the INC.
Kwiatkowski’s broadside coincides with the appearance in neo-conservative media outlets, notably the Wall Street Journal, of defenses of Feith, who is widely seen as the Pentagon’s most likely fall guy if it is forced to shoulder any blame for bad intelligence and planning. The government of British Prime Minister Tony Blair has pressed Bush to fire Feith for several months, according to diplomatic sources.
In a lengthy defense published Tuesday, the associate editor of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page described Feith’s policy workshop as “the world’s most effective think tank.”