Remember that the neocons pushed their agenda out of the pentagon, and the “intelligence” justification came out of the Pentagon. It is a check against a Wolfowitz, Feith, Shulsky style Office of Special Plans that created a special intelligence unit at the Pentagon. That controversial Pentagon provided the cooked “evidence” that shaped the administration’s views on Iraq’s alleged ties to the terrorist network behind the Sept. 11 attacks. This office bypassed normal intelligence channels to make a case that conflicted with the conclusions of CIA analysts.
The purpose of the unnamed intelligence unit, often described as a Pentagon “cell,” was to scour reports from the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and other agencies to find nuggets of information linking Iraq, Al Qaeda, terrorism, and the existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In a controversial press briefing in October 2002, a year after Wurmser’s unit was established, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged that a primary purpose of the unit was to cull factoids, which were then used to disparage, undermine, and contradict the CIA’s reporting, which was far more cautious and nuanced than Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Feith wanted. Rumsfeld particularly enjoyed harassing the CIA staffer who briefed him every morning, using the type of data produced by the intelligence unit. “What I could do is say, ‘Gee, what about this?'” Rumsfeld noted. “‘Or what about that? Has somebody thought of this?'” Last June, when Feith was questioned on the same topic at a briefing, he acknowledged that the secret unit in fact looked at the connection between Iraq and terrorism, saying, “You can’t rely on deterrence to deal with the problem of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of state sponsors of terrorism because [of] the possibility that those state sponsors might employ chemical weapons or biological weapons by means of a terrorist organization proxy.
Though Feith, in that briefing, described Wurmser’s unit as an innocent project, “a global exercise” that was not meant to put pressure on other intelligence agencies or create skewed intelligence to fit preconceived policy notions, many other sources assert that it did exactly that. That the White House and the Pentagon put enormous pressure on the CIA to go along with its version of events has been widely reported, highlighted by visits to CIA headquarters by Vice President Cheney and Lewis Libby, his chief of staff. Led by Perle, the neocons seethed with contempt for the CIA. The CIA’s analysis, said Perle, “isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.” Standing in a crowded hallway during an AEI event, Perle added, “The CIA is status quo oriented. They don’t want to take risks.” That became the mantra of the shadow agency within an agency.
Putting Wurmser in charge of the unit meant that it was being run by a pro-Iraq-war ideologue who’d spent years calling for a pre-emptive invasion of Baghdad and who was clearly predisposed to find what he wanted to see. Adding another layer of dubious quality to the endeavor was the man partnered with Wurmser, F. Michael Maloof. Maloof, a former aide to Perle in the 1980s Pentagon, was twice stripped of his high-level security clearances‚ — once in late 2001 and, again, last spring, for various infractions. Maloof was also reportedly involved in a bizarre scheme to broker contacts between Iraqi officials and the Pentagon, channeled through Perle, in what one report called a “rogue [intelligence] operation” outside official CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency channels.
As the momentum for war began to build in early 2002, Wolfowitz and Feith beefed up the intelligence unit and created an Iraq war-planning unit in the Pentagon’s Near East and South Asia Affairs section, run by Deputy Undersecretary of Defense William Luti, under the rubric “Office of Special Plans,” or OSP; the new unit’s director was Abram N. Shulsky. By then, Wurmser had moved on to a post as senior adviser to Undersecretary of State John Bolton, yet another neocon, who was in charge of the State Department’s disarmament, proliferation, and WMD office and was promoting the Iraq war strategy there. Shulsky’s OSP, which incorporated the secret intelligence unit, took control, banishing veteran experts‚ — including Joseph McMillan, James Russell, Larry Hanauer, and Marybeth McDevitt‚ — who, despite years of service to NESA, either were shuffled off to other positions or retired. For the next year, Luti and Shulsky not only would oversee war plans but would act aggressively to shape the intelligence product received by the White House.
Both Luti and Shulsky were neoconservatives who were ideological soul mates of Wolfowitz and Feith. But Luti was more than that. He’d come to the Pentagon directly from the office of Vice President Cheney. That gave Luti, a recently retired, decorated Navy captain whose career ran from combat aviation to command of a helicopter assault ship, extra clout. Along with his colleague Colonel William Bruner, Luti had done a stint as an aide to Newt Gingrich in 1996 and, like Perle and Wolfowitz, was an acolyte of Wohlstetter’s. “He makes Ollie North look like a moderate,” says a NESA veteran.
Shulsky had been on the Washington scene since the mid-1970s. As a Senate intelligence committee staffer for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, he began to work with early neoconservatives like Perle, who was then an aide to Senator Henry Jackson. Later, in the Reagan years, Shulsky followed Perle to the Pentagon as Perle’s arms-control adviser. In the ’90s, Shulsky co-authored a book on intelligence called Silent Warfare, with Gary Schmitt. Shulsky had served with Schmitt on Moynihan’s staff and they had remained friends. Asked about the Pentagon’s Iraq intelligence “cell,” Schmitt‚ — who is currently the executive director of the Project for the New American Century‚ — says that he can’t say much about it “because one of my best friends is running it.”
According to Lt. Colonel Kwiatkowski, Luti and Shulsky ran NESA and the Office of Special Plans with brutal efficiency, purging people they disagreed with and enforcing the party line. “It was organized like a machine,” she says. “The people working on the neocon agenda had a narrow, well-defined political agenda. They had a sense of mission.” At NESA, Shulsky, she says, began “hot-desking,” or taking an office wherever he could find one, working with Feith and Luti, before formally taking the reins of the newly created OSP. Together, she says, Luti and Shulsky turned cherry-picked pieces of uncorroborated, anti-Iraq intelligence into talking points, on issues like Iraq’s WMD and its links to Al Qaeda. Shulsky constantly updated these papers, drawing on the intelligence unit, and circulated them to Pentagon officials, including Rumsfeld, and to Vice President Cheney. “Of course, we never thought they’d go directly to the White House,” she adds.
Kwiatkowski recalls one meeting in which Luti, pressed to finish a report, told the staff, “I’ve got to get this over to ‘Scooter’ right away.” She later found out that “Scooter” was none other than Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff. According to Kwiatkowski, Cheney had direct ties through Luti into NESA/OSP, a connection that was highly unorthodox.
“Never, ever, ever would a deputy undersecretary of Defense work directly on a project for the vice president,” she says. “It was a little clue that we had an informal network into Vice President Cheney’s office.”
The Lie Factory