By David Swanson
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?
KWIATKOWSKI: The great promise of the internet may be that it brings us back to the future, so to speak. In the 1700s, de Toqueville was amazed with our American obsession with information, our abundance of little newspapers, everyone a reporter, everyone with an opinion to share, and many interested parties reading and debating these opinions and observations. This energy struck him as uniquely American, and today, this energy is global, and it is embodied in the internet, in the blogosphere specifically. The blogosphere is that rough, raw and personal reporting, complete with elements of gossip and imagination. Mainstream media is establishment media, the kings’ notices to the serfs. I think Allison’s investigation into how well or how poorly the truth was reported in the run-up to Iraq, within the blogosphere and by the mainstream media, is not only important, but points us into a new place that may in fact lead us to fewer wars rather than more wars. After Iran, that is….
SWANSON: What is the Iran Directorate?
KWIATKOWSKI: I have heard that it is much like what we knew as the expanded Iraq desk, the alternative nomenclature for the Office of Special Plans directed by Abe Shulsky in 2002 and 2003. Incidentally – the OSP, when formally separated from our spaces in late August 2002 was described to us by our boss Bill Luti (now at the National Security Council under Elliot Abrams) as the “expanded Iraq desk.” However, within weeks, the two people working the Iran desk (Larry Franklin and Ladan Archin) were moved permanently into the OSP, indicating that in practical terms, Iraq and Iran policies were unified. I have heard Abe Shulsky runs the Iran office or Directorate today. Ladan Archin, a political appointee who worked with former Iran desk officer Larry Franklin, is reported to be working for Shulsky in the same capacity as she did in OSP in 2002. When observers note the similarities between the thoroughly discredited OSP and today’s Iran Directorate under Shulsky, in terms of leadership, leakage of falsehoods and talking points designed to demonize Iran’s government, and promote ideas of a Iranian threat to the United States, the “need” for the U.S. to foment “democracy” in Iran, and a warmongering agenda, they are on track. It’s a real shame.
SWANSON: How does intelligence gathering on Iran compare to that on Iraq?
KWIATKOWSKI: This I don’t know. Judging from what is coming out of the Pentagon, there may be some good news. Peter Pace, as well as many other active duty generals, seem to be trying to put the brakes on the hysterics coming from the political side of the Pentagon. They seem to be saying go slow, and seem to be somewhat willing to contradict the propaganda, to stray from the political appointed talking points that demand urgent war and destruction of Iran’s current government, and its infrastructure. However, this hesitance on the part of military leadership may be overridden by the nature of our intelligence on Iran. In Iraq, we were great in technical intelligence, having bombed, overflew, tested defenses and sanctioned Iraq for a dozen years. But we had no reliable intel on the human side, and the politicized fantasies of Wolfowitz, Feith and Chalabi and others filled a gap that the CIA had little solid HUMINT to combat. Iran, on the other hand, is not a dictatorship, and it is a place we and the Europeans trade and do business. It is a country known for working with Israel and ourselves when it is profitable to do so (Iran-Contra, efforts to weaken Saddam Hussein in the 1980s and 1990s, and our own efforts supporting the Iranian terrorist group MEK to weaken the mullahs). Thus we have lots of HUMINT on Iran – and so we think that means we know something. But our HUMINT is incomplete, heavily skewed to those we deal with – the westernized, the religious wackos in the MEK, and political opportunist elements within Iran. What I am saying is we may know a lot less about Iran than we did about Iraq in 2002 – but we may be deluded on both the CIA side and the political fantasy side into thinking we understand Iran better, and hence won’t repeat the mistake we made in deciding to invade Iraq.
SWANSON: If White House claims on Iranian nuclear program were true, would they be grounds for war?
KWIATKOWSKI: Most of the world understands that the White House is making false statements on Iran’s capabilities and intentions. But even if those claims were true, our own track record is not only to not bomb or invade a country that is developing a potential for a nuclear weapon, but to assist them in proceeding openly and as safely as possible. Pakistan, India, even North Korea and our recent moves of assistance – this is how we usually react. There is only one country that we do not demand sign the NPT, only one country where we do not require transparency in their nuclear programs. That country is Israel. Thus – we have two functional models for dealing with Iran. We can treat them like we do Pakistan, India, Russia, China. North Korea, or France, or we can treat them like we do Israel. Either way is fine with me, and neither way requires attacking them and killing innocent people.
SWANSON: If White House claims on Iranian assistance in Iraq were true, would they be grounds for war?
KWIATKOWSKI: If their claims were true, and we had a declaration of war with Iraq, then possibly we could say we must extend the war. But remember, we are not “at war” with Iraq. We are ostensibly in Iraq to help them be a democracy, to allow them to become wealthy and healthy and wise on the sale of their own oil, to make them a model country in the region. Isn’t that how the administration likes to put it? We are not “at war” in Iraq. Our forces and bases in Iraq are also not there legally, we have no officially sanctioned Status of Forces Agreement, no independent legitimate government in Iraq that has invited our forces in, and that freely hosts our forces. For these reasons as well, it is unlikely that we can claim to legally extend violence to Iran because of what happens in Iraq.
SWANSON: When did you learn of Iranian offers to negotiate that were rejected by the Bush Administration?
KWIATKOWSKI: I read about them when they were made public. That these outreach efforts (much like letters from Ahmadinejad never being read by the President) fall on rocky ground doesn’t do much for our reputation or our public claims of goodwill to the Iranian people. It also indicates the powerful grip of the neoconservatives in the Pentagon and the NSC, and the power of the Vice President’s own staff, to shape our foreign policy without any primary concern for what is good for the United States.
SWANSON: Do you believe the Air Force and Navy want to attack Iran, while the Army and Marines do not?
KWIATKOWSKI: I do, but I’d be delighted to be shown to be wrong here. My opinion is based on my twenty years in the Air Force, and how we are in the military. It is a big game, and there is indeed competition between the services. For budget and for glory. Plus, we can’t buy new stuff unless we test and use up the old and current stuff. Everyone wins in the military industrial complex by pressing forward aggressively. So yes, I believe the Air Force and Navy are working hard to please the administration’s desire to trample Arab and Persian countries by saying “We can do it!”
SWANSON: Do you believe sentiment either way from within the military is likely to have a large effect on what happens?
KWIATKOWSKI: If the Air Force and Navy leadership stood up, sided with the Army and Marines, and said to the President, the media and the Congress that they are finished with this stupid Middle East policy, and they all quit on the spot, an attack on Iran would not happen under the Bush administration. But if only the Army and Marine Corps leadership pushes back, the subsequent power and credibility vacuum is easily filled by Air Force and Naval leadership. We already have seen this with the new Central Command Combatant Commander, Admiral Fallon. One may say that it was the Navy’s turn to have the Central Command position, but it happened only after General Abizaid, one of our most region-aware and knowledgeable leaders, began to tell the truth publicly about our situation in Iraq. So the answer is – yes, it could in theory, but it won’t in fact.
SWANSON: Reps. Kucinich and Conyers have suggested they would impeach Bush if he attacks Iran. Good idea? What about impeaching first to prevent it?
KWIATKOWSKI: Great idea. Impeach early and often. That’s my advice. It can be done by the House so easily, for so little. Most senior members of the administration involved in our disastrous foreign policy and our incredibly stupid approach to fighting terrorism could be easily impeached for incompetence, wrongdoing, dishonesty, failure to honor the spirit and letter of the constitution and other laws, even in my view, traitorous acts, placing the interests of foreign countries above those of the United States. Some of these impeached officials would be easily removed from office by the Senate, and we would regain our honor as a nation by publicly recognizing their misbehavior.
SWANSON: Who’s running this show, Bush or Cheney or a group?
KWIATKOWSKI: I suspect it is Cheney, and Cheney’s network of like-minded, old Cold Warriors struggling for money, power and relevance in a post-Cold War age. Hence the war on terror, hence the demonization of Russia, Iran and China by members of the Cheney clique. Cheney and those who share his worldview in Washington are dinosaurs, but they have big teeth, big appetites, and they aren’t dead yet. Apparently, Cheney is also personally feared by many Republicans and Democrats alike. I don’t know why. Are they afraid he’ll curse at them and call them names? Bush doesn’t seem to be much of an organization man. He seems more like the Paris Hilton of politics. He goes to the parties, he shows up, he has a good time, but doesn’t take anything too seriously. Cheney seems to take world domination seriously, and he has a lot of friendly, and fearful, folks on board.
SWANSON: Did you expect that the new Democratic majority would investigate the Iraq fraud?
KWIATKOWSKI: Not really. They should have done it in the first hundred hours, and started impeachment hearings, too. They did neither because those who devise our foreign policy in the Middle East politically own many Democrats and Republicans. Party affiliation is meaningless, as we have seen already.
SWANSON: Did you expect to be called to testify?
KWIATKOWSKI: I was not called for the Part II Senate Intelligence Subcommittee investigation, on the politicization of the Iraq intelligence. I had been called for a few hours with the staff of the committee for the Part I investigation in 2004, and yet what I have observed and written about mostly was indeed the politicization. So I don’t expect to be called ever again. The only Congressmen I hear from are those who already understand it isn’t about Republicans and Democrats, but rather the Constitution and what is right and wrong.
SWANSON: What do you make of the first two months of Democratic rule without any investigation, other than a report from the Pentagon Inspector General that had been requested by the Republicans?
KWIATKOWSKI: It simply adds another nail in the coffin of our democratic experiment. We need at least two distinct parties, and possibly three , each with an ability to articulate and pursue real philosophical alternatives. The Democrats offer no alternatives on foreign policy – and sadly, the Republicans are as “Democratic” on domestic policy as the Democratic Party once was. Clearly, on foreign policy, it’s Dumb and Dumber. No wonder Americans don’t vote.
SWANSON: What would it take to force Congress to do an investigation of one war and possibly prevent a second?
KWIATKOWSKI: If Cheney were replaced next week by a moderate Republican, possibly one of the Presidential hopefuls, we might see it. But that might just as easily result in the issues of Iraq buried even deeper from public scrutiny. Unfortunately, Congress doesn’t want to examine the mistakes of Iraq, nor do they want to prevent a confrontation with Iran. Most members of Congress are still rubberstamping the Bush-Cheney foreign policy. They have already publicly stated that they agree we should hit Iran, or do something to Iran in order to satisfy one or more opportunistic desire of Iran’s various neighbors — whether they be the Kurds, the Turks, the Paks, our puppets in Baghdad, Kuwait or Qatar, the House of Saud, or the Likud leadership in Israel. Take your pick.