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The Pentagon PR
Machine At Work


Steven Rosenfeld is a senior editor for TomPaine.com.

The Pentagon has renamed a small but controversial office that, according to critics, prepared its own analyses of Iraq-related intelligence for use by the Secretary of Defense and White House to justify the war in Iraq. The office was at the center of accusations the administration ignored more measured analyses of the threat posed by Iraq produced by the Central Intelligence Agency and Department of State.

The Office of Special Plans (OSP), which reported to Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, was created in October 2002 to deal with the global terror threat. It was later expanded to assist with planning the military's build-up for the Iraq war and post-conflict reconstruction, various Pentagon spokesmen have said.

A report in New York Newsday on Aug. 12 said military officials this July decided the office should revert to its original name, the Northern Gulf Affairs Office. A Pentagon spokesman confirmed the report, saying the restored name of the regional policy office was a better and more accurate description of its role and responsibilities.

The name change is significant because the Pentagon has a vast and sophisticated public relations operation and does not act without good reason. The OSP had drawn fire from both the press and politicians. Articles in American and British newspapers alleged it was the administration's ideological hub, pushing the hardest for war in Iraq. Democrats in Congress echoed that charge, calling for various investigations, although those efforts have been stymied by the Republican-majority Congress.

Under-Secretary Feith and other Pentagon officials downplayed OSP's significance, saying administration critics who disagreed with the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and Iraq's alleged links to Al Qaida had turned the OSP into a larger-than-life target.

However, press reports that career intelligence officers in the CIA and State Department were also critical of the office prompted Feith and his boss, William Luti, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Near East and South Asian Affairs, to hold a rare press conference on June 4th to address the allegations.

"There have been some people who have kind of concocted a goulash of snippets about this team that was working on the terrorist interconnections and the Special Plans Office, and they mixed them up when there's no basis for the mix," Feith said, according to a transcript of the press conference.

"There were some accounts that asserted that the team dealt with the weapons of mass destruction issue, and there have been a number of stories in recent days that suggested that this was a team that somehow developed the case on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and it didn't -- I mean, it -- and that is also flatly not true."

But the allegations did not go away. On July 24, at a hearing by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Jane Harmon (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat, summarized the concerns this way, before asking Pentagon officials to comment:

What role did the OSP play in last fall's ever-changing justifications for going to war? And what role did it play in what critics say is a poorly-planned occupation?

"There is swirling around Washington the view that the CIA and our regular intelligence community is not what is being listened to by this White House," Harmon said, according to a transcript. "It is a rogue operation operating out of the Defense Department called the Office of Special Plans, and there's a cell there with a lot of outside consultants who are producing intelligence insulated from adequate collegial vetting and comment by the regular intelligence community."

Officials at the hearing, such as former CIA Director James Woolsey, who now sits on the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, shed little light in their response to the panel.

Meanwhile, speculation about the office continued. Several articles in the British press and left-leaning American publications named a handful of OSP staffers, saying people such as Abram Shulsky, who headed the office, had long ties to neo-conservative think tanks -- like other top Pentagon appointees. Articles described shared political histories going back to the 1970s, suggesting that those directing the OSP's work were finally enacting long-held agendas.

But beyond the question of whether the OSP was "a rogue operation," are unanswered questions. What role did it play in last fall's ever-changing justifications for going to war? And what role did it play in what critics say is a poorly-planned occupation?

The office clearly has helped shape the administration's neo-con foreign policy. There's no shortage of articles where ex-defense officials or recent retirees have described how the Pentagon out-maneuvered career diplomats and intelligence officers in formulating the war and occupation plans.

"Without a doubt, the [Pentagon] policy division has the most significant intellectual capabilities in the government," Richard Perle told a Wall Street Journal editorial page editor, in an early August piece praising Douglas Feith and the OSP.

In recent weeks, TomPaine.com has made repeated efforts to obtain a list of the OSP staffers to evaluate these claims, but those efforts have not been successful.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, continues to boast about its postwar operation, issuing daily press releases touting those successes on its Web site, often saying it is now facing problems in Iraq because it was successful in the war. One facet in maintaining that positive drum beat, no doubt, is eliminating the name of the office drawing unwanted criticism -- the Office of Special Plans.

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Published: Aug 27 2003


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