Saving Feith

Article excerpt

A new report gives the Pentagon intelligence peddler a pass.

PENTAGON INSPECTOR GENERAL Thomas Gimble's narrow report on the activities of Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith's Office of Special Plans was not quite a whitewash, but neither was it an indictment. The report, presented to Congress on Feb. 9, rightly condemned Feith's attempt to create what it charitably called "an alternative intelligence assessment process," lacking the checks and balances observed by the CIA, DIA, and INR. But no punishment was recommended for anyone involved in the relentless advocacy that enabled the slide to war. Nor did the investigation seek to determine possible involvement of the Office of Special Plans in the Niger uranium forgeries and cover-up, or in the generation and dissemination of false intelligence derived from foreign sources.

Per Gimble's careful parsing, Feith's activities were deemed "inappropriate" but "not illegal or unauthorized." And his investigation's scope was curiously limited: the year-long inquiry only examined one of the many questionable activities carried out by the Office of Special Plans, the purported link between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. The role of Feith's office in hatching the imaginary meeting between Mohammad Atta and Iraqi intelligence officials in Prague was significant, but it was only a single element in the much broader pattern of deception that provided the "evidence" President Bush used to persuade the American people that Saddam's Iraq was an existential threat akin to Hitler's Germany.

At best, any investigation conducted in-house, as this one was, will be more collegial than adversarial, and Gimble took pains not to speculate about motive. But Feith didn't come to the Pentagon without an agenda. The IG report found that his OSP "was predisposed to finding a significant relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda," and those who know Feith's history understand why.

Since the first Bush administration, Feith had been advising the Israeli government to pressure Washington to remove Saddam Hussein. So it was unsurprising when he joined Richard Perle, David Wurmser, and others in July 1996 to develop a position paper that had Iraqi regime change as its centerpiece. Intended for incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the document, entitled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," pushed the new government to launch pre-emptive war against Israel's Arab neighbors. "Israel has the opportunity to make a clean break," the paper said, "to engage every possible energy on rebuilding Zionism." Baghdad was first on the hit list-"Whoever inherits Iraq dominates the entire Levant strategically," they wrote-followed by attacks on Syria and Lebanon. To secure American support for "rolling back" Arab regimes, the group recommended phony motives for the invasions-in Syria's case counterfeiting, drug running, and WMD development.

Netanyahu rejected their advice, but with the election of George W. Bush, Perle assumed chairmanship of the Defense Policy Board and Feith took the number-three post at the Pentagon, where Wurmser would oversee his Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group. The Clean Break authors were positioned for an audacious play"reestablishing the principle of preemption" not by Israeli initiative but by American action-and Sept. 11 provided a moment of opportunity. Where cause did not exist, Feith manufactured pretext, just as the 1996 document advised, and the Israelis were key to making the case.

It has been reported that during the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, Israeli military officers and diplomats had virtual carte-blanche access to Feith's offices and those of his boss Deputy secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. (Both were investigated earlier in their careers on suspicion of passing secrets to Israel-Feith in 1982, Wolfowitz in 1978.) Former Office of Special Plans employees report that analysts working for Feith who were not uncritically supportive of the U. …