The Coming Wars
What the Pentagon can now do in
by Seymour Hersh
New Yorker magazine (ZNet, 1/19/05)
George W. Bush's reelection was not his
only victory last fall. The President and his national-security
advisers have consolidated control over the military and intelligence
communities' strategic analyses and covert operations to a degree
unmatched since the rise of the post-Second World War national-security
state. Bush has an aggressive and ambitious agenda for using that
control--against the mullahs in Iran and against targets in the
ongoing war on terrorism--during his second term. The C.I.A. will
continue to be downgraded, and the agency will increasingly serve,
as one government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon put
it, as "facilitators" of policy emanating from President
Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. This process is well under
Despite the deteriorating security situation
in Iraq, the Bush Administration has not reconsidered its basic
long-range policy goal in the Middle East: the establishment of
democracy throughout the region. Bush's reelection is regarded
within the Administration as evidence of America's support for
his decision to go to war. It has reaffirmed the position of the
neoconservatives in the Pentagon's civilian leadership who advocated
the invasion, including Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of
Defense, and Douglas Feith, the Under-secretary for Policy. According
to a former high-level intelligence official, Secretary of Defense
Donald Rumsfeld met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff shortly after
the election and told them, in essence, that the naysayers had
been heard and the American people did not accept their message.
Rumsfeld added that America was committed to staying in Iraq and
that there would be no second-guessing.
"This is a war against terrorism,
and Iraq is just one campaign. The Bush Administration is looking
at this as a huge war zone," the former high-level intelligence
official told me. "Next, we're going to have the Iranian
campaign. We've declared war and the bad guys, wherever they are,
are the enemy. This is the last hurrah--we've got four years,
and want to come out of this saying we won the war on terrorism."
Bush and Cheney may have set the policy,
but it is Rumsfeld who has directed its implementation and has
absorbed much of the public criticism when things went wrong--whether
it was prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib or lack of sufficient armor
plating for G.I.s' vehicles in Iraq. Both Democratic and Republican
lawmakers have called for Rumsfeld's dismissal, and he is not
widely admired inside the military. Nonetheless, his reappointment
as Defense Secretary was never in doubt.
Rumsfeld will become even more important
during the second term. In interviews with past and present intelligence
and military officials, I was told that the agenda had been determined
before the Presidential election, and much of it would be Rumsfeld's
responsibility. The war on terrorism would be expanded, and effectively
placed under the Pentagon's control. The President has signed
a series of findings and executive orders authorizing secret commando
groups and other Special Forces units to conduct covert operations
against suspected terrorist targets in as many as ten nations
in the Middle East and South Asia.
The President's decision enables Rumsfeld
to run the operations off the books--free from legal restrictions
imposed on the C.I.A. Under current law, all C.I.A. covert activities
overseas must be authorized by a Presidential finding and reported
to the Senate and House intelligence committees. (The laws were
enacted after a series of scandals in the nineteen-seventies involving
C.I.A. domestic spying and attempted assassinations of foreign
leaders.) "The Pentagon doesn't feel obligated to report
any of this to Congress," the former high-level intelligence
official said. "They don't even call it 'covert ops'--it's
too close to the C.I.A. phrase. In their view, it's 'black reconnaissance.'
They're not even going to tell the cincs"--the regional American
military commanders-in-chief. (The Defense Department and the
White House did not respond to requests for comment on this story.)
In my interviews, I was repeatedly told
that the next strategic target was Iran. "Everyone is saying,
'You can't be serious about targeting Iran. Look at Iraq,'"
the former intelligence official told me. "But they say,
'We've got some lessons learned--not militarily, but how we did
it politically. We're not going to rely on agency pissants.' No
loose ends, and that's why the C.I.A. is out of there."
For more than a year, France, Germany,
Britain, and other countries in the European Union have seen preventing
Iran from getting a nuclear weapon as a race against time--and
against the Bush Administration. They have been negotiating with
the Iranian leadership to give up its nuclear-weapons ambitions
in exchange for economic aid and trade benefits. Iran has agreed
to temporarily halt its enrichment programs, which generate fuel
for nuclear power plants but also could produce weapons-grade
fissile material. (Iran claims that such facilities are legal
under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or N.P.T., to which
it is a signator, and that it has no intention of building a bomb.)
But the goal of the current round of talks, which began in December
in Brussels, is to persuade Tehran to go further, and dismantle
its machinery. Iran insists, in return, that it needs to see some
concrete benefits from the Europeans--oil-production technology,
heavy-industrial equipment, and perhaps even permission to purchase
a fleet of Airbuses. (Iran has been denied access to technology
and many goods owing to sanctions.)
The Europeans have been urging the Bush
Administration to join in these negotiations. The Administration
has refused to do so. The civilian leadership in the Pentagon
has argued that no diplomatic progress on the Iranian nuclear
threat will take place unless there is a credible threat of military
action. "The neocons say negotiations are a bad deal,"
a senior official of the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.)
told me. "And the only thing the Iranians understand is pressure.
And that they also need to be whacked."
The core problem is that Iran has successfully
hidden the extent of its nuclear program, and its progress. Many
Western intelligence agencies, including those of the United States,
believe that Iran is at least three to five years away from a
capability to independently produce nuclear warheads--although
its work on a missile-delivery system is far more advanced. Iran
is also widely believed by Western intelligence agencies and the
I.A.E.A. to have serious technical problems with its weapons system,
most notably in the production of the hexafluoride gas needed
to fabricate nuclear warheads.
A retired senior C.I.A. official, one
of many who left the agency recently, told me that he was familiar
with the assessments, and confirmed that Iran is known to be having
major difficulties in its weapons work. He also acknowledged that
the agency's timetable for a nuclear Iran matches the European
estimates--assuming that Iran gets no outside help. "The
big wild card for us is that you don't know who is capable of
filling in the missing parts for them," the recently retired
official said. "North Korea? Pakistan? We don't know what
parts are missing."
One Western diplomat told me that the
Europeans believed they were in what he called a "lose-lose
position" as long as the United States refuses to get involved.
"France, Germany, and the U.K. cannot succeed alone, and
everybody knows it," the diplomat said. "If the U.S.
stays outside, we don't have enough leverage, and our effort will
collapse." The alternative would be to go to the Security
Council, but any resolution imposing sanctions would likely be
vetoed by China or Russia, and then "the United Nations will
be blamed and the Americans will say, 'The only solution is to
A European Ambassador noted that President
Bush is scheduled to visit Europe in February, and that there
has been public talk from the White House about improving the
President's relationship with America's E.U. allies. In that context,
the Ambassador told me, "I'm puzzled by the fact that the
United States is not helping us in our program. How can Washington
maintain its stance without seriously taking into account the
The Israeli government is, not surprisingly,
skeptical of the European approach. Silvan Shalom, the Foreign
Minister, said in an interview last week in Jerusalem,with another
New Yorker journalist, "I don't like what's happening. We
were encouraged at first when the Europeans got involved. For
a long time, they thought it was just Israel's problem. But then
they saw that the [Iranian] missiles themselves were longer range
and could reach all of Europe, and they became very concerned.
Their attitude has been to use the carrot and the stick--but all
we see so far is the carrot." He added, "If they can't
comply, Israel cannot live with Iran having a nuclear bomb."
In a recent essay, Patrick Clawson, an
Iran expert who is the deputy director of the Washington Institute
for Near East Policy (and a supporter of the Administration),
articulated the view that force, or the threat of it, was a vital
bargaining tool with Iran. Clawson wrote that if Europe wanted
cooeperation with the Bush Administration it "would do well
to remind Iran that the military option remains on the table."
He added that the argument that the European negotiations hinged
on Washington looked like "a preemptive excuse for the likely
breakdown of the E.U.-Iranian talks." In a subsequent conversation
with me, Clawson suggested that, if some kind of military action
was inevitable, "it would be much more in Israel's interest--and
Washington's--to take covert action. The style of this Administration
is to use overwhelming force--'shock and awe.' But we get only
one bite of the apple."
There are many military and diplomatic
experts who dispute the notion that military action, on whatever
scale, is the right approach. Shahram Chubin, an Iranian scholar
who is the director of research at the Geneva Centre for Security
Policy, told me, "It's a fantasy to think that there's a
good American or Israeli military option in Iran." He went
on, "The Israeli view is that this is an international problem.
'You do it,' they say to the West. 'Otherwise, our Air Force will
take care of it.'" In 1981, the Israeli Air Force destroyed
Iraq's Osirak reactor, setting its nuclear program back several
years. But the situation now is both more complex and more dangerous,
Chubin said. The Osirak bombing "drove the Iranian nuclear-weapons
program underground, to hardened, dispersed sites," he said.
"You can't be sure after an attack that you'll get away with
it. The U.S. and Israel would not be certain whether all the sites
had been hit, or how quickly they'd be rebuilt. Meanwhile, they'd
be waiting for an Iranian counter-attack that could be military
or terrorist or diplomatic. Iran has long-range missiles and ties
to Hezbollah, which has drones--you can't begin to think of what
they'd do in response."
Chubin added that Iran could also renounce
the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. "It's better to have
them cheating within the system," he said. "Otherwise,
as victims, Iran will walk away from the treaty and inspections
while the rest of the world watches the N.P.T. unravel before
The Administration has been conducting
secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran at least since last
summer. Much of the focus is on the accumulation of intelligence
and targeting information on Iranian nuclear, chemical, and missile
sites, both declared and suspected. The goal is to identify and
isolate three dozen, and perhaps more, such targets that could
be destroyed by precision strikes and short-term commando raids.
"The civilians in the Pentagon want to go into Iran and destroy
as much of the military infrastructure as possible," the
government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon told me.
Some of the missions involve extraordinary
cooeperation. For example, the former high-level intelligence
official told me that an American commando task force has been
set up in South Asia and is now working closely with a group of
Pakistani scientists and technicians who had dealt with Iranian
counterparts. (In 2003, the I.A.E.A. disclosed that Iran had been
secretly receiving nuclear technology from Pakistan for more than
a decade, and had withheld that information from inspectors.)
The American task force, aided by the information from Pakistan,
has been penetrating eastern Iran from Afghanistan in a hunt for
underground installations. The task-force members, or their locally
recruited agents, secreted remote detection devices--known as
sniffers--capable of sampling the atmosphere for radioactive emissions
and other evidence of nuclear-enrichment programs.
Getting such evidence is a pressing concern
for the Bush Administration. The former high-level intelligence
official told me, "They don't want to make any W.M.D. intelligence
mistakes, as in Iraq. The Republicans can't have two of those.
There's no education in the second kick of a mule." The official
added that the government of Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani President,
has won a high price for its cooeperation--American assurance
that Pakistan will not have to hand over A. Q. Khan, known as
the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, to the I.A.E.A. or to any
other international authorities for questioning. For two decades,
Khan has been linked to a vast consortium of nuclear-black-market
activities. Last year, Musharraf professed to be shocked when
Khan, in the face of overwhelming evidence, "confessed"
to his activities. A few days later, Musharraf pardoned him, and
so far he has refused to allow the I.A.E.A. or American intelligence
to interview him. Khan is now said to be living under house arrest
in a villa in Islamabad. "It's a deal--a trade-off,"
the former high-level intelligence official explained. "'Tell
us what you know about Iran and we will let your A. Q. Khan guys
go.' It's the neoconservatives' version of short-term gain at
long-term cost. They want to prove that Bush is the anti-terrorism
guy who can handle Iran and the nuclear threat, against the long-term
goal of eliminating the black market for nuclear proliferation."
The agreement comes at a time when Musharraf,
according to a former high-level Pakistani diplomat, has authorized
the expansion of Pakistan's nuclear-weapons arsenal. "Pakistan
still needs parts and supplies, and needs to buy them in the clandestine
market," the former diplomat said. "The U.S. has done
nothing to stop it."
There has also been close, and largely
unacknowledged, cooeperation with Israel. The government consultant
with ties to the Pentagon said that the Defense Department civilians,
under the leadership of Douglas Feith, have been working with
Israeli planners and consultants to develop and refine potential
nuclear, chemical-weapons, and missile targets inside Iran. (After
Osirak, Iran situated many of its nuclear sites in remote areas
of the east, in an attempt to keep them out of striking range
of other countries, especially Israel. Distance no longer lends
such protection, however: Israel has acquired three submarines
capable of launching cruise missiles and has equipped some of
its aircraft with additional fuel tanks, putting Israeli F-16I
fighters within the range of most Iranian targets.)
"They believe that about three-quarters
of the potential targets can be destroyed from the air, and a
quarter are too close to population centers, or buried too deep,
to be targeted," the consultant said. Inevitably, he added,
some suspicious sites need to be checked out by American or Israeli
commando teams--in on-the-ground surveillance--before being targeted.
The Pentagon's contingency plans for a
broader invasion of Iran are also being updated. Strategists at
the headquarters of the U.S. Central Command, in Tampa, Florida,
have been asked to revise the military's war plan, providing for
a maximum ground and air invasion of Iran. Updating the plan makes
sense, whether or not the Administration intends to act, because
the geopolitics of the region have changed dramatically in the
last three years. Previously, an American invasion force would
have had to enter Iran by sea, by way of the Persian Gulf or the
Gulf of Oman; now troops could move in on the ground, from Afghanistan
or Iraq. Commando units and other assets could be introduced through
new bases in the Central Asian republics.
It is possible that some of the American
officials who talk about the need to eliminate Iran's nuclear
infrastructure are doing so as part of a propaganda campaign aimed
at pressuring Iran to give up its weapons planning. If so, the
signals are not always clear. President Bush, who after 9/11 famously
depicted Iran as a member of the "axis of evil," is
now publicly emphasizing the need for diplomacy to run its course.
"We don't have much leverage with the Iranians right now,"
the President said at a news conference late last year. "Diplomacy
must be the first choice, and always the first choice of an administration
trying to solve an issue of . . . nuclear armament. And we'll
continue to press on diplomacy."
In my interviews over the past two months,
I was given a much harsher view. The hawks in the Administration
believe that it will soon become clear that the Europeans' negotiated
approach cannot succeed, and that at that time the Administration
will act. "We're not dealing with a set of National Security
Council option papers here," the former high-level intelligence
official told me. "They've already passed that wicket. It's
not if we're going to do anything against Iran. They're doing
The immediate goals of the attacks would
be to destroy, or at least temporarily derail, Iran's ability
to go nuclear. But there are other, equally purposeful, motives
at work. The government consultant told me that the hawks in the
Pentagon, in private discussions, have been urging a limited attack
on Iran because they believe it could lead to a toppling of the
religious leadership. "Within the soul of Iran there is a
struggle between secular nationalists and reformers, on the one
hand, and, on the other hand, the fundamentalist Islamic movement,"
the consultant told me. "The minute the aura of invincibility
which the mullahs enjoy is shattered, and with it the ability
to hoodwink the West, the Iranian regime will collapse"--like
the former Communist regimes in Romania, East Germany, and the
Soviet Union. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz share that belief, he said.
"The idea that an American attack
on Iran's nuclear facilities would produce a popular uprising
is extremely illinformed," said Flynt Leverett, a Middle
East scholar who worked on the National Security Council in the
Bush Administration. "You have to understand that the nuclear
ambition in Iran is supported across the political spectrum, and
Iranians will perceive attacks on these sites as attacks on their
ambitions to be a major regional player and a modern nation that's
technologically sophisticated." Leverett, who is now a senior
fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, at the Brookings
Institution, warned that an American attack, if it takes place,
"will produce an Iranian backlash against the United States
and a rallying around the regime."
Rumsfeld planned and lobbied for more
than two years before getting Presidential authority, in a series
of findings and executive orders, to use military commandos for
covert operations. One of his first steps was bureaucratic: to
shift control of an undercover unit, known then as the Gray Fox
(it has recently been given a new code name), from the Army to
the Special Operations Command (socom), in Tampa. Gray Fox was
formally assigned to socom in July, 2002, at the instigation of
Rumsfeld's office, which meant that the undercover unit would
have a single commander for administration and operational deployment.
Then, last fall, Rumsfeld's ability to deploy the commandos expanded.
According to a Pentagon consultant, an Execute Order on the Global
War on Terrorism (referred to throughout the government as gwot)
was issued at Rumsfeld's direction. The order specifically authorized
the military "to find and finish" terrorist targets,
the consultant said. It included a target list that cited Al Qaeda
network members, Al Qaeda senior leadership, and other high-value
targets. The consultant said that the order had been cleared throughout
the national-security bureaucracy in Washington.
In late November, 2004, the Times reported
that Bush had set up an interagency group to study whether it
"would best serve the nation" to give the Pentagon complete
control over the C.I.A.'s own elite paramilitary unit, which has
operated covertly in trouble spots around the world for decades.
The panel's conclusions, due in February, are foregone, in the
view of many former C.I.A. officers. "It seems like it's
going to happen," Howard Hart, who was chief of the C.I.A.'s
Paramilitary Operations Division before retiring in 1991, told
There was other evidence of Pentagon encroachment.
Two former C.I.A. clandestine officers, Vince Cannistraro and
Philip Giraldi, who publish Intelligence Brief, a newsletter for
their business clients, reported last month on the existence of
a broad counter-terrorism Presidential finding that permitted
the Pentagon "to operate unilaterally in a number of countries
where there is a perception of a clear and evident terrorist threat.
. . . A number of the countries are friendly to the U.S. and are
major trading partners. Most have been cooperating in the war
on terrorism." The two former officers listed some of the
countries--Algeria, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, and Malaysia. (I was
subsequently told by the former high-level intelligence official
that Tunisia is also on the list.)
Giraldi, who served three years in military
intelligence before joining the C.I.A., said that he was troubled
by the military's expanded covert assignment. "I don't think
they can handle the cover," he told me. "They've got
to have a different mind-set. They've got to handle new roles
and get into foreign cultures and learn how other people think.
If you're going into a village and shooting people, it doesn't
matter," Giraldi added. "But if you're running operations
that involve finesse and sensitivity, the military can't do it.
Which is why these kind of operations were always run out of the
agency." I was told that many Special Operations officers
also have serious misgivings.
Rumsfeld and two of his key deputies,
Stephen Cambone, the Under-secretary of Defense for Intelligence,
and Army Lieutenant General William G. (Jerry) Boykin, will be
part of the chain of command for the new commando operations.
Relevant members of the House and Senate intelligence committees
have been briefed on the Defense Department's expanded role in
covert affairs, a Pentagon adviser assured me, but he did not
know how extensive the briefings had been.
"I'm conflicted about the idea of
operating without congressional oversight," the Pentagon
adviser said. "But I've been told that there will be oversight
down to the specific operation." A second Pentagon adviser
agreed, with a significant caveat. "There are reporting requirements,"
he said. "But to execute the finding we don't have to go
back and say, 'We're going here and there.' No nitty-gritty detail
and no micromanagement."
The legal questions about the Pentagon's
right to conduct covert operations without informing Congress
have not been resolved. "It's a very, very gray area,"
said Jeffrey H. Smith, a West Point graduate who served as the
C.I.A.'s general counsel in the mid-nineteen-nineties. "Congress
believes it voted to include all such covert activities carried
out by the armed forces. The military says, 'No, the things we're
doing are not intelligence actions under the statute but necessary
military steps authorized by the President, as Commander-in-Chief,
to "prepare the battlefield."'" Referring to his
days at the C.I.A., Smith added, "We were always careful
not to use the armed forces in a covert action without a Presidential
finding. The Bush Administration has taken a much more aggressive
In his conversation with me, Smith emphasized
that he was unaware of the military's current plans for expanding
covert action. But he said, "Congress has always worried
that the Pentagon is going to get us involved in some military
misadventure that nobody knows about."
Under Rumsfeld's new approach, I was told,
U.S. military operatives would be permitted to pose abroad as
corrupt foreign businessmen seeking to buy contraband items that
could be used in nuclear-weapons systems. In some cases, according
to the Pentagon advisers, local citizens could be recruited and
asked to join up with guerrillas or terrorists. This could potentially
involve organizing and carrying out combat operations, or even
terrorist activities. Some operations will likely take place in
nations in which there is an American diplomatic mission, with
an Ambassador and a C.I.A. station chief, the Pentagon consultant
said. The Ambassador and the station chief would not necessarily
have a need to know, under the Pentagon's current interpretation
of its reporting requirement.
The new rules will enable the Special
Forces community to set up what it calls "action teams"
in the target countries overseas which can be used to find and
eliminate terrorist organizations. "Do you remember the right-wing
execution squads in El Salvador?" the former high-level intelligence
official asked me, referring to the military-led gangs that committed
atrocities in the early nineteen-eighties. "We founded them
and we financed them," he said. "The objective now is
to recruit locals in any area we want. And we aren't going to
tell Congress about it." A former military officer, who has
knowledge of the Pentagon's commando capabilities, said, "We're
going to be riding with the bad boys."
One of the rationales for such tactics
was spelled out in a series of articles by John Arquilla, a professor
of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School, in Monterey,
California, and a consultant on terrorism for the rand corporation.
"It takes a network to fight a network," Arquilla wrote
in a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle:
When conventional military operations
and bombing failed to defeat the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya in
the 1950s, the British formed teams of friendly Kikuyu tribesmen
who went about pretending to be terrorists. These "pseudo
gangs," as they were called, swiftly threw the Mau Mau on
the defensive, either by befriending and then ambushing bands
of fighters or by guiding bombers to the terrorists' camps. What
worked in Kenya a half-century ago has a wonderful chance of undermining
trust and recruitment among today's terror networks. Forming new
pseudo gangs should not be difficult.
"If a confused young man from Marin
County can join up with Al Qaeda," Arquilla wrote, referring
to John Walker Lindh, the twenty-year-old Californian who was
seized in Afghanistan, "think what professional operatives
A few pilot covert operations were conducted
last year, one Pentagon adviser told me, and a terrorist cell
in Algeria was "rolled up" with American help. The adviser
was referring, apparently, to the capture of Ammari Saifi, known
as Abderrezak le Para, the head of a North African terrorist network
affiliated with Al Qaeda. But at the end of the year there was
no agreement within the Defense Department about the rules of
engagement. "The issue is approval for the final authority,"
the former high-level intelligence official said. "Who gets
to say 'Get this' or 'Do this'?"
A retired four-star general said, "The
basic concept has always been solid, but how do you insure that
the people doing it operate within the concept of the law? This
is pushing the edge of the envelope." The general added,
"It's the oversight. And you're not going to get Warner"--John
Warner, of Virginia, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services
Committee--"and those guys to exercise oversight. This whole
thing goes to the Fourth Deck." He was referring to the floor
in the Pentagon where Rumsfeld and Cambone have their offices.
"It's a finesse to give power to
Rumsfeld--giving him the right to act swiftly, decisively, and
lethally," the first Pentagon adviser told me. "It's
a global free-fire zone."
The Pentagon has tried to work around
the limits on covert activities before. In the early nineteen-eighties,
a covert Army unit was set up and authorized to operate overseas
with minimal oversight. The results were disastrous. The Special
Operations program was initially known as Intelligence Support
Activity, or I.S.A., and was administered from a base near Washington
(as was, later, Gray Fox). It was established soon after the failed
rescue, in April, 1980, of the American hostages in Iran, who
were being held by revolutionary students after the Islamic overthrow
of the Shah's regime. At first, the unit was kept secret from
many of the senior generals and civilian leaders in the Pentagon,
as well as from many members of Congress. It was eventually deployed
in the Reagan Administration's war against the Sandinista government,
in Nicaragua. It was heavily committed to supporting the Contras.
By the mid-eighties, however, the I.S.A.'s operations had been
curtailed, and several of its senior officers were courtmartialled
following a series of financial scandals, some involving arms
deals. The affair was known as "the Yellow Fruit scandal,"
after the code name given to one of the I.S.A.'s cover organizations--and
in many ways the group's procedures laid the groundwork for the
Despite the controversy surrounding Yellow
Fruit, the I.S.A. was kept intact as an undercover unit by the
Army. "But we put so many restrictions on it," the second
Pentagon adviser said. "In I.S.A., if you wanted to travel
fifty miles you had to get a special order. And there were certain
areas, such as Lebanon, where they could not go." The adviser
acknowledged that the current operations are similar to those
two decades earlier, with similar risks--and, as he saw it, similar
reasons for taking the risks. "What drove them then, in terms
of Yellow Fruit, was that they had no intelligence on Iran,"
the adviser told me. "They had no knowledge of Tehran and
no people on the ground who could prepare the battle space."
Rumsfeld's decision to revive this approach
stemmed, once again, from a failure of intelligence in the Middle
East, the adviser said. The Administration believed that the C.I.A.
was unable, or unwilling, to provide the military with the information
it needed to effectively challenge stateless terrorism. "One
of the big challenges was that we didn't have Humint"--human
intelligence--"collection capabilities in areas where terrorists
existed," the adviser told me. "Because the C.I.A. claimed
to have such a hold on Humint, the way to get around them, rather
than take them on, was to claim that the agency didn't do Humint
to support Special Forces operations overseas. The C.I.A. fought
it." Referring to Rumsfeld's new authority for covert operations,
the first Pentagon adviser told me, "It's not empowering
military intelligence. It's emasculating the C.I.A."
A former senior C.I.A. officer depicted
the agency's eclipse as predictable. "For years, the agency
bent over backward to integrate and cooerdinate with the Pentagon,"
the former officer said. "We just caved and caved and got
what we deserved. It is a fact of life today that the Pentagon
is a five-hundred-pound gorilla and the C.I.A. director is a chimpanzee."
There was pressure from the White House,
too. A former C.I.A. clandestine-services officer told me that,
in the months after the resignation of the agency's director George
Tenet, in June, 2004, the White House began "coming down
critically" on analysts in the C.I.A.'s Directorate of Intelligence
(D.I.) and demanded "to see more support for the Administration's
political position." Porter Goss, Tenet's successor, engaged
in what the recently retired C.I.A. official described as a "political
purge" in the D.I. Among the targets were a few senior analysts
who were known to write dissenting papers that had been forwarded
to the White House. The recently retired C.I.A. official said,
"The White House carefully reviewed the political analyses
of the D.I. so they could sort out the apostates from the true
believers." Some senior analysts in the D.I. have turned
in their resignations--quietly, and without revealing the extent
of the disarray.
The White House solidified its control
over intelligence last month, when it forced last-minute changes
in the intelligence-reform bill. The legislation, based substantially
on recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, originally gave broad
powers, including authority over intelligence spending, to a new
national-intelligence director. (The Pentagon controls roughly
eighty per cent of the intelligence budget.) A reform bill passed
in the Senate by a vote of 96-2. Before the House voted, however,
Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld balked. The White House publicly supported
the legislation, but House Speaker Dennis Hastert refused to bring
a House version of the bill to the floor for a vote--ostensibly
in defiance of the President, though it was widely understood
in Congress that Hastert had been delegated to stall the bill.
After intense White House and Pentagon lobbying, the legislation
was rewritten. The bill that Congress approved sharply reduced
the new director's power, in the name of permitting the Secretary
of Defense to maintain his "statutory responsibilities."
Fred Kaplan, in the online magazine Slate, described the real
issues behind Hastert's action, quoting a congressional aide who
expressed amazement as White House lobbyists bashed the Senate
bill and came up "with all sorts of ludicrous reasons why
it was unacceptable."
"Rummy's plan was to get a compromise
in the bill in which the Pentagon keeps its marbles and the C.I.A.
loses theirs," the former high-level intelligence official
told me. "Then all the pieces of the puzzle fall in place.
He gets authority for covert action that is not attributable,
the ability to directly task national-intelligence assets"--including
the many intelligence satellites that constantly orbit the world.
"Rumsfeld will no longer have to
refer anything through the government's intelligence wringer,"
the former official went on. "The intelligence system was
designed to put competing agencies in competition. What's missing
will be the dynamic tension that insures everyone's priorities--in
the C.I.A., the D.O.D., the F.B.I., and even the Department of
Homeland Security--are discussed. The most insidious implication
of the new system is that Rumsfeld no longer has to tell people
what he's doing so they can ask, 'Why are you doing this?' or
'What are your priorities?' Now he can keep all of the mattress
mice out of it."