Politics by Other Means: The secret of our success, goes an old CIA proverb, is the secret of our success. The essence of the adage, to judge by recent public criticism of the intelligence community, has been lost on the agency’s fellow spooks over at the Defense Department.
For much of the last year, the Pentagon’s prominent role in shaping American policy on Iraq has been fodder for conspiracy theorists around the world. With Saddam Hussein the only Iraqi weapon of mass destruction to have been found, though, the goings-on at the Defense Department are coming under increasing public scrutiny.
The Pentagon’s decision to escalate the Special Forces covert war against the Iraqi insurgency is interrogated by veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hershin the December 15 issue of The New Yorker. The 4,500-word expose, relying primarily on off-the-record intelligence sources, throws off the cloak and dagger to reveal the invisible hand of civilian — read neoconservative — policy makers at the Defense Department.
“In Washington, there is now widespread agreement on one point: the need for a new American approach to Iraq,” Hersh reports. “Inside the Pentagon, it is now understood that simply bringing in or killing Saddam Hussein and his immediate circle — those who appeared in the Bush administration’s famed ‘deck of cards’ — will not stop the insurgency.”
What will stop the growing opposition to the American-led Coalition Provisional Authority, Pentagon planners believe, is intelligence, intelligence and more intelligence. More spooks on the ground, reasons Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, will obviate the need for more boots on the ground.
The job of overseeing Special Forces operations in Iraq is being sought by political scientist Stephen Cambone, who heads up the recently restructured intelligence operations at the Pentagon. As the under secretary of defense for intelligence — a position created by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz seven weeks after the outbreak of war in Iraq, as the Pentagon came under increasing fire for allegedly politicizing intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction — Cambone wields broad powers.
In a May 8 internal Pentagon memorandum, Wolfowitz delegates to Cambone oversight over all Defense Department intelligence activities and policy, and appoints him as Rumsfeld’s “intelligence interface” with “the State Department, the Justice Department, foreign governments, international organizations, State agencies, and the Intelligence Community, as well as the Congress.”
More importantly, Cambone appears to have the ear of Rumsfeld. According to Hersh, Cambone’s sway with the Pentagon boss now rivals that of Douglas Feith, the under secretary of defense for policy who appears to have been made the Pentagon’s fall guy for the intelligence failures in Iraq. “Rumsfeld’s been looking for somebody to have all the answers, and Steve is the guy,” Hersh quotes a former high-level Pentagon official as saying.
The hard-driving defense secretary usually gets his man, even if it means shaking up the defense establishment. “Rumsfeld has had to change much of the Pentagon’s leadership to get his way,” Hersh writes.
Rumsfeld’s way, the investigative journalist reports, runs over the military brass and through Jerusalem — as many critics of alleged Jewish influence on Washington have long argued. The investigate reporter reveals that Israeli commandos and intelligence units, armed with battle-tested methods for waging asymmetric warfare, have been training American Special Forces in Israel and at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
“The American-Israeli liaison,” Hersh writes, “amounts to a tutorial on how to dismantle an insurgency.”
The alleged Israeli involvement in the training and execution of American counter-insurgency missions in Iraq is but one sign of the determination with which the top brass at the Pentagon have promoted unconventional warfare. Rumsfeld, Hersh reports, has made “a systematic effort to appoint Special Forces advocates to the top military jobs.”
Most prominent among the Pentagon’s new picks is Cambone’s military assistant, Lieutenant General William Boykin, who drew headlines in October by reportedly equating the Muslim world with Satan. The right-hand man to Rumsfeld’s right-hand man is himself no stranger to unconventional warfare: He commanded the U.S. Army troops in Mogadishu during the “Black Hawk Down” mission in 1993, and during the same year led a Delta Force unit in Colombia that is credited by many in the special-operations community with assassinating drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.
Behind Boykin stand some 47,000 Special Forces troops, operating on a $6.5 billion budget for 2004, according to a congressional study cited by Hersh. Those numbers have raised some eyebrows on Capitol Hill, where some politicians are demanding more accountability for and transparency in intelligence operations in Iraq. Earlier this month, Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the ranking minority member of the Committee on Government Reform, opened a “tip line” on the committee’s official Web site to encourage members of the intelligence community to disclose how Rumsfeld & Co. are allegedly manipulating intelligence.
To hear Hersh’s sources tell it, though, Waxman and his ilk are wasting their breath in calling out for whistleblowers. The boots on the ground and the brass in Washington have seen enough body bags. Special Forces are streaming into Iraq, and breaking rank is simply not an option.
“It’s not the way we usually play ball, but if you see a couple of your guys get blown away it changes things,” a former CIA official with extensive Middle East experience confesses to the investigative journalist. “We did the American things — and we’ve been the nice guy. Now we’re going to be the bad guy, and being the bad guy works.”