An outstanding blast from the past…
A Salon article from July, 2003
“During last fall’s feverish ramp-up to war with Iraq, the Pentagon created an unusual in-house shop to monitor Saddam Hussein’s links with terrorists and his allegedly sprawling arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. With direct access to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s office and the White House, the influential group helped lay out, both to administration officials and to the press, an array of chilling, almost too good to be true examples of why Saddam posed an immediate threat to America.”
“The Pentagon’s innocuously named Office of Special Plans served as a unique, handpicked group of hawkish defense officials who worked outside regular intelligence channels. According to the Department of Defense, the group was first created in the aftermath of Sept. 11 to supplement the war on terrorism; it was designed to sift through all the intelligence on terrorist activity, and to focus particularly on various al-Qaida links. By last fall it was focusing almost exclusively on Iraq, and often leaking doomsday findings about Saddam’s regime. Those controversial conclusions are now fueling the suspicion that the obscure agency, propelled by ideology, manipulated key findings in order to fit the White House’s desire to wage war with Iraq.”
The White House’s desire last year to gather damning Iraqi intelligence was driven home by Vice President Dick Cheney, who made three separate, and highly unusual, trips to the CIA before the war where he conferred with analysts and reportedly urged them to dig up better information about Saddam’s alleged nuclear weapons program. Cannistraro says the meetings were unprecedented: “The vice president going to the CIA? Cutting ribbons and giving speeches, yes. But sitting down with analysts and going over the intelligence? I’ve never heard of that.” Typically, if members of the executive branch have intelligence queries they contact the National Security staff, which has offices right inside the West Wing.
In retrospect, Cannistraro says it’s clear “the decision was made within a couple of months of Sept. 11 to get rid of Saddam Hussein. But the administration had to find rationale to do it. So they set up a secretive group through Feith which started producing information on Iraq that was more compatible than the CIA.”
A distinguishing characteristic of the office seemed to be the extraordinary access and influence given to Ahmad Chalabi, the exiled leader of the Iraqi National Congress. A darling of Beltway neocons, Chalabi has been viewed over the years with suspicion by the State Department and the CIA, which recognize the obvious political agenda behind his desire for the U.S. to overthrow Saddam — he’d be installed as Saddam’s successor.