During the halcyon early years of the Bush administration, it still seemed possible that the President and his appointees could prevail over the inertia and, often, outright hostility of the almost-entirely-Democratic federal bureaucracy. One instance of the administration’s effort to get beyond the bureaucracy’s stale thinking was the Defense Department’s Office of Special Plans, which was overseen by Douglas Feith, who was then Undersecretary of Defense for Policy.
Feith’s group became known for challenging the CIA’s dogmatic belief that Iraq’s “secular” dictatorship couldn’t possibly collaborate with radical Islamic groups like al Qaeda. The Office of Special Plans argued that the CIA consistently played down its own raw evidence of relationships between Iraq and al Qaeda because such evidence didn’t fit the agency’s theoretical framework. That act of lese majesty must naturally be punished.
So tomorrow, the Pentagon’s own Inspector General will present a report to the Senate Armed Services Committee on whether–I’m not kidding–it was illegal for the Defense Department to independently analyze the data gathered by the intelligence agencies.
You can breathe a sigh of relief, though; the Inspector General concluded that disagreeing with the CIA is not a crime:
Some of the Pentagon’s prewar intelligence work, including a contention that the CIA underplayed the likelihood of al-Qaida connections to Saddam Hussein, was inappropriate but not illegal, a Defense Department investigation has concluded.
In a report to be presented to Congress on Friday, the department’s inspector general said former Pentagon policy chief Douglas J. Feith had not engaged in illegal activities through the creation of special offices to review intelligence.
The Senate Armed Services Committee has scheduled a hearing Friday to receive the findings by Thomas F. Gimble, the Pentagon’s acting inspector general. The committee’s chairman, Carl Levin, D-Mich., has been a leading critic of Feith’s role in prewar intelligence activities and has accused him of deceiving Congress.
In a telephone interview Thursday, Levin said the IG report is “very damning” and shows a Pentagon policy shop trying to shape intelligence to prove a link between al-Qaida and Saddam.
Asked to comment on the IG’s findings, Feith said in a telephone interview that he had not seen the report but was pleased to hear that it concluded his office’s activities were neither illegal nor unauthorized. He took strong issue, however, with the IG’s finding that some activities had been “inappropriate.”
“The policy office has been smeared for years by allegations that its pre-Iraq-war work was somehow ‘unlawful’ or ‘unauthorized’ and that some information it gave to congressional committees was deceptive or misleading,” Feith said.
Feith called “bizarre” the inspector general’s conclusion that some intelligence activities by the Office of Special Plans, which was created while Feith served as the undersecretary of defense for policy –the top policy position under Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld–were inappropriate but not unauthorized.
It will be interesting to see the full report. Offhand, I can’t imagine how it could be “inappropriate” for the Department of Defense to disagree with the CIA about the significance of intelligence received by that agency.
This is a lesson in the perils of serving in a Republican administration. Now that a Democrat majority in Congress can join forces with the Democrats in the federal bureaucracies, Republicans who cross the bureaucrats can consider themselves lucky not to be indicted.
What will be lost in news accounts of the IG report and Levin’s fulminations is that Feith’s group was right. We know now that there were many connections between Saddam’s Iraq and al Qaeda, and that Islamic groups of various stripes, including those labeled “secular” by the CIA, are entirely capable of collaborating against their common enemies.
Via Power Line News.
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