Byline: Kenneth R. Timmerman, INSIGHT
The sordid tale now making the rounds in the "mainstream" press of a rogue Pentagon intelligence operation has all the elements of an urban legend: heavy breathing, a secret basement office "down by the ramp" and government officials who form a hidden alliance based on long-ago ties to an obscure but influential university guru. Only the work of a few good men with the courage to face up to this "cabal" and a few crusader-journalists to help them can make the demons scatter and scare the dark ones into the light. Or so the story goes on those increasingly febrile Democratic Party Websites.
All this silliness could become deadly serious if Senate Democrats get their way, led by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the vice chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee (SSIC). For now, the controversy revolves around a suite of crammed cubicles on the fourth floor of the Pentagon that in September 2002 was renamed the Office of Special Plans (OSP). At that time the office consisted of only four persons. But it soon became apparent that the Pentagon needed to begin serious planning for the postwar reconstruction of Iraq in the event the president made the decision to go to war.
On orders from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz the office was expanded to 16 persons, including two detailee Army judge-advocate-general officers lawyers whose job was to explore the legal framework for conducting potential war-crimes investigations of members of Saddam's regime.
"In hindsight, that may have been an unfortunate choice of name," an administration official tells Insight during an extensive interview on the operations of the OSP. "But we didn't want to have a 16-man Iraqi planning group set up at a time when the president was conducting negotiations at the U.N. because it would have undercut his diplomatic approach."
The OSP grew out of the Office of Northern Gulf Affairs, one of many regional bureaus that reports through the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs to the head of the Pentagon's policy shop, Undersecretary Doug Feith. "As we were gearing up for the Iraq campaign in September 2002, the deputy decided that we needed to expand the Northern Gulf directorate because of the tremendous workload. There were literally dozens of new tasks we had to do. And there were just four of us," the official explains.
The head of the unit, Navy Capt. William Luti, came to the Pentagon after working for Vice President Dick Cheney at the White House. He was given a promotion, a new title (deputy undersecretary for Special Plans and Near East/ South Asia affairs) and a handful of new bodies to carry out the work. Some of the new bodies were given cubicles in a hastily painted spillover office suite in a former storage area on the first floor of the Pentagon not in the basement. ("Isn't that down by the ramp?" Washington Post reporter Dana Priest asked Luti's office conspiratorially. Insight verified the location of the office: Luti's desk warriors have windows.)
Among their urgent new tasks were to develop defense policies aimed at building an international coalition, prepare the secretary of defense and his top deputies for interagency meetings, coordinate troop-deployment orders, craft policies for dealing with prisoners of war and illegal combatants, postwar assistance and reconstruction policy planning, postwar governance, Iraqi oil infrastructure policy, postwar Iraqi property disputes, war crimes and atrocities, war-plan review and, in their spare time, prepare congressional testimony for their principals. "We are a policy shop, not an organization that collects or creates intelligence," the official says. "We were asked to do stratospheric planning. Others took the concepts and turned them into action plans" [see sidebar, p. 54].
Some of the tension between the OSP and the intelligence community (which has been the source of many of the rumors about the OSP) came from faulty intelligence that was fed to the war planners. …