Free agents

The elephant in the room concerning the Wilson—Plame leak scandal and the Able Danger firings is that the very agencies charged with protecting our country have turned inward, practicing their dark craft to unseat a duly elected President in a time of war.  Unfortunately, the inside—the—beltway intelligence community, the DC military establishment, and their allies in the press are not the only ones trying to subvert the policies of our wartime leaders.

A Time Magazine article published in September shows that the deceptions and dangerous power plays even extend to at least some of our military intelligence personnel in the field.  A piece by Joe Klein with a contribution by Michael Ware* served as a vehicle to allow 'more than a dozen' current and former intelligence officers to unburden their frustrations about the Iraq war.  While voicing a few valid criticisms, the long, sometimes confusing article also reveals that this group was implementing an alternative agenda, which seems to deliberately undermine US policies in Iraq.

What 'insurgency'?

The most basic function of military intelligence units and staff sections is to tell the commander everything possible about the enemy the forces are facing.  Yet, this straightforward task has been one of the most confusing issues since the rise of the so—called 'insurgency' in the summer of 2003.  The excuse proffered by our military and civilian intell services was that we had little or no human intelligence (HUMINT) assets on the ground; we had focused too much on technical gadgetry to gather information; no one was in place to prepare the populace for the occupation, etc.  But the Time article and actual events in Iraq put the lie to these myths.

Even though the strategic objectives for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) were a rehash of shortsighted policies of previous administrations, the intell officers had to admit that 'Franks succeeded brilliantly at his task.'  But the critics seem more worried about briefing Gen. Franks about operational matters outside their purview rather than informing Franks about how many enemy forces had escaped to fight another day.  Franks himself judged that tens of thousands of Saddam Fedayeen, Special Republican Guard troops, and Iraqi Mukhabarat had successfully melted into the countryside.  He must have gotten that intelligence from somewhere, but apparently not from the same people who now complain about his stubbornness and lack of foresight.

The initial occupation phase did present a somewhat confusing intelligence picture, but it was not an impossible puzzle to solve.  Information on the enemy is never perfect, but to those in the Coalition Provisional Authority's (CPA) operations/intelligence cell, data coming in during the first months of the occupation painted a more than adequate picture of the situation.  This was largely the same information available to Lt. Gen. Sanchez's combined joint staff, and showed the return of Baathist/Sunni former regime elements (FRE), infiltration of Iranian agents of influence, and the gradual deterioration of security in Baghdad neighborhoods around the Green Zone.

The terms used to describe the enemy in Iraq have also been used to muddy the waters about the make—up of our adversary.  We've been told at different times that the bad guys are anti—Iraqi forces, anti—Coalition forces, guerrillas, former regime elements, and so forth.  Notably, our intrepid intelligence officers have settled on the term most favored by the press: the ever—popular 'insurgents.'  Of course, this is meant to convey some undeserved noble quality to savages who killed and maimed Coalition troops and Iraqi civilians well before there was an established Iraqi government — a necessary target for a 'classic insurgency.'

However, by the time we'd fought multiple battles in Fallujah and Najaf the following year, the term 'insurgent' should have been permanently trashed.  The combat divisions and regiments in the field understood that we were not facing a popular uprising, but rather a guerrilla army composed of remnants of Saddam's Special Forces, the Iraqi Intelligence Service, Fedayeen irregular fighters, and some thousands of foreign fighters, including Syrian and Iranian intelligence cadres. After all, the title of Klein's Time article, 'Saddam's Revenge,' seems to confirm this.

But for most of the article, our intell dirty dozen and Joe Klein continue to obfuscate and confuse the American people as to the true situation in Iraq.  After all of the complaints and criticisms, they ultimately make this admission:

In a sense, both Rumsfeld and Abizaid were right.  The backbone of the insurgency was thousands of Baathist remnants organizing a guerrilla war against the Americans.  According to documents later seized by the U.S. military, Saddam——who had been changing locations frequently until his capture in December 2003——tried to stay in charge of the rebellion.

In other words, the enemy was not misjudged by SecDef, the CENTCOM Commander, our commanders in the field, or even by the President himself.  And most importantly, Lt. Gen. Sanchez's 10—month long Sitzkrieg is probably linked to an operational level intelligence apparatus that sometimes obfuscated the organization and intentions of our enemies.  Thankfully, this disease didn't affect the exceptional performance of our tactical—level intelligence personnel in the field.

So, why would Klein and these intelligence officers reinforce this notion of a 'classic insurgency' while simultaneously confirming it was, in fact, a Baathist/Sunni guerrilla army?  Why do they insist that U.S. intelligence still doesn't know enough about the Baathist trust networks, and then proceed to describe in detail the key players of the very same network and their operations?  Klein's article unintentionally provides us clues to the real agenda of our stalwart intelligence officers.

Unstated policy or disobeying orders?

It's apparent that it was hard for the intell staff and a few military commanders to acquiesce to Ambassador Paul Bremer's authority in Iraq.  While some may criticize his policy of de—Baathification, complaining about not 'getting along' with the country Administrator is beside the point, and is never an excuse for failure to carry out his orders.  Bremer's number one objective in the country was establishing a secure environment; clearly a military task, and one that should have involved killing and defeating Saddam's irregulars.  Yet, if Klein and the intell officers are to be believed, an odd role reversal took place in the first months of the occupation:

The soldiers wanted to try diplomacy and began reaching out to the less extreme elements of the insurgency to bring them into negotiations over Iraq's political future.  The diplomats took a harder line, refusing to negotiate with the enemy.

Despite clear statements of policy from Bremer and firm guidance about security priorities, the agents of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), or uniformed MI Soldiers, or both — the article is not clear on exactly who it was — presented a plan to deal with the tribes located in the Sunni dominated Al—Anbar Province.  The fact that intelligence personnel of the US military had developed such a plan indicates that they had a significant number of contacts in the Triangle, and that these relationships were, in fact, well developed.

Indeed, the process of de—Baathification required a fairly good knowledge of Saddam's cronies in order to provide a baseline for defense intelligence sections and criminal investigators to conduct screening interrogations.  This was critical for the newly established ministries of the CPA so competent and cleared Iraqi staff could assume their administrative and management duties.  In other words, intell had some pretty solid HUMINT on Sunnis and Baathists, and the layout in the Al—Anbar Province — despite public claims to the contrary.

According to Klein, intell officers were focused more on deal—making rather than providing intelligence to formulate plans for military combat operations to defeat the enemy.  The key question is this: on whose authority were these contacts made? And why was military intelligence taking the lead in political deal—making with Sunni tribal leaders and former (?) Baathist big—wigs?  This type of operation is clearly under the purview of civilian governance officials, though military assets would certainly be in support.

There is also the question of timing.  The new team of General Casey and John Negroponte assumed duties in Baghdad in mid—2004, and had then begun their top—to—bottom reassessment of the situation.  But the US military had already ventured out to conduct their own experiments in diplomacy with the enemy over two months earlier.  According to Klein, in April of 2004, military intelligence officers were directly negotiating with Abdullah al—Janabi, the rebel leader in Fallujah.  The meetings ended to be followed by the massacre and desecration of the four Blackwater Security guards, and later, the first Marine offensive, which stopped short of its final objectives.

Nevertheless, the military wanted to prove its theories on bartering with the enemy would work to improve the security situation in Iraq.  In one of the more controversial moves of the war, the commander of the I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) established the Fallujah Brigade around a cadre of Baathist military leaders.  Meanwhile in Mosul, then—Army Maj. Gen. David Petraeus placed Saddam—era General and former high—level Baathist, Mahmud Muhammad al—Maris, in charge of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps [ICDC] units guarding the border.  Arrangements involving the opposition don't just happen overnight, thereby further reinforcing the notion that intelligence sections in Iraq had a fairly robust HUMINT capability.

Ultimately, both experiments with using Baathist chains of command failed.  The Marines disbanded the Fallujah Brigade in early September 2004, and officially pronounced it dead and buried.  The security situation in Mosul had deteriorated so badly that major combat operations were undertaken at the end of 2004 to restore order in the rebellious city.

The re—establishment of high—ranking Baathist/Sunni officers raised some basic questions about who was in charge of overall policies governing the course of reconstruction and the campaign against the 'insurgents.'  Bremer's eventual softening of his original de—Baathification policy was meant to return low—level Baath Party members who were needed for local reconstruction project management and basic shop foreman duties; not to place former general officers or high—level party officials in positions of power in the new Iraqi security forces.  This policy adjustment may have been misinterpreted by the high—level military command and their intelligence sections, but the intell officers' detailed description of contacts with the enemy makes this a remote possibility.

This knowledge about Saddam's chain of command was also evident before the Iraq ground phase of OIF started.  Franks' operation had an extensive information warfare component that urged Iraqi field commanders to surrender their units, and an effort to contact Iraqi senior civilian government officials to entice them to leave the country.  To make this operation a success, our operators had to have been able to intercept and transmit on the Iraqi radio nets, landline communications, and on the internet.  Of course, this also meant we knew their phone numbers and email addresses.  They must have also had good intelligence on leadership personalities and their tendencies for cooperation and defection.

The CIA and legacy press campaign to unseat a sitting President may be a massive ruse designed to confuse and weaken our enemies.  But the fact that some of our intelligence personnel also played a dangerous game of deception in a military theater of operations effectively nullifies that theory.  Our service members' lives are at stake, as are the aspirations of the Iraqi people, because their success will improve the long term national security of the US.  So, why have some critical intelligence operations seemingly been deliberately balled up?  There are two possibilities, both of which deserve further examination.

One explanation might be that our agencies have been trying to extract some measure of revenge on Ahmad Chalabi for the failure of their abortive coup attempt in 1996.  Saddam's armed forces and intelligence services thoroughly penetrated the operation despite warnings from Mr. Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress.

But why disparage and denigrate someone who years earlier had been correct in his assessment of Saddam's infiltration?  And why did our side not take advantage of his understanding of Saddam's covert network?

While the Chalabi angle is an important line of inquiry, the extent and duration of our left—leaning intelligence agencies' high—risk campaign against our government suggest something much bigger than satisfying a lust for revenge, or even to nail a conservative President.  The Oil—for—Food scam demonstrates how vast are the sums involved in the world oil trade, and how a minor percentage of the funds available to an oil despot can finance literally billions of dollars a year in bribes, suitably disguised as commissions, trading profits, and even unrelated transactions in countries all over the globe. Non—criminal uses of a tiny percentage of oil revenues can pay for even more opportunities for former officials to prosper, once their active government service is over.

The President's move away from our decades—old relationship with the Saudis ultimately threatens many deeply—entrenched interests.  The Saudis have been buying military hardware, handing out consulting contracts, funding think tanks, and directly and indirectly hiring retired government and military employees for many years.  The prospects for future cushy retirements, robust sales, lucrative stock portfolios, and large scale grants funded by oil oligarchs diminish to the extent that a free and democratic Iraq emerges as a model for its Middle Eastern neighbors.

Long overdue is a comprehensive study of the ways the Saudis and other oil powers have spent a minor portion of their oil wealth to fund career opportunities for retired officials and their relatives.

It's clear that our military intelligence community can't claim that our wartime chain of command is ignorant of the enemy in Iraq, while simultaneously providing detailed descriptions of the deadly Sunni/Baathist trust network.  Unfortunately, their deception also shows that the Saudi War against GW continues unabated.  President Bush's approach to the War on Terror has taken established, realist national security policies and turned them on their head.  If he stands firm, the DoD and intelligence agencies' decades—old profitable relationship with Saddam's Sunni cousins in Saudi Arabia will eventually come to an end; but not without a fight.


* Intelligence officers spilling their guts to Joe Klein seems rather odd, since he is not normally known to cover stories about military and national security matters.  As "Anonymous," Klein wrote the book Primary Colors, a fictionalized account of Bill Clinton's 1992 run to the Whitehouse.  Michael Ware contributing to the article from Baghdad is an even more interesting choice given his history.

Douglas Hanson is the national security correspondent of The American Thinker.

The elephant in the room concerning the Wilson—Plame leak scandal and the Able Danger firings is that the very agencies charged with protecting our country have turned inward, practicing their dark craft to unseat a duly elected President in a time of war.  Unfortunately, the inside—the—beltway intelligence community, the DC military establishment, and their allies in the press are not the only ones trying to subvert the policies of our wartime leaders.

A Time Magazine article published in September shows that the deceptions and dangerous power plays even extend to at least some of our military intelligence personnel in the field.  A piece by Joe Klein with a contribution by Michael Ware* served as a vehicle to allow 'more than a dozen' current and former intelligence officers to unburden their frustrations about the Iraq war.  While voicing a few valid criticisms, the long, sometimes confusing article also reveals that this group was implementing an alternative agenda, which seems to deliberately undermine US policies in Iraq.

What 'insurgency'?

The most basic function of military intelligence units and staff sections is to tell the commander everything possible about the enemy the forces are facing.  Yet, this straightforward task has been one of the most confusing issues since the rise of the so—called 'insurgency' in the summer of 2003.  The excuse proffered by our military and civilian intell services was that we had little or no human intelligence (HUMINT) assets on the ground; we had focused too much on technical gadgetry to gather information; no one was in place to prepare the populace for the occupation, etc.  But the Time article and actual events in Iraq put the lie to these myths.

Even though the strategic objectives for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) were a rehash of shortsighted policies of previous administrations, the intell officers had to admit that 'Franks succeeded brilliantly at his task.'  But the critics seem more worried about briefing Gen. Franks about operational matters outside their purview rather than informing Franks about how many enemy forces had escaped to fight another day.  Franks himself judged that tens of thousands of Saddam Fedayeen, Special Republican Guard troops, and Iraqi Mukhabarat had successfully melted into the countryside.  He must have gotten that intelligence from somewhere, but apparently not from the same people who now complain about his stubbornness and lack of foresight.

The initial occupation phase did present a somewhat confusing intelligence picture, but it was not an impossible puzzle to solve.  Information on the enemy is never perfect, but to those in the Coalition Provisional Authority's (CPA) operations/intelligence cell, data coming in during the first months of the occupation painted a more than adequate picture of the situation.  This was largely the same information available to Lt. Gen. Sanchez's combined joint staff, and showed the return of Baathist/Sunni former regime elements (FRE), infiltration of Iranian agents of influence, and the gradual deterioration of security in Baghdad neighborhoods around the Green Zone.

The terms used to describe the enemy in Iraq have also been used to muddy the waters about the make—up of our adversary.  We've been told at different times that the bad guys are anti—Iraqi forces, anti—Coalition forces, guerrillas, former regime elements, and so forth.  Notably, our intrepid intelligence officers have settled on the term most favored by the press: the ever—popular 'insurgents.'  Of course, this is meant to convey some undeserved noble quality to savages who killed and maimed Coalition troops and Iraqi civilians well before there was an established Iraqi government — a necessary target for a 'classic insurgency.'

However, by the time we'd fought multiple battles in Fallujah and Najaf the following year, the term 'insurgent' should have been permanently trashed.  The combat divisions and regiments in the field understood that we were not facing a popular uprising, but rather a guerrilla army composed of remnants of Saddam's Special Forces, the Iraqi Intelligence Service, Fedayeen irregular fighters, and some thousands of foreign fighters, including Syrian and Iranian intelligence cadres. After all, the title of Klein's Time article, 'Saddam's Revenge,' seems to confirm this.

But for most of the article, our intell dirty dozen and Joe Klein continue to obfuscate and confuse the American people as to the true situation in Iraq.  After all of the complaints and criticisms, they ultimately make this admission:

In a sense, both Rumsfeld and Abizaid were right.  The backbone of the insurgency was thousands of Baathist remnants organizing a guerrilla war against the Americans.  According to documents later seized by the U.S. military, Saddam——who had been changing locations frequently until his capture in December 2003——tried to stay in charge of the rebellion.

In other words, the enemy was not misjudged by SecDef, the CENTCOM Commander, our commanders in the field, or even by the President himself.  And most importantly, Lt. Gen. Sanchez's 10—month long Sitzkrieg is probably linked to an operational level intelligence apparatus that sometimes obfuscated the organization and intentions of our enemies.  Thankfully, this disease didn't affect the exceptional performance of our tactical—level intelligence personnel in the field.

So, why would Klein and these intelligence officers reinforce this notion of a 'classic insurgency' while simultaneously confirming it was, in fact, a Baathist/Sunni guerrilla army?  Why do they insist that U.S. intelligence still doesn't know enough about the Baathist trust networks, and then proceed to describe in detail the key players of the very same network and their operations?  Klein's article unintentionally provides us clues to the real agenda of our stalwart intelligence officers.

Unstated policy or disobeying orders?

It's apparent that it was hard for the intell staff and a few military commanders to acquiesce to Ambassador Paul Bremer's authority in Iraq.  While some may criticize his policy of de—Baathification, complaining about not 'getting along' with the country Administrator is beside the point, and is never an excuse for failure to carry out his orders.  Bremer's number one objective in the country was establishing a secure environment; clearly a military task, and one that should have involved killing and defeating Saddam's irregulars.  Yet, if Klein and the intell officers are to be believed, an odd role reversal took place in the first months of the occupation:

The soldiers wanted to try diplomacy and began reaching out to the less extreme elements of the insurgency to bring them into negotiations over Iraq's political future.  The diplomats took a harder line, refusing to negotiate with the enemy.

Despite clear statements of policy from Bremer and firm guidance about security priorities, the agents of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), or uniformed MI Soldiers, or both — the article is not clear on exactly who it was — presented a plan to deal with the tribes located in the Sunni dominated Al—Anbar Province.  The fact that intelligence personnel of the US military had developed such a plan indicates that they had a significant number of contacts in the Triangle, and that these relationships were, in fact, well developed.

Indeed, the process of de—Baathification required a fairly good knowledge of Saddam's cronies in order to provide a baseline for defense intelligence sections and criminal investigators to conduct screening interrogations.  This was critical for the newly established ministries of the CPA so competent and cleared Iraqi staff could assume their administrative and management duties.  In other words, intell had some pretty solid HUMINT on Sunnis and Baathists, and the layout in the Al—Anbar Province — despite public claims to the contrary.

According to Klein, intell officers were focused more on deal—making rather than providing intelligence to formulate plans for military combat operations to defeat the enemy.  The key question is this: on whose authority were these contacts made? And why was military intelligence taking the lead in political deal—making with Sunni tribal leaders and former (?) Baathist big—wigs?  This type of operation is clearly under the purview of civilian governance officials, though military assets would certainly be in support.

There is also the question of timing.  The new team of General Casey and John Negroponte assumed duties in Baghdad in mid—2004, and had then begun their top—to—bottom reassessment of the situation.  But the US military had already ventured out to conduct their own experiments in diplomacy with the enemy over two months earlier.  According to Klein, in April of 2004, military intelligence officers were directly negotiating with Abdullah al—Janabi, the rebel leader in Fallujah.  The meetings ended to be followed by the massacre and desecration of the four Blackwater Security guards, and later, the first Marine offensive, which stopped short of its final objectives.

Nevertheless, the military wanted to prove its theories on bartering with the enemy would work to improve the security situation in Iraq.  In one of the more controversial moves of the war, the commander of the I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) established the Fallujah Brigade around a cadre of Baathist military leaders.  Meanwhile in Mosul, then—Army Maj. Gen. David Petraeus placed Saddam—era General and former high—level Baathist, Mahmud Muhammad al—Maris, in charge of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps [ICDC] units guarding the border.  Arrangements involving the opposition don't just happen overnight, thereby further reinforcing the notion that intelligence sections in Iraq had a fairly robust HUMINT capability.

Ultimately, both experiments with using Baathist chains of command failed.  The Marines disbanded the Fallujah Brigade in early September 2004, and officially pronounced it dead and buried.  The security situation in Mosul had deteriorated so badly that major combat operations were undertaken at the end of 2004 to restore order in the rebellious city.

The re—establishment of high—ranking Baathist/Sunni officers raised some basic questions about who was in charge of overall policies governing the course of reconstruction and the campaign against the 'insurgents.'  Bremer's eventual softening of his original de—Baathification policy was meant to return low—level Baath Party members who were needed for local reconstruction project management and basic shop foreman duties; not to place former general officers or high—level party officials in positions of power in the new Iraqi security forces.  This policy adjustment may have been misinterpreted by the high—level military command and their intelligence sections, but the intell officers' detailed description of contacts with the enemy makes this a remote possibility.

This knowledge about Saddam's chain of command was also evident before the Iraq ground phase of OIF started.  Franks' operation had an extensive information warfare component that urged Iraqi field commanders to surrender their units, and an effort to contact Iraqi senior civilian government officials to entice them to leave the country.  To make this operation a success, our operators had to have been able to intercept and transmit on the Iraqi radio nets, landline communications, and on the internet.  Of course, this also meant we knew their phone numbers and email addresses.  They must have also had good intelligence on leadership personalities and their tendencies for cooperation and defection.

The CIA and legacy press campaign to unseat a sitting President may be a massive ruse designed to confuse and weaken our enemies.  But the fact that some of our intelligence personnel also played a dangerous game of deception in a military theater of operations effectively nullifies that theory.  Our service members' lives are at stake, as are the aspirations of the Iraqi people, because their success will improve the long term national security of the US.  So, why have some critical intelligence operations seemingly been deliberately balled up?  There are two possibilities, both of which deserve further examination.

One explanation might be that our agencies have been trying to extract some measure of revenge on Ahmad Chalabi for the failure of their abortive coup attempt in 1996.  Saddam's armed forces and intelligence services thoroughly penetrated the operation despite warnings from Mr. Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress.

But why disparage and denigrate someone who years earlier had been correct in his assessment of Saddam's infiltration?  And why did our side not take advantage of his understanding of Saddam's covert network?

While the Chalabi angle is an important line of inquiry, the extent and duration of our left—leaning intelligence agencies' high—risk campaign against our government suggest something much bigger than satisfying a lust for revenge, or even to nail a conservative President.  The Oil—for—Food scam demonstrates how vast are the sums involved in the world oil trade, and how a minor percentage of the funds available to an oil despot can finance literally billions of dollars a year in bribes, suitably disguised as commissions, trading profits, and even unrelated transactions in countries all over the globe. Non—criminal uses of a tiny percentage of oil revenues can pay for even more opportunities for former officials to prosper, once their active government service is over.

The President's move away from our decades—old relationship with the Saudis ultimately threatens many deeply—entrenched interests.  The Saudis have been buying military hardware, handing out consulting contracts, funding think tanks, and directly and indirectly hiring retired government and military employees for many years.  The prospects for future cushy retirements, robust sales, lucrative stock portfolios, and large scale grants funded by oil oligarchs diminish to the extent that a free and democratic Iraq emerges as a model for its Middle Eastern neighbors.

Long overdue is a comprehensive study of the ways the Saudis and other oil powers have spent a minor portion of their oil wealth to fund career opportunities for retired officials and their relatives.

It's clear that our military intelligence community can't claim that our wartime chain of command is ignorant of the enemy in Iraq, while simultaneously providing detailed descriptions of the deadly Sunni/Baathist trust network.  Unfortunately, their deception also shows that the Saudi War against GW continues unabated.  President Bush's approach to the War on Terror has taken established, realist national security policies and turned them on their head.  If he stands firm, the DoD and intelligence agencies' decades—old profitable relationship with Saddam's Sunni cousins in Saudi Arabia will eventually come to an end; but not without a fight.


* Intelligence officers spilling their guts to Joe Klein seems rather odd, since he is not normally known to cover stories about military and national security matters.  As "Anonymous," Klein wrote the book Primary Colors, a fictionalized account of Bill Clinton's 1992 run to the Whitehouse.  Michael Ware contributing to the article from Baghdad is an even more interesting choice given his history.

Douglas Hanson is the national security correspondent of The American Thinker.