BURLINGTON, Vt., July 19 (UPI) -- It's hard to muster much sympathy for the CIA, especially these days. In light of the drubbing it takes in the report of a Senate committee studying pre-Iraq war intelligence, even using the word "intelligence" to describe what we were told about Iraq stretches the definition.
On the other hand, the Pentagon's attempt to force an apology from Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., for mentioning the contributions to public misinformation made by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith puts the dispute in perspective.
This may actually turn out to be a case of blaming the victim. If CIA is guilty of overstating the case, it certainly had help, and the trail of "faulty intelligence" tracks back to Feith.
In a letter obtained by The Washington Times, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs Powell Moore challenged Rockefeller to substantiate the "serious charge you floated" or issue an apology. It was an artful non-denial. The charge itself wasn't explained, and Moore knows that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has agreed not to reveal the role of the White House and Pentagon until after the 2004 presidential election.
As is often the case in Washington, Rockefeller's mistake was candor.
We don't have to wait for some post-election revelation. Feith's role is on display in four books about Iraq, 9/11 and the war on terrorism. In "Plan of Attack," Bob Woodward's cautious chronicle, Feith appears briefly as a protégé of Richard Perle, the former Reagan defense official who served as part of Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board. Woodward notes that Feith "liked to lecture his staff and others in the Pentagon" and "was not popular with the uniformed military."
According to Woodward, Secretary of State Colin Powell felt that Feith was running a "Gestapo office" determined to find a connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. It was so effective, notes Woodward, that even generals were intimidated.
In "Against All Enemies," Richard Clark, who coordinated counterintelligence for both the Clinton and Bush administrations, mentions Feith in a post-war context. When Bush's assertions about an al-Qaida-Saddam link began to unravel in 2003, Feith promised a congressional committee that he would prove it. Instead, he sent a highly classified memo that added little.
More important, writes Clark, is the fact that someone leaked the memo to a neoconservative magazine, "which promptly printed the secret information. Neoconservative commentators then pointed to the illegally leaked document as conclusive proof of the al-Qaida-Iraq nexus." It was a typical move, sidestepping officials to publicly reinforce a misconception.
But if you really want to understand Feith's role, the basics are provided in "A Pretext for War," James Bamford's look at the abuse of U.S. intelligence agencies both before and after 9/11. Bamford argues that Feith and Perle developed their blueprint for the Iraq operation while working for pro-Israeli think tanks.
Their plan, called "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," centered on Israel taking out Saddam and replacing him with a friendly leader. "Whoever inherits Iraq," they wrote, "dominates the entire Levant strategically." The subsequent steps they recommended included invading Syria and Lebanon.
In the 1990s, Feith churned out anti-Arab diatribes in Israeli newspapers, Bamford reveals. In those articles, he urged Israel to establish more settlements and end the Oslo peace process. When George H.W. Bush was president, he organized a group to denounce the elder Bush for his "mistreatment of Israel." What Feith wanted was a full-scale war against the Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Once back in government, Feith created an Office of Strategic Influence after 9/11. Senior officials have called it a disinformation factory. Torie Clarke, the Pentagon's chief spokeswoman, warned about "blowback" and said that OSI would undermine "the trust, credibility, and transparency of our access to the media."
But the worst was still to come: Feith's Office of Special Plans. Officially, its job was to conduct pre-war planning. But its actual target was the media, policy-makers, and public opinion. Feith's partner, Abram Shulsky, liked to call their operation "the cabal."
According to London's Guardian newspaper, the OSP's job was to provide key people in the administration with "alarmist reports on Saddam's Iraq." In particular, holdouts like Powell needed to be persuaded. To do that, the OSP obtained cooked intelligence from its own unit and a similar Israeli cell. There was also a close relationship with Vice President Dick Cheney's office. In the end, the public heard what Feith's unit wanted them to hear.
How did it work? According to Bamford, OSP's intelligence unit cherry-picked the most damning items from the streams of U.S. and Israeli reports. "Then the OSP would brief senior administration officials," he writes. "These officials would then use the OSP's false and exaggerated intelligence as ammunition when attempting to hard-sell the need for war to their reluctant colleagues, such as Colin Powell, and even to allies like British Prime Minister Tony Blair." Senior White House officials received the same briefings. It was clearly music to their ears.
The final step was to get Powell to make the case to the United Nations. This was handled by the White House Iraq Group, which, Bamford says, provided Powell with a script for his speech, using information developed by Feith's group. Much of it was unsourced material fed to newspapers by the OSP. Realizing this, Powell's team turned to the now-discredited National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. But some of Feith's handiwork ended up in Powell's mouth anyway.
The mischief continued after the invasion. As former FBI agent William Turner notes in his book, "Mission Not Accomplished," Feith was assigned by Paul Wolfowitz to organize post-war planning. According to Turner, Thomas E. White, who was secretary of the Army at the time, said that Feith's team "had the mind-set that this would be a relatively straightforward, manageable task, because this would be a war of liberation, and therefore the reconstruction would be short-lived." How wrong could one man be.
This is just some of what Rockefeller was talking about. If the Pentagon really wants to know, the facts are out there. Given that, if anyone should apologize, it's Feith and those who put this maestro of mistaken information in such a crucial position.
(Greg Guma is the editor of Toward Freedom, a Vermont-based world affairs magazine, and author of "Uneasy Empire: Repression, Globalization, and What We Can Do". He can be reached via towardfreedom.com.
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)