Fresh from the breathtaking bellicosity of George Bush’s Inaugural Address, Don Rumsfeld has decided to one up his boss for sheer megalomania and political effrontery (see Secret Unit Expands Rumsfeld’s Domain: New Espionage Branch Delving Into CIA Territory). Guess Don hasn’t yet heard the news that he’s one of the least trusted and most disliked (is “hated” too strong a term?) Administration officials in the halls of Congress. Lots of powerful Democrats AND Republicans want his scalp. So what does he do? He makes an unprecedented and radical grab for turf, essentially creating a competitor to the CIA for intelligence gathering. Now, it remains to be seen whether our country wants or needs such redundancy. My view is that what’s worked for this country for over half a century (since the creation of the CIA) doesn’t need fixing by Rumsfeld’s method.
There were several chilling portions of Barton Gellman’s terrific article. Where is the funding coming from: “Pentagon officials said they established the Strategic Support Branch using “reprogrammed” funds, without explicit congressional authority or appropriation.” Who outside of the Pentagon and the White House knows about this cowboy outfit? Apparently neither Republican nor Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee: “Two longtime members of the House Intelligence Committee, a Democrat and a Republican, said they knew no details before being interviewed for this article.” And today’s New York Times discloses: “Some members also said the House and Senate intelligence committees had not been fully informed about the new approach, even though they oversee the Defense Intelligence Agency” (from Reports on Pentagon’s New Spy Units Set Off Questions in Congress).
The Pentagon’s reasoning in both creating this new spy entity and in maintaining its secrecy from even those in Congress responsible for maintaining oversight of our intelligence apparatus is breathtakingly brash and brazen. Essentially, they have created the SSB because they chafed under the type of reporting that Congress forced the CIA to do. They want their operations to be secret not only from the enemy and the American people. but also from Congress itself. And what is their justification for denying Congress the right to oversee their actions? The fact that previous Defense Departments and Defense Secretaries have needlessly given away their prerogatives to Congress and others. Listen to this Orwellian Newspeak:
Assistant Secretary of Defense Thomas O’Connell, who oversees special operations policy, said Rumsfeld has discarded the “hide-bound way of thinking” and “risk-averse mentalities” of previous Pentagon officials under every president since Gerald R. Ford.
“Many of the restrictions imposed on the Defense Department were imposed by tradition, by legislation, and by interpretations of various leaders and legal advisors,” O’Connell said in a written reply to follow-up questions. “The interpretations take on the force of law and may preclude activities that are legal. In my view, many of the authorities inherent to [the Defense Department] . . . were winnowed away over the years.”
Basically: “those other guys who were here before us were pussies. We’re gonna do whatever it takes to get those A-rabs and we’re not gonna let no pansy in Congress stand in our way.” I can just feel that testosterone coursing through O’Connell’s veins!
Rumsfeld’s chief PR flack made the extraordinary statement today that the findings of the 9/11 Commission justified the creation of the SSB:
“It is accurate and should not be surprising that the Department of Defense is attempting to improve its longstanding human intelligence capability,” the Pentagon spokesman, Lawrence Di Rita, said in a statement on Sunday. “A principal conclusion of the 9/11 commission report is that the U.S. human intelligence capability must be improved across the board.”
–from Pentagon Sends Its Spies to Join Fight on Terror
Does he really think he can get away with such utter crap? Who in their right mind would ever say that the 9/11 Commission would ever sanction such behavior? The Commission proposed just the opposite: the creation of a single overarching intelligence agency. It opposed precisely the type of fragmentation that this agency will cause in the nation’s intelligence apparatus.
Another sentence from Gellman’s article sent chills down my spine: “A recent Pentagon memo states that recruited agents may include “notorious figures” whose links to the U.S. government would be embarrassing if disclosed.” Isn’t it mind-boggling that these guys would come up with idiotic ideas like this and then have the temerity to admit in writing (behind closed doors as it were) how ghoulish and disastrous the idea would be if it was made public?
My basic question is: will no one in Congress demand accountability of this man? Will no one in Congress rein him in? How far does he have to go before someone says “too far?” If we’re not careful he’ll take us places so deep, so dark, so hateful that we’ll not return without being scarred as a nation (actually he’s already done that in Iraq, but there’s no telling how much worse mischief he can get us into). Among other things those wacky Pentagon guys have in store: posting Pentagon spies using false identities in friendly countries.
One of Rummy’s boys was spinning ‘what if’ scenarios envisioning the Pentagon playing a role in covert action and said: “One scenario in which Pentagon operatives might play a role, O’Connell said, is this: ‘A hostile country close to our borders suddenly changes leadership. . . . We would want to make sure the successor is not hostile.'” Hmmm. Something precisely like that did happen recently only it wasn’t close to the U.S. border. It was Ukraine and Vladimir Putin (former spook that he is) had the same reaction, believing it was in Russia’s interest to attempt to determine the outcome of the Ukrainian presidential race. His plan worked quite nicely didn’t it? And do you think Rummy’s guys would do a better job of it if it happened say in Mexico, Canada or Cuba?
And who are some of the Rummy’s cohorts involved in operating this clandestine program: Stephen Cambone, the top Pentagon official who was supposed to be monitoring Abu Ghraib; and Gen. William Boykin, the political Neanderthal who publicly described the American fight against Al Qaeda as a war of Christianity against all Islam. Such fine, upstanding representatives of American decency!
Avi Berman has written an excellent account in The Nation of the Pentagon smear campaign waged against Sy Hersh, who first broke major elements of this story in The New Yorker. Apparently, the Pentagon has been forced to ‘eat its denial.’