From the January 21, 2005 New Yorker:
THE COMING WARS
by SEYMOUR M. HERSH
What the Pentagon can now do in secret.
George W. BushÄôs re?´lection was not his only victory last fall. The President and his national-security advisers hav consolidated control over the military and intelligence communitiesÄô strategic analyses and covert operations to a degre unmatched since the rise of the post-Second World War national-security state. Bush has an aggressive and ambitious agenda fo using that controlÄîagainst the mullahs in Iran and against targets in the ongoing war on terrorismÄîduring his second term. Th C.I.A. will continue to be downgraded, and the agency will increasingly serve, as one government consultant with close ties to th Pentagon put it, as ÄúfacilitatorsÄù of policy emanating from President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. This process is well under way
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. BushÄôs re?´lection is regarded within the Administration as evidence of AmericaÄôs support for his decision to go to war. It has reaffirmed the position of the neoconservatives in the PentagonÄôs 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.
ÄúThis is a war against terrorism, and Iraq is just one campaign. The Bush Administration is looking at this as a huge war zone,Äù the former high-level intelligence official told me. ÄúNext, weÄôre going to have the Iranian campaign. WeÄôve declared war and the bad guys, wherever they are, are the enemy. This is the last hurrahÄîweÄôve got four years, and want to come out of this saying we won the war on terrorism.Äù
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 wrongÄîwhether it was prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib or lack of sufficient armor plating for G.I.sÄô vehicles in Iraq. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have called for RumsfeldÄôs 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 RumsfeldÄôs responsibility. The war on terrorism would be expanded, and effectively placed under the PentagonÄôs 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 PresidentÄôs decision enables Rumsfeld to run the operations off the booksÄîfree 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.) ÄúThe Pentagon doesnÄôt feel obligated to report any of this to Congress,Äù the former high-level intelligence official said. ÄúThey donÄôt even call it Äòcovert opsÄôÄîitÄôs too close to the C.I.A. phrase. In their view, itÄôs Äòblack reconnaissance.Äô TheyÄôre not even going to tell the cincsÄùÄîthe 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. ÄúEveryone is saying, ÄòYou canÄôt be serious about targeting Iran. Look at Iraq,ÄôÄù the former intelligence official told me. ÄúBut they say, ÄòWeÄôve got some lessons learnedÄînot militarily, but how we did it politically. WeÄôre not going to rely on agency pissants.Äô No loose ends, and thatÄôs why the C.I.A. is out of there.Äù
For more than a year, France, Germany, Britain, and other countries in the European Union have seen preventing Iran fro getting a nuclear weapon as a race against timeÄîand against the Bush Administration. They have been negotiating with th Iranian leadership to give up its nuclear-weapons ambitions in exchange for economic aid and trade benefits. Iran has agreed t temporarily halt its enrichment programs, which generate fuel for nuclear power plants but also could produce weapons-grad fissile material. (Iran claims that such facilities are legal under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or N.P.T., to which it is signator, and that it has no intention of building a bomb.) But the goal of the current round of talks, which began in December i Brussels, is to persuade Tehran to go further, and dismantle its machinery. Iran insists, in return, that it needs to see some concret benefits from the EuropeansÄîoil-production technology, heavy-industrial equipment, and perhaps even permission to purchase 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. ÄúThe neocons say negotiations are a bad deal,Äù a senior official of the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) told me. ÄúAnd the only thing the Iranians understand is pressure. And that they also need to be whacked.Äù
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 warheadsÄîalthough 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 agencyÄôs timetable for a nuclear Iran matches the European estimatesÄîassuming that Iran gets no outside help. ÄúThe big wild card for us is that you donÄôt know who is capable of filling in the missing parts for them,Äù the recently retired official said. ÄúNorth Korea? Pakistan? We donÄôt know what parts are missing.Äù
One Western diplomat told me that the Europeans believed they were in what he called a Äúlose-lose positionÄù as long as the United States refuses to get involved. ÄúFrance, Germany, and the U.K. cannot succeed alone, and everybody knows it,Äù the diplomat said. ÄúIf the U.S. stays outside, we donÄôt have enough leverage, and our effort will collapse.Äù 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 Äúthe United Nations will be blamed and the Americans will say, ÄòThe only solution is to bomb.ÄôÄù
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 PresidentÄôs relationship with AmericaÄôs E.U. allies. In that context, the Ambassador told me, ÄúIÄôm 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 weapons issue?Äù
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, ÄúI donÄôt like whatÄôs happening. We were encouraged at first when the Europeans got involved. For a long time, they thought it was just IsraelÄôs 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 stickÄîbut all we see so far is the carrot.Äù He added, ÄúIf they canÄôt comply, Israel cannot live with Iran having a nuclear bomb.Äù
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 co??peration with the Bush Administration it Äúwould do well to remind Iran that the military option remains on the table.Äù He added that the argument that the European negotiations hinged on Washington looked like Äúa pre?´mptive excuse for the likely breakdown of the E.U.-Iranian talks.Äù In a subsequent conversation with me, Clawson suggested that, if some kind of military action was inevitable, Äúit would be much more in IsraelÄôs interestÄîand WashingtonÄôsÄîto take covert action. The style of this Administration is to use overwhelming forceÄîÄòshock and awe.Äô But we get only one bite of the apple.Äù
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, ÄúItÄôs a fantasy to think that thereÄôs a good American or Israeli military option in Iran.Äù He went on, ÄúThe Israeli view is that this is an international problem. ÄòYou do it,Äô they say to the West. ÄòOtherwise, our Air Force will take care of it.ÄôÄù In 1981, the Israeli Air Force destroyed IraqÄôs 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 Äúdrove the Iranian nuclear-weapons program underground, to hardened, dispersed sites,Äù he said. ÄúYou canÄôt be sure after an attack that youÄôll get away with it. The U.S. and Israel would not be certain whether all the sites had been hit, or how quickly theyÄôd be rebuilt. Meanwhile, theyÄôd 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 dronesÄîyou canÄôt begin to think of what theyÄôd do in response.Äù
Chubin added that Iran could also renounce the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. ÄúItÄôs better to have them cheating within the system,Äù he said. ÄúOtherwise, as victims, Iran will walk away from the treaty and inspections while the rest of the world watches the N.P.T. unravel before their eyes.Äù
The Administration has been conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran at least since last summer. Much of the focu is on the accumulation of intelligence and targeting information on Iranian nuclear, chemical, and missile sites, both declared an suspected. The goal is to identify and isolate three dozen, and perhaps more, such targets that could be destroyed by precisio strikes and short-term commando raids. ÄúThe civilians in the Pentagon want to go into Iran and destroy as much of the militar infrastructure as possible,Äù the government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon told me
Some of the missions involve extraordinary co??peration. 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 devicesÄîknown as sniffersÄîcapable 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, ÄúThey donÄôt want to make any W.M.D. intelligence mistakes, as in Iraq. The Republicans canÄôt have two of those. ThereÄôs no education in the second kick of a mule.Äù The official added that the government of Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani President, has won a high price for its co??perationÄîAmerican assurance that Pakistan will not have to hand over A. Q. Khan, known as the father of PakistanÄôs 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, ÄúconfessedÄù 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. ÄúItÄôs a dealÄîa trade-off,Äù the former high-level intelligence official explained. ÄúÄòTell us what you know about Iran and we will let your A. Q. Khan guys go.Äô ItÄôs the neoconservativesÄô 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.Äù
The agreement comes at a time when Musharraf, according to a former high-level Pakistani diplomat, has authorized the expansion of PakistanÄôs nuclear-weapons arsenal. ÄúPakistan still needs parts and supplies, and needs to buy them in the clandestine market,Äù the former diplomat said. ÄúThe U.S. has done nothing to stop it.Äù
There has also been close, and largely unacknowledged, co??peration 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.)
ÄúThey 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,Äù the consultant said. Inevitably, he added, some suspicious sites need to be checked out by American or Israeli commando teamsÄîin on-the-ground surveillanceÄîbefore being targeted.
The PentagonÄôs 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 militaryÄôs 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 IranÄôs 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 Äúaxis of evil,Äù is now publicly emphasizing the need for diplomacy to run its course. ÄúWe donÄôt have much leverage with the Iranians right now,Äù the President said at a news conference late last year. ÄúDiplomacy must be the first choice, and always the first choice of an administration trying to solve an issue of . . . nuclear armament. And weÄôll continue to press on diplomacy.Äù
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 EuropeansÄô negotiated approach cannot succeed, and that at that time the Administration will act. ÄúWeÄôre not dealing with a set of National Security Council option papers here,Äù the former high-level intelligence official told me. ÄúTheyÄôve already passed that wicket. ItÄôs not if weÄôre going to do anything against Iran. TheyÄôre doing it.Äù
The immediate goals of the attacks would be to destroy, or at least temporarily derail, IranÄôs 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. ÄúWithin 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,Äù the consultant told me. ÄúThe minute the aura of invincibility which the mullahs enjoy is shattered, and with it the ability to hoodwink the West, the Iranian regime will collapseÄùÄîlike the former Communist regimes in Romania, East Germany, and the Soviet Union. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz share that belief, he said.
ÄúThe idea that an American attack on IranÄôs nuclear facilities would produce a popular uprising is extremely illinformed,Äù said Flynt Leverett, a Middle East scholar who worked on the National Security Council in the Bush Administration. ÄúYou 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 thatÄôs technologically sophisticated.Äù 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, Äúwill produce an Iranian backlash against the United States and a rallying around the regime.Äù
Rumsfeld planned and lobbied for more than two years before getting Presidential authority, in a series of findings and executiv orders, to use military commandos for covert operations. One of his first steps was bureaucratic: to shift control of an undercove unit, known then as the Gray Fox (it has recently been given a new code name), from the Army to the Special Operation Command socom), in Tampa. Gray Fox was formally assigned to socom in July, 2002, at the instigation of RumsfeldÄôs office, which meant that the undercover unit would have a single commander for administration and operational deployment. Then, last fall, RumsfeldÄôs 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 RumsfeldÄôs direction. The order specifically authorized the military Äúto find and finishÄù 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 Äúwould best serve the nationÄù to give the Pentagon complete control over the C.I.A.Äôs own ?©lite paramilitary unit, which has operated covertly in trouble spots around the world for decades. The panelÄôs conclusions, due in February, are foregone, in the view of many former C.I.A. officers. ÄúIt seems like itÄôs going to happen,Äù Howard Hart, who was chief of the C.I.A.Äôs Paramilitary Operations Division before retiring in 1991, told me.
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 Äúto 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.Äù The two former officers listed some of the countriesÄîAlgeria, 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 militaryÄôs expanded covert assignment. ÄúI donÄôt think they can handle the cover,Äù he told me. ÄúTheyÄôve got to have a different mind-set. TheyÄôve got to handle new roles and get into foreign cultures and learn how other people think. If youÄôre going into a village and shooting people, it doesnÄôt matter,Äù Giraldi added. ÄúBut if youÄôre running operations that involve finesse and sensitivity, the military canÄôt do it. Which is why these kind of operations were always run out of the agency.Äù 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 DepartmentÄôs expanded role in covert affairs, a Pentagon adviser assured me, but he did not know how extensive the briefings had been.
ÄúIÄôm conflicted about the idea of operating without congressional oversight,Äù the Pentagon adviser said. ÄúBut IÄôve been told that there will be oversight down to the specific operation.Äù A second Pentagon adviser agreed, with a significant caveat. ÄúThere are reporting requirements,Äù he said. ÄúBut to execute the finding we donÄôt have to go back and say, ÄòWeÄôre going here and there.Äô No nitty-gritty detail and no micromanagement.Äù
The legal questions about the PentagonÄôs right to conduct covert operations without informing Congress have not been resolved. ÄúItÄôs a very, very gray area,Äù said Jeffrey H. Smith, a West Point graduate who served as the C.I.A.Äôs general counsel in the mid-nineteen-nineties. ÄúCongress believes it voted to include all such covert activities carried out by the armed forces. The military says, ÄòNo, the things weÄôre doing are not intelligence actions under the statute but necessary military steps authorized by the President, as Commander-in-Chief, to Äúprepare the battlefield.ÄùÄôÄù Referring to his days at the C.I.A., Smith added, ÄúWe 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 stance.Äù
In his conversation with me, Smith emphasized that he was unaware of the militaryÄôs current plans for expanding covert action. But he said, ÄúCongress has always worried that the Pentagon is going to get us involved in some military misadventure that nobody knows about.Äù
Under RumsfeldÄôs 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 PentagonÄôs current interpretation of its reporting requirement.
The new rules will enable the Special Forces community to set up what it calls Äúaction teamsÄù in the target countries overseas which can be used to find and eliminate terrorist organizations. ÄúDo you remember the right-wing execution squads in El Salvador?Äù the former high-level intelligence official asked me, referring to the military-led gangs that committed atrocities in the early nineteen-eighties. ÄúWe founded them and we financed them,Äù he said. ÄúThe objective now is to recruit locals in any area we want. And we arenÄôt going to tell Congress about it.Äù A former military officer, who has knowledge of the PentagonÄôs commando capabilities, said, ÄúWeÄôre going to be riding with the bad boys.Äù
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. ÄúIt takes a network to fight a network,Äù 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 Äúpseudo gangs,Äù 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 terroristsÄô camps. What worked in Kenya a half-century ago has a wonderful chance of undermining trust and recruitment among todayÄôs terror networks. Forming new pseudo gangs should not be difficult.
ÄúIf a confused young man from Marin County can join up with Al Qaeda,Äù Arquilla wrote, referring to John Walker Lindh, the twenty-year-old Californian who was seized in Afghanistan, Äúthink what professional operatives might do.Äù
A few pilot covert operations were conducted last year, one Pentagon adviser told me, and a terrorist cell in Algeria was Äúrolled upÄù 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. ÄúThe issue is approval for the final authority,Äù the former high-level intelligence official said. ÄúWho gets to say ÄòGet thisÄô or ÄòDo thisÄô?Äù
A retired four-star general said, ÄúThe 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.Äù The general added, ÄúItÄôs the oversight. And youÄôre not going to get WarnerÄùÄîJohn Warner, of Virginia, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services CommitteeÄîÄúand those guys to exercise oversight. This whole thing goes to the Fourth Deck.Äù He was referring to the floor in the Pentagon where Rumsfeld and Cambone have their offices.
ÄúItÄôs a finesse to give power to RumsfeldÄîgiving him the right to act swiftly, decisively, and lethally,Äù the first Pentagon adviser told me. ÄúItÄôs a global free-fire zone.Äù
The Pentagon has tried to work around the limits on covert activities before. In the early nineteen-eighties, a covert Army uni t was set up and authorized to operate overseas with minimal oversight. The results were disastrous. The Special Operation program was initially known as Intelligence Support Activity, or I.S.A., and was administered from a base near Washington (a was, later, Gray Fox). It was established soon after the failed rescue, in April, 1980, of the American hostages in Iran, who wer being held by revolutionary students after the Islamic overthrow of the ShahÄôs regime. At first, the unit was kept secret from man of the senior generals and civilian leaders in the Pentagon, as well as from many members of Congress. It was eventually deploye in the Reagan AdministrationÄôs war against the Sandinista government, in Nicaragua. It was heavily committed to supporting th Contras. By the mid-eighties, however, the I.S.A.Äôs operations had been curtailed, and several of its senior officers wer courtmartialled following a series of financial scandals, some involving arms deals. The affair was known as Äúthe Yellow Frui scandal,Äù after the code name given to one of the I.S.A.Äôs cover organizationsÄîand in many ways the groupÄôs procedures laid the groundwork for the Iran-Contra scandal.
Despite the controversy surrounding Yellow Fruit, the I.S.A. was kept intact as an undercover unit by the Army. ÄúBut we put so many restrictions on it,Äù the second Pentagon adviser said. ÄúIn 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.Äù The adviser acknowledged that the current operations are similar to those two decades earlier, with similar risksÄîand, as he saw it, similar reasons for taking the risks. ÄúWhat drove them then, in terms of Yellow Fruit, was that they had no intelligence on Iran,Äù the adviser told me. ÄúThey had no knowledge of Tehran and no people on the ground who could prepare the battle space.Äù
RumsfeldÄôs 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. ÄúOne of the big challenges was that we didnÄôt have HumintÄùÄîhuman intelligenceÄîÄúcollection capabilities in areas where terrorists existed,Äù the adviser told me. ÄúBecause 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 didnÄôt do Humint to support Special Forces operations overseas. The C.I.A. fought it.Äù Referring to RumsfeldÄôs new authority for covert operations, the first Pentagon adviser told me, ÄúItÄôs not empowering military intelligence. ItÄôs emasculating the C.I.A.Äù
A former senior C.I.A. officer depicted the agencyÄôs eclipse as predictable. ÄúFor years, the agency bent over backward to integrate and co??rdinate with the Pentagon,Äù the former officer said. ÄúWe 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.Äù
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 agencyÄôs director George Tenet, in June, 2004, the White House began Äúcoming down criticallyÄù on analysts in the C.I.A.Äôs Directorate of Intelligence (D.I.) and demanded Äúto see more support for the AdministrationÄôs political position.Äù Porter Goss, TenetÄôs successor, engaged in what the recently retired C.I.A. official described as a Äúpolitical purgeÄù 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, ÄúThe White House carefully reviewed the political analyses of the D.I. so they could sort out the apostates from the true believers.Äù Some senior analysts in the D.I. have turned in their resignationsÄîquietly, 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, includin 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, an Rumsfeld balked. The White House publicly supported the legislation, but House Speaker Dennis Hastert refused to bring House version of the bill to the floor for a voteÄîostensibly in defiance of the President, though it was widely understood i Congress that Hastert had been delegated to stall the bill. After intense White House and Pentagon lobbying, the legislation wa rewritten. The bill that Congress approved sharply reduced the new directorÄôs power, in the name of permitting the Secretary o Defense to maintain his Äústatutory responsibilities.Äù Fred Kaplan, in the online magazine Slate, described the real issues behind HastertÄôs action, quoting a congressional aide who expressed amazement as White House lobbyists bashed the Senate bill and came up Äúwith all sorts of ludicrous reasons why it was unacceptable.Äù
ÄúRummyÄôs plan was to get a compromise in the bill in which the Pentagon keeps its marbles and the C.I.A. loses theirs,Äù the former high-level intelligence official told me. ÄúThen 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 assetsÄùÄîincluding the many intelligence satellites that constantly orbit the world.
ÄúRumsfeld will no longer have to refer anything through the governmentÄôs intelligence wringer,Äù the former official went on. ÄúThe intelligence system was designed to put competing agencies in competition. WhatÄôs missing will be the dynamic tension that insures everyoneÄôs prioritiesÄîin the C.I.A., the D.O.D., the F.B.I., and even the Department of Homeland SecurityÄîare discussed. The most insidious implication of the new system is that Rumsfeld no longer has to tell people what heÄôs doing so they can ask, ÄòWhy are you doing this?Äô or ÄòWhat are your priorities?Äô Now he can keep all of the mattress mice out of it.ÄùÔøº