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Rockefeller not really after intelligence problem

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"This is Church committee stuff," an administration official tells Insight, referring to the disastrous Senate Select Intelligence Committee of the mid-1970s that was responsible for gutting the CIA's clandestine services. "The SSIC is more worried about getting the president than it is in fixing the intelligence mess," this source says.

Democrats Target Pentagon Planning
Posted Nov. 24, 2003

By Kenneth R. Timmerman

The sordid tale now making the rounds in the "mainstream" press of a rogue Pentagon intelligence operation has all the elements of an urban legend: heavy breathing, a secret basement office "down by the ramp" and government officials who form a hidden alliance based on long-ago ties to an obscure but influential university guru. Only the work of a few good men with the courage to face up to this "cabal" - and a few crusader-journalists to help them - can make the demons scatter and scare the dark ones into the light. Or so the story goes on those increasingly febrile Democratic Party Websites.

All this silliness could become deadly serious if Senate Democrats get their way, led by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the vice chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee (SSIC). For now, the controversy revolves around a suite of crammed cubicles on the fourth floor of the Pentagon that in September 2002 was renamed the Office of Special Plans (OSP). At that time the office consisted of only four persons. But it soon became apparent that the Pentagon needed to begin serious planning for the postwar reconstruction of Iraq in the event the president made the decision to go to war.

On orders from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz the office was expanded to 16 persons, including two detailee Army judge-advocate-general officers - lawyers whose job was to explore the legal framework for conducting potential war-crimes investigations of members of Saddam's regime.

"In hindsight, that may have been an unfortunate choice of name," an administration official tells Insight during an extensive interview on the operations of the OSP. "But we didn't want to have a 16-man Iraqi planning group set up at a time when the president was conducting negotiations at the U.N. because it would have undercut his diplomatic approach."

The OSP grew out of the Office of Northern Gulf Affairs, one of many regional bureaus that reports through the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs to the head of the Pentagon's policy shop, Undersecretary Doug Feith. "As we were gearing up for the Iraq campaign in September 2002, the deputy decided that we needed to expand the Northern Gulf directorate because of the tremendous workload. There were literally dozens of new tasks we had to do. And there were just four of us," the official explains.

The head of the unit, Navy Capt. William Luti, came to the Pentagon after working for Vice President Dick Cheney at the White House. He was given a promotion, a new title (deputy undersecretary for Special Plans and Near East/South Asia affairs) and a handful of new bodies to carry out the work. Some of the new bodies were given cubicles in a hastily painted spillover office suite in a former storage area on the first floor of the Pentagon - not in the basement. ("Isn't that down by the ramp?" Washington Post reporter Dana Priest asked Luti's office conspiratorially. Insight verified the location of the office: Luti's desk warriors have windows.)

Among their urgent new tasks were to develop defense policies aimed at building an international coalition, prepare the secretary of defense and his top deputies for interagency meetings, coordinate troop-deployment orders, craft policies for dealing with prisoners of war and illegal combatants, postwar assistance and reconstruction policy planning, postwar governance, Iraqi oil infrastructure policy, postwar Iraqi property disputes, war crimes and atrocities, war-plan review and, in their spare time, prepare congressional testimony for their principals. "We are a policy shop, not an organization that collects or creates intelligence," the official says. "We were asked to do stratospheric planning. Others took the concepts and turned them into action plans" [see "Details of the Postwar Master Plan."].

Some of the tension between the OSP and the intelligence community (which has been the source of many of the rumors about the OSP) came from faulty intelligence that was fed to the war planners. "War planning is based on assumptions that you make, based on the available data. For example: The CIA told us that all we had to do with the Iraqi police was lop off the top layer of leadership and everything else would fall in line. This was [former U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq and retired Gen. Jay] Garner's plan going in," the official says. "Well, we lopped off the top layer of leadership and found the corruption went so deep that we had to start from scratch. Was it a mistake? Yes. But it was a mistake that came from faulty intelligence."

Luti and others from the office regularly took part in interagency meetings to develop postwar plans and Congress was regularly briefed on their efforts. Despite this, the same critics who blast the Pentagon for establishing the Office of Special Plans today are whining about a lack of planning. "It's unfortunate that the president had no plan for what to do in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein," Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) told National Public Radio on Nov. 14.

"We so underestimated and underplanned and underthought about a post-Saddam Iraq that we've been woefully underprepared," added Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, now known among political conservatives as the senator from France.

The rigor and extent of the prewar planning kept the war from spinning out of control. "Turkey didn't come in. The Kurds didn't have a civil war. Israel didn't come. There were no oil fires, no ecological disasters, no large numbers of internally displaced people, no refugees," the official involved in the planning says. "The country didn't split apart, there was no ethnic-on-ethnic fighting, which everybody had predicted. Why? Because we had all these plans in place. We had food stockpiled ahead of time. We had humanitarian-assistance equipment, we had medical supplies. We were prepared for all of these contingencies."

So how did a legitimate and effective Iraq planning office get painted as a dire "cabal?" As incredible as it may seem, it began with conspiracy-theorist Lyndon LaRouche, a self-styled Democratic Party presidential aspirant who claimed in March that a "cabal" of pro-Israel conservatives he called the "Children of Satan" were running a rogue intelligence operation at the Pentagon. Their mission: fabricate intelligence and drag the United States into a needless war, all at Israel's bidding. It was all very dark, murky and conspiratorial. If responsible journalists had been doing their job, the story never would have crept from the LaRouche Website into the light.

Instead, like a virus jumping from animals to humans, the story erupted in a May 6 article by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker. Hersh, a former New York Times investigative reporter, pumped it up into a full-blown feature of 5,500 words. He quoted former Defense Intelligence Agency officers who had never set foot in the Pentagon office or had any direct dealings with it and used sources such as Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA official who in 1995 was cited as a witness for a convicted terrorist leader. "Hersh was briefed on this office and told all about it, but he wrote it anyway," an administration official says. Since Hersh's piece, the virus migrated to Newsweek, Time, Britain's Guardian newspaper and now has become the subject of an inquiry by the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.

"They call themselves, self-mockingly, the Cabal," Hersh wrote breathlessly. "These advisers and analysts, who began their work in the days after Sept. 11, 2001, have produced a skein of intelligence reviews that have helped to shape public opinion and [U.S.] policy toward Iraq. ... By last fall, the operation rivaled both the CIA and the Pentagon's own Defense Intelligence Agency, the DIA, as President [George W.] Bush's main source of intelligence regarding Iraq's possible possession of weapons of mass destruction and connection with al-Qaeda."

In the world of the conspiracy theorist, the real "director" of the special-plans office was not Luti but Abram Shulsky, a scholarly expert in the works of the long-deceased political philosopher Leo Strauss, according to Hersh. Strauss was a longtime University of Chicago professor who died in 1973. Taking LaRouche's lead, Hersh painted Shulsky as the secret leader of a cabal of American Jews whom he alleged were perpetrating a massive fraud on the American people. The term "cabal" is favored by anti-Semites and LaRouche to describe their claims of a Jewish world conspiracy. (In fact, the office was run by Luti, but it may be that his name didn't fit the conspiratorial bill).

Britain's left-wing Guardian newspaper called Luti's office a "shadow, right-wing intelligence network set up in Washington to second-guess the CIA and deliver a justification for toppling Saddam Hussein by force." But the real crime of the OSP was to listen to defectors who had been brought out of Iraq by the opposition Iraqi National Congress (INC) led by Ahmad Chalabi, the Guardian and others alleged. In late September, Time magazine "revealed" that INC Washington representative Francis Brooke was "in weekly contact" with Luti by phone.

Chalabi indeed did visit once with Luti at the OSP in fall 2002, according to the visitor sign-in sheet in Luti's front office. Chalabi also visited with the secretary of defense, the deputy secretary and a host of other top officials and members of Congress. And Chalabi proudly has acknowledged to this reporter and many others the INC's role in recruiting defectors and presenting them to the U.S. government. In the Iraq of Saddam Hussein, being able to recruit defectors was literally priceless.

The INC's intelligence-collection program, run for years on a shoestring by Chalabi and a few top aides, was taken over by the Pentagon in 2002 and handed over to the Defense Human Service - the human intelligence (HUMINT) side of the DIA - not the Office of Special Plans. "DHS established rules and regulations and put it on a professional basis," a Pentagon official told Insight before the war.

Luti's office now stands accused by Sens. Rockefeller and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) of illegally organizing clandestine intelligence operations overseas. In an Oct. 1 request for documents to Undersecretary Feith on behalf of Democrats sitting on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, Rockefeller quoted an article in the left-wing weekly The Nation alleging that Feith's staff "have been coordinating their terrorism assessments with 'a rump unit established last year in the office of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel.'" The letter also alleged that Luti's staff had been "sent abroad to meet with defectors produced by the INC," and had held unauthorized meetings with "Iranians" in Western Europe.

"This is Church committee stuff," an administration official tells Insight, referring to the disastrous Senate Select Intelligence Committee of the mid-1970s that was responsible for gutting the CIA's clandestine services. "The SSIC is more worried about getting the president than it is in fixing the intelligence mess," this source says. Little wonder that Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) has said that if what his fellow Democrats have done on the SSIC to try to undermine the war effort in Iraq for political purposes is not treason, then "it is its first cousin." As election fever takes hold of the most partisan Democrats, many expect it to get worse.

Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight. His latest book, Preachers of Hate: Islam and the War on America, has just been published by Crown Forum.

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Rockefeller not really after intelligence problem

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