On Wednesday, the New York Times gave front-page treatment to an article that should at last put to rest the unsubstantiated yet oft-repeated allegations concerning the misdeeds of Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith and two Pentagon offices that reported to him at an early stage in the war on terror, the Counterterrorism Evaluation Group and the Office of Special Plans. Despite the transparent desire to prove otherwise, the Times article, entitled “How Pair’s Finding on Terror Led to Clash on Shaping Intelligence,” demonstrates that these allegations are as baseless as they are base.
Specifically, Feith and his subordinates have been accused for months of exaggerating threats as well as manipulating intelligence related to Iraq and the war on terror in order to support a dubious and predetermined end: justifying the forcible overthrow of Saddam Hussein on the grounds that he was tied to al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. The Times article quotes one individual, identified only as “a C.I.A. official,” saying that “…If you work hard enough in this nasty world, you can link just about anybody to anybody else.” The Times reported that “another agency official summed up the Feith team’s work by saying ‘Leave no dot unconnected.’”
In fact, as the Times account grudgingly documents, Feith’s Counterterrorism Evaluation Group did nothing more than subject available classified data to an independent review. In the process, the two-man group established that there was, indeed, evidence of longstanding connections between Saddam’s regime and various terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda. In the end, it took 150 pages to document and explicate these ties. Secretary Feith characterized the study’s findings for the Times as follows:
There was intelligence about contacts among these different players–the organizations, the state sponsors, the non-state sponsors. There was intelligence about contacts among them that crossed ideological lines to a greater extent than perhaps some people had appreciated before. The connections could be tight or loose. I don’t mean to suggest that all international terrorists are really operating from a single organization. They’re not. We use the term “network” advisedly.
Secretary Feith and his organization were not only justified after September 11 in reexamining the classified information–and the policy assumptions derived from it–that had guided America’s approach to terrorists prior to that day’s horrific attacks. They had an obligation to do so.
Incredibly, the Times article, by reporter James Risen, reveals that the U.S. intelligence community–which not only vehemently disagreed with the work done by the Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, but tried assiduously to impede it–still “largely dismiss[es]” what the author describes (somewhat inaccurately, as the above quote makes clear) as “the Pentagon view of an increasingly unified terrorist threat or links between Mr. Hussein and Mr. bin Laden.”
This position seems utterly untenable, given just the information in the public domain–to say nothing of what must be available in classified channels. For example, on April 26, ABC News aired part of a videotaped confession by suspected al Qaeda terrorist Azmi al-Jayousi, who was captured before he could unleash a devastating chemical attack in Jordan. Al-Jayousi admitted that he was trained in Iraq by al Qaeda deputy Abu Musab al-Zarqawi sometime after the launch of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. According to ABC News, he reportedly confessed: “In Iraq, I started training in explosives and poisons. I gave my complete obedience to Zarqawi. No questions asked. After the fall of Afghanistan, I met Zarqawi again in Iraq.”
Even more preposterous than the intelligence community’s seeming cognitive dissonance about collaboration between terrorists across ideological and religious lines are claims made by various conspiracy theorists–including, notably, Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker–that Secretary Feith’s organization had its own mini-CIA cooking up fraudulent intelligence. Hersh penned a fantastic tale back in May 2003 that depicted Feith and his subordinates, certain other administration officials, and several Washington think tanks all operating under the insidious influence Leo Strauss to create, with the help of disreputable Iraqi defectors, “selective” (read fraudulent) intelligence that could justify removing Saddam Hussein from power.
This claim too has been shown to be without merit. As the Washington Post reported in an article last month headlined “Feith’s Analysts Given a Clean Bill”: “Neither the House nor Senate intelligence committees…which have been investigating prewar intelligence for eight months, have found support for allegations that Pentagon analysts went out and collected their own intelligence…. Nor have investigators found that the Pentagon analysis about Iraq significantly shaped the case the administration made for going to war.” In short, there is, as the saying goes, “no there, there” with regard to the series of scurrilous charges leveled at Feith and his team of dedicated, principled and courageous professionals.
I have long been proud to call Doug Feith a friend and colleague and to be associated with many of those who are helping him and Donald Rumsfeld perform difficult, usually thankless work in the Office of the Secretary of Defense during a time of grave national peril. I have never been prouder of these outstanding men and women, however, than I am today. For while some clearly intend to continue to manufacture and publicize allegations of misconduct on their part–presumably in the interest of undermining public confidence in President Bush, his national security team, and its conduct of the war on terror–America owes them a deep debt of gratitude. As papers of record, however reluctantly, eventually publish the truth, they will be recognized for the heroes they truly are.