The following is a remarkable interview of Karen Kwiatkowski who retired from the active duty USAF as a Lieutenant Colonel in early 2003. Her final assignment was in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Under Secretary for Policy Near East South Asia (NESA) Policy directorate. In her responses below, Kwiatkowski describes the manipulation of intelligence on Iraq and Iran and what it would take to avoid an attack on the latter.
I began the interview by asking about Undersecretary of Defense for policy Douglas Feith, whose actions in the Pentagon in the lead-up to the Iraq War were the subject of a recent report by the Pentagon Inspector General.
SWANSON: Did the operations led by Doug Feith gather intelligence?
KWIATKOWSKI: When I spoke to the DoD IG over a year ago (regarding the investigation that recently produced a report pronouncing the Feith operations as inappropriate), I tried to explain to the IG that what the Feith group and the Office of Special Plans was doing was information manipulation, not the production of what we legitimately call "intelligence." Intelligence is vetted, contextualized, and conservative. What Feith's OSP wanted, needed and produced was inflammatory bits of data, cherry-picked statements, and isolated observations by often shady characters, presented as if they were vetted, contextualized and conservative intelligence. Unlike intelligence, this effort was designed not to inform decision makers, but to shape a national conversation such that decisions already made by the administration (to topple Saddam and get bases in Iraq) could be pursued without political backlash. That's what Doug Feith and his folks did for Bush and Cheney in the Pentagon.
SWANSON: Did they do so without informing Congress of the fact?
KWIATKOWSKI: I can't verify that Feith's office, and others in the Pentagon did or didn't talk to some Congressmen about their little information operation. It has been shown by the Senate investigation that the CIA itself was not aware that some of the results of the OSP effort had been inserted into their system as if it was intelligence, without full disclosure of sources, etc. It seems clear that many in the Congress were fed OSP derived and developed information and talking points from the Pentagon -- and that this information was believed by those Congressmen to be "intelligence" instead of propaganda and falsehoods. Frankly, I believe that many in Congress wanted this invasion of Iraq, and didn't care if what they were seeing from Feith, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld was true or not. This is why "politicized" intelligence – the focus of the so-called Part II investigation was so critical, and so successfully opposed and blocked by many Senators and Congressmen.
It seems even more certain that the New York Times and other major papers were fed the same type of material by Pentagon and Office of the Vice President as if it were verified intelligence, and that they believed that it was. Doug Feith today denies he did anything wrong at all. Feith and many of the neoconservatives are fundamentally ethically challenged when it comes to American national security. Given everything we know, it is unlikely any of these war advocates told the truth to Congress about the story they were helping to "sell" to Congress and the rest of the country back in 2002 and early 2003.
SWANSON: Were Feith's actions illegal?
KWIATKOWSKI: Like most people, I believe that public servants are bound by their sworn oath of service 24/7 while they hold a public office. Feith, and political appointees above and below him, presented false or unfounded information to the media, the Congress and to the President's speechwriters, as if it were not only factual, but as intelligence community consensus. As public servants, on the U.S. public payroll, what they did seems to me to be illegal. The Central Intelligence Agency is the only legal source of national intelligence to the Congress, and these folks were not associated with the CIA, nor were they intelligence professionals. However, the DoD IG did not appear to find the OSP culpable in this regard, hence their conclusion of "inappropriate" rather than "illegal."
SWANSON: But is that the right conclusion?
KWIATKOWSKI: My understanding of the oath of office is that we are to abide by the laws of the land, and protect the Constitution. It is assumed that this means one's conduct must be generally honest. We also have the old Ten Commandments, and that annoying little rule about bearing false witness. A good prosecutor could probably make the case that these guys – Feith, Shulsky, Cheney, etc, broke several other laws. Speaking to the press on issues of national security and top levels of intelligence out of school or without specific authorization from the classifying authority is illegal. For example, if I as a Lt Col in the Air Force, or any member of the military or civil service had given either the press or any Congressmen or women any information that I described as Top Secret or Secret level intelligence, as did the OSP and OSP connected political appointees in 2002 and early 2003, we would have been charged with a crime, and successfully prosecuted. In that prosecution, our intent would have come into play, and this is critical as well. Why exactly were Feith and company lying, and conspiring to mislead Congress?
The neoconservatives have said "But we believed Chalabi, and we believed all this bad info about Iraq WMD capability." If they truly believed it, their planning for the invasion and the aftermath by the OSD would have been remarkably different, in about a hundred different ways. They say they believed Saddam was dangerous, yet we went in as if it would be a cakewalk. The neoconservative claim that they truly believed these dangers existed in Iraq is belied by their reluctance to support more troops initially, and by their decision to casually disregard border security, and to idiotically write off the Ba-ath Party infrastructure as superfluous to Iraq's post war recovery.
There is no doubt in my mind that what they were impeachable offenses. In fact, many in the military and civil service, and political appointees are fired for far less malfeasance and incompetence in protecting the nations' interests and security than admittedly has been done by Feith and his cohorts. SecDef Gates just "impeached" the Secretary of the Army Harvey and Major General Weightman over the treatment of wounded Iraq and Afghanistan vets at Walter Reed Hospital. There is no doubt in my mind that Feith, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld, as well as Abe Shulsky should have been (or in the case of Abe Shulsky, still in the Pentagon – be) formally impeached for incompetence, neglect of and disregard for national security, and reckless malfeasance in the conduct of their duties. Impeachment and prosecution for criminal misconduct while holding public office is certainly appropriate in these cases. I also recommend former prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega's new book (The United States vs. George W. Bush et al) that makes a powerful case that Feith and others are guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States.
SWANSON: What superiors to Feith bear responsibility?
KWIATKOWSKI: Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush. And the Congress, particularly those who voted (ignoring serious testimony of Feith's inappropriateness for that position) to confirm Feith as the Defense Under Secretary for Policy back in 2001.
SWANSON: What do you make of Allison Hantschel's thoughts on the blogosphere and the media's role in Iran War propaganda?