An Intelligent Move by Defense Secretary Robert Gates


gates bush.jpg
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has told a number of senior national security officials — current and former — that he is shutting down (or at least significantly shrinking) the Rumsfeld-Cambone-Feith-Boykin intelligence operation.
Rumsfeld encouraged a massive expansion of the Department of Defense’s intelligence operations just at the time that the 9/11 Commission, Congressional enabling legislation, and the White House had worked together to reorganize the vast bulk of America’s intelligence machine under the Director of National Intelligence — who was then John Negroponte.
Rumsfeld’s colonization of much of the intelligence operations of government was in direct defiance of the legal operational and budgetary authority that the DNI position theoretically held.
Gates’ move is a sign that he is making what are possibly an important set of moves to try and get the government’s national security decision-making process back in better shape. DoD’s misbehavior in intelligence has generated constant battles and significant mistrust among key players in defense policy.
As this writer has reported before, there was significant rivalry between Rumsfeld and Cambone on one side and then Deputy DNI Michael Hayden and DNI John Negroponte on another. Gates’ intentions on getting his operations back under the operational management of current DNI Mike McConnell shows that this institutional rivalry is mostly over.
More important though was that the Rumsfeld-Cambone-Feith-Boykin intel machine included the staff of Vice President Cheney who were key beneficiaries of intel activities and information passed on to the Vice President’s Office by DoD. Instructions also flowed from Cheney’s office to DoD regarding intelligence initiatives and work that should be done. This entire interaction existed beyond what was legally prescribed and appropriate between the White House and this subcabinet intelligence activity controlled by Rumsfeld and his minions.
Bob Gates is about to shut down a signficant chunk of Vice President Cheney’s intelligence eyes and ears — and to some degree, an inappropriate ability to help drive covert actions.
National Journal‘s Shane Harris has a great article on this out today:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is considering a plan to curtail the Pentagon’s clandestine spying activities, which were expanded by his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, after the 9/11 attacks. The undercover work allowed military personnel to collect intelligence about terrorists and to recruit spies in foreign countries independently of the CIA and without much congressional oversight.
Former military and intelligence officials, including those involved in an ongoing and largely informal debate about the military’s forays into espionage, said that Gates, a former CIA director, is likely to “roll back” several of Rumsfeld’s controversial initiatives. This could include changing the mission of the Pentagon’s Strategic Support Branch, an intelligence-gathering unit comprising Special Forces, military linguists, and interrogators that Rumsfeld set up to report directly to him. The unit’s teams work in many of the same countries where CIA case officers are trying to recruit spies, and the military and civilian sides have clashed as a result. CIA officers serving abroad have been roiled by what they see as the Pentagon’s encroachment on their dominance in the world of human intelligence-gathering.
A former senior intelligence official who knows Gates said that the secretary wants to “dismantle” many of the intelligence programs launched by Rumsfeld and his top lieutenants, Stephen Cambone, the former undersecretary for intelligence, and Douglas Feith, who was Rumsfeld’s policy chief. The former official added that the Defense Intelligence Agency, which has also expanded its human spying efforts, could be returned to a more analytical role.

Many are still trying to assess what kind of impact Bob Gates will have on America’s wrong-headed military course — and whether he will be able to bring some maturity and realism to a White House decision-making that has been dominated by Vice President Cheney and his followers.
I think that this is a subtle but important first step in changing the “structural dimensions” of Cheney’s influence.

— Steve Clemons


25 comments on “An Intelligent Move by Defense Secretary Robert Gates

  1. Shawn says:

    Who knows, maybe Secretary Gates actually knows what he’s doing. It would be a departure from everyone else in the administration.


  2. Pissed Off American says:

    So, Gates is seeking to moderate how Cheney gets cooked intelligence??? Well, he better get busy, because it appears Cheney is in high gear…..
    Cheney has tapped Iranian expatriate, arms dealer to surveil discussions with Iran, officials say
    Larisa Alexandrovna
    Published: Thursday April 20, 2006
    The Department of Defense and Vice President Dick Cheney have retained the services of Iran-Contra arms dealer and discredited intelligence asset Manucher Ghorbanifar as their “man on the ground,” in order to report on any interaction and attempts at negotiations between Iranian officials and US ambassador to Iraq, Zelmay Khalilzad, current and former intelligence officials say.
    Speaking on condition of anonymity, three intelligence sources identified the Iran-Contra middleman as having been put back on the payroll, acting as a human intelligence asset and monitoring any movement in discussions about Iran’s alleged burgeoning nuclear weapons program.
    “Khalilzad has been authorized to enter into discussions with the Iranians over the issue of stability inside Iraq,” one former intelligence source said.
    These discussions, however, are now on hold for unspecified reasons. Sources close to the UN Security Council and a former high ranking intelligence official say that this latest failed attempt to bring Iran to the table is part of an ongoing attempt by Cheney and Rumsfeld to squash diplomatic activities.
    Another intelligence source confirmed the spiking of diplomatic action on Cheney’s behalf, explaining that the Bush administration sees such talks as a “sign of weakness.”
    continues at…
    Intelligence officials doubt Iran uranium claims, say Cheney receiving suspect briefings
    Larisa Alexandrovna
    Published: Friday August 18, 2006
    The Bush administration continues to bypass standard intelligence channels and use what some believe to be propaganda tactics to create a compelling case for war with Iran, US foreign policy experts and former US intelligence officials tell RAW STORY.
    One former senior intelligence official is particularly concerned by private briefings that Vice President Dick Cheney is getting from former Office of Special Plans (OSP) Director, Abram Shulsky.
    “Vice President Cheney is relying on personal briefings from Shulsky for current intelligence on Iran,” said this intelligence official.
    Shulsky, a leading Neoconservative and member of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), headed the shadowy and secretive Department of Defense’s OSP in the lead-up to the Iraq war — helping to locate intelligence that would support the Bush administration’s case for war with Iraq.
    In an earlier report by Raw Story on an OSP spin-off dubbed the Iranian Directorate (ID), Lt. Col. Barry E. Venable — a spokesman for the Pentagon — confirmed that Shulsky was consulting for this new initiative as well.
    “Mr. Shulsky continues in his position as Senior Advisor to the USD, focusing on Mid-East regional issues and the [global war on terror],” stated Venable.
    Several foreign policy experts, who wish to remain anonymous, have expressed serious concern that much like the OSP, the ID is manipulating, cherry picking, and perhaps even — as some suspect — cooking intelligence to lead the U.S. into another conflict, this time with Iran.
    continues at……..


  3. merlallen says:

    It’s starting to look like bush actually selected a competent person to fill a position. It must have been a mistake.


  4. shannon says:

    How is it that the media always misses the point that Cambone, Feith, Cheney, Jeb Bush, Rumsfeld, Wolfiwitz, Armitiage, Kegan, Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer (both Bill and Charles are on Fox “news”), and others that belong to the PNAC (project for the new American centruy)group are intent on taking over all foreign governments using the U.S. military and that is the blue print of the Bush administration??? These guys do not even try to hide their agenda, mostly they are Jews and they are all religious fanatics and fanatical warmongers??? The American people do not even know about this, it is being carried out under the “homeland security” ruse. Why does it get no publicity?


  5. JohnH says:

    I agree that shutting down the the Rumsfeld-Cambone-Feith-Boykin intelligence operation can’t be bad. However, Cheney doesn’t need intelligence to cook up a hoax. Even so, on the supply side, he’s got the Israel government with its intelligence already pre-cooked and probably British intelligence as well. On the output side he has Fox, CNN, Michael Gordon of the NY Times, and legions of talk show hosts and pundits eager to repeat the latest lie until people start believing it.
    What really would make a significant difference is to shut down the Pentagon’s domestic PsyOps.


  6. Pissed Off American says:

    “Just remember — I’m not the total revolutionary some of you are.”
    Yeah, us radicals with our wierd ideas about the imnmorality of torture, or our abhorence of the fact that this lying fascist son of a bitch in the Oval Office just murdered well over half a million people using LIES as a rationale are sure over the top, aren’t we? Steve, maybe you should shag your fanny over to Sadr City instead of the nearest Starbucks. Maybe a few glimpses of dead bakers and dismembered children will point you in a more “revolutionary” direction. But one thing is for God damned sure, we aren’t going to achieve the “purge” you claim to desire by mincing words and turning our backs on the depth of corruption that has soiled every hallway in Washington DC.
    BTW. This slimey bastard Rumsfeld has a staff and an office, and, I am quite sure, an office full of state of the art shredders.
    The fact that Gates is even IN the Bush cabinet speaks volumes about what HE is going to do to rein in Cheney. NOTHING. Nada. These guys are in full CYA mode, and there is not one single thing that oozes out of the Bush Administration that can be trusted. Gates wasn’t chosen to rock the boat, and to assume that he will is asinine to the extreme.


  7. Carroll says:

    Revolutionary checking in…..
    If the result of what Steve is describing in Gates actions cuts off Cheney and the neo’s private operations this is good. If you can’t just burn the bridge down, you can at least remove enough underpinnings to collapse it.
    But like other commenters I think correcting the disasters of this adm isn’t enough. It has to be done of course, but as pointed out, most of DC exist mostly for themselves and they will always stop short of total reform of the system -which is themselves- that led to all this and cost the people they are suppose to serve so much.


  8. David N says:

    Well, Gates seems to be getting DoD out of the intelligence business, I seem to be reading? Yes, if he closes the office Feith used to cherry-pick intelligence to justify their disastrous invasion, I suppose that will leave the Defense Department with just a bare skeleton of intelligence agencies:
    Which are: NSA, DIA, CIFA, INCSOM, Navy Intelligence, Air Force Intelligence, NIDA, NGA, and about a dozen other operations.
    Enough sarcasm. This does not mean that Defence is out of the intelligence business. Over eighty percent of the intelligence budget goes to DoD, and that will not change by closing an office with about fifty people.
    Of course, it would be nice if the intelligence agencies were to produce solid, reality-based information. What would not change is that the senior political national security people — Bush, Cheney, Rice, — will either read it or believe it unless it supports their purely political agenda.
    The purpose of the so-called War on Terror, and of the invasion of Iraq, is to justify the assault on the Constitution that they have been carrying out since November 4, 2000. That is all.


  9. pauline says:

    Steve wrote:
    “Just remember — I’m not the total revolutionary some of you are. You are welcome to your views — but I’m not of that ilk. I think that we need to get our otherwise good system back into balance and have to reverse the significant structural damage Bush has done to our government and country.”
    Steve, I am suggesting that bringing our system back into balance won’t happen until the following points below yield the rightful, moral and lawful results our founding fathers fought for in our American Revolution. Please state your opinions and plans different from mine for bringing us into good balance. The tiny steps often mentioned or wished for by TWN and its readers help, but they often avoid making the necessary fundamental changes needed, imo.
    Our “theoretically” good system is so-o-o-oo
    skewed by —
    1. a Congress that doesn’t ring true to their oath of office when each elected person swears to follow and uphold our Constitution, especially in “declaring war” issues. They so incorrectly “ok’d” a mere war resolution in Oct, 2002. Instead of a public war debate and a public war vote, Congress took the dive to fix the fight so, I think in part, they couldn’t be individually tagged for starting an irresponsible war, based on lies. Hey, Steve, let’s just believe everything Cheney, Libby, Bush tell us, and, ok, vote a few billion here, a few billion there, hundreds of billions here, and (now we can’t stop) vote Bush hundreds of billions more now, ad nauseum. . .This specific issue has been brought out so clearly by far-left Ralph Nader and far-right Michael Peroutka of the Constitution Party in 2004, as well as Republican liberterian, Ron Paul, and Democrat liberal, Dennis Kucinich. Steve, do you think this diverse group could be wrong on their approach to “balancing our good system”?!
    2. Congress and the White House have so firmly taken money and issues from AIPAC that Israel gets vastly superior support over average American citizens who end up fighting Israel’s enemies for Israel with our sacred American soldiers lives and wasted tax dollars. Hey, that 9/11 event really helped this happen, right, Steve? Oh, and now the Army (isn’t “strong” their new motto?) says Walter Reed and other military hospitals why now, gosh darn it, they never thought we’d have needed so much space, doctors, care-givers for our fighting men and women. But, ok, Steve, let’s just under report the numbers, continue to sneak the “war on terror” dead and seriously wounded through darkened military airports so no journalists’ photos can fill newspapers and internet pages. Is this good system stuff keeping us in good balance, Steve?
    3. Bush and Congress so love the military-industrial-complex, that war weapons and armaments are now the USA’s biggest export.
    Steve, please read President Eisenhower’s entire warning speech here —
    Own any Boeing or GE stock, Steve? And where can we spend/invest our personal money better than casting our votes on the new e-voting systems that other bloggers have been shouting out on all their fallacies? Steve, ever read Brad Freidman’s Worth balancing our good system with this issue, Steve?
    4. On 9/11, I will ask you, Steve, “are you a believer in the Official 9/11 Commission Report or would you like to see a broader independent investigation done?” Too late, you say, Steve? imo, everything, including our loss of habeas corpus is because of the “New Pearl Harbor” events of 9/11. America will never be the same, Steve, unless the truth facts come out. Just let those truth chips fall where they may! You know, Steve, a very close personal friend of mine was one of the first emergency responders in NY on 9/11 and now suffers life-changing and debilitating lung disease — issues that were unknown health issues for him before 9/11. Giuliani and the Bush EPA lied openly on this, Steve, and I now have one very close, very sick friend. Do you have any family or personal friends (not just, “I know of someone”) who perished or who suffered life-changing injuries on 9/11? I am seeking the real truth to be revealed for a personal friend, Steve. Do you really believe 19 mideast patsies controlled our entire FAA and air defense systems with some box cutters and knives? Do you really?? If, by chance, you want an independent, international sources included investigation of 9/11, Steve, who would you dedicate it to? Can our good system be righted without the fundamental questions the Scholars for 9/11 Truth are asking and the myriad of fundamental, scientfic questions that remain unanswered? Steve, what were you thinking about when the 9/11 victims families marched outside the White House fences for over 18 months demanding answers before Bush hand-picked his controllers of the 9/11 Commission? Please tell us, Steve, if you knew the victims families were out there marching and if they got their questions answered by the 9/11 Commission.
    4.Kimberly Straussel wrote recently that Congress can now spend their “bridges to nowhere” pork by not having to tack it on a piece of legislation. I posted this on TWN and never saw your opinions. Tell us your thoughts on fundamental campaign finance reform and lobbyist reform that would right our ship, Steve!
    5. Does George Bush need to be impeached, Steve? George Bush’s foreign policies have made us new foreign enemies. George Bush’s defense policies have weakened our defenses. George Bush’s responses to 9/11 have made future 9/11s more likely to occur. Would a careful analysis of and constitutional-limiting of the Executive branch be good for our system, Steve? Would you sign a petition to impeach Bush or Cheney now?
    Perhaps I’m expecting too much from TWN. I read it often for months before I started posting my “opinion pieces/sources” no matter how bizarre they may have seemed. For quite some time, though, for me it’s turned into something approaching a C-Span caller show. Lot’s of opinions out there, but no real answers to most of the fundamental problems confronting this nation — just tons of words and tiny, tiny steps on a very long journey to balance out our good system.


  10. Steve Clemons says:

    marky — I’ll be getting into Abe/Comfort Women soon. I just need to prepare for real battle when I do — which will be shortly — as some right-wing correspondents and activists in Japan besieged me last time. I have a lot going on — and am traveling — and working at same time. To do the Japan bit, I have to be ready to knock back the tsunami…but I will weigh in, as I have before.


  11. daCascadian says:

    Enjoy Havana !
    “Politics is just high school with guns and more money” – Frank Zappa


  12. Tony Foresta says:

    Any progress toward defanging Cheney would be welcome. Yet, something prevents me from believing that a Bush appointee would do anything more than talk about changing the course or the directions, or the leaders of the fascist cabals in the pentagon conjuring, or “manufacturing intelligence” and contaminating the intelligence product.
    I simply do not, and cannot trust any policy, or one word spewed out of the Bush government.
    Gates’ Iran/Contra machinations cannot beforgotten, and compell me to take anything he says, and everything he does with several grains of salt.
    “Deliver us from evil!”


  13. Marky says:

    Steve, this is OT, but I thought you would have some comment on Abe’s huge step backwards—denying military culpability for the fate of the “comfort women” of WWII.


  14. eCAHNomics says:

    W administration is rotten to the core. How much more evidence do you need? We only know the iceberg’s tip of what they have been doing (Rummy’s unknown unknowns). And that tip is pretty big.
    So I refuse to believe that anything that is getting done by them is an improvement. It’s just a more clever coverup that we haven’t figured out yet.
    That age-old question: When is lip service better than no service at all?
    Besides, as I posted on another site, the fundamental problem with the spook business is that it is secret. No mechanism has yet been invented that allows for any kind of discipline. We mush rely on the good work and good intentions of the worker bees to get anything useful out of it. The political overseers will and have always abused the process, and this group is worse by orders of magnitude.


  15. urbino says:

    And while we’re sort of on the subject, any thoughts, Steve, on the AP story re: FBI’s illegal use of Patriot Act authority?


  16. urbino says:

    I agree with Steve on this one. This is, as he characterized it, a “first step.” Whether it ultimately leads anywhere remains to be seen, but at least it’s a first step in the right direction.


  17. Steve Clemons says:

    I write a lot about shuffling the deck chairs — sometimes praising, sometimes exposing that there is no there there.
    I’m not fully praising Gates’ move. I’m writing about what may be a good outcome from his decision to let the intelligence czar do what he/she should be able to do without the extralegal operations at DoD mucking up the works. What Rumsfeld and Cambone were doing empowered Cheney.
    Shutting this down, or confining it, also confines and restricts Cheney and his people.
    I think that this is worth reporting — and providing some perspective on.
    I am quite happy to praise Gates if it means he is diminishing Cheney’s influence. Am I thrilled with Gates so far? No, I’m not — and I’ll soon be reporting why soon. As Ben R. pointed out, this is technocratic change — and I have technocratic reasons for being miffed at Gates on another issue.
    But I call them as I see them. I love your remarks on TWN normally — but your dismissive tone and overgeneralization about my postings surprised me.
    But still happy to hear from you.
    Just remember — I’m not the total revolutionary some of you are. You are welcome to your views — but I’m not of that ilk. I think that we need to get our otherwise good system back into balance and have to reverse the significant structural damage Bush has done to our government and country.
    Overthrowing it, which some of you seem happy to engage in, is an approach that I think is counter-productive. So, when I see good incrementalism, I’ll applaud it. When I see big jumps in good directions, I’ll applaud that too.
    To RET, my problems with Mike Hayden were limited to his role at the NSA when the domestic wire-tapping activities were authorized and deployed. I also had problems with his resistance in releasing John Bolton’s NSA intercept request info. However, Hayden’s and Negroponte’s resistance on releasing those intercepts is what ultimately beat the Bolton confirmation in the Senate. So, that turned out to be useful.
    But Hayden was also a rival of Rumsfeld, Cambone, and Feith — and for that I am supportive of him in general.
    best regards to all,
    Steve Clemons


  18. Gene says:

    Hopefully Gates will do it. Combining the roles of military and intelligence gathering under one house has too much potential for abuse of power.
    A more important reason to shut down the DoD intelligence operation is not because its Cheney’s input, but because its his output. That office was used for propoganda to get this war started. But I agree that the VP is still a loose cannon and this is only one of his many tools.


  19. ret says:

    > I think that this is a subtle but important
    > first step in changing the “structural
    > dimensions” of Cheney’s influence.
    Important yes, but is it good or bad? On the one hand, “Cheney loyalist: bad, daddy loyalist: good”…. On the other hand, would you like to blind a paranoid guy with a big hammer?
    If Cheney doesn`t hear much executive inside stuff due to Rice message control to the inside. And if he cant hear useless tactical stuff coming from poor saps stupid enough to get caught near insurgents or radicals, will he worry more or less? Is he more or less likely to strike out against a 1% odds of a “compromise” with Iranian, Lebanese, Iraqi, Syrian, Russian, Chinese, Afghan or other daemons?
    His hammer may be shrinking, but the guy has the will to swing pretty much anywhere. What is the outside world gonna do on the home stretch, take away a second aide? Remember, this guy is Iran contra schooled, he knows his way as a bureaucratic guerrilla fighter.
    Will he get his information from his close advisors with “excellent connections” in “the region”? (And where are Ledeen, Ghorbanifar and friends these days?)
    On the other hand this may be an end to whatever operations DoD intelligence are up to. And looking at US intelligence from the other side I would suspect counterintelligence people prefer the CIA they known over potentially more armed and less connected groups they don`t.
    Anyway, on a less serious note. Dear mister Clemons, where are the Iran 03 negotiations stories you promised? I put up with the election 08 a#$kissing since the site doesn`t have much other advertising to speak of. But without serious reporting I am just gonna get campaign videos from youtube 😉
    Also, you have mentioned a long ago you had minor troubles with Michael Hayden. Any chance on an elaboration about the general direction of these troubles? (Financial? A lot of money has gone down NSA drains? Domestic? Blame for unconstitutional wiretapping, Interpersonal… the guy uses math analogies in congressional testimony, Its the NSA… what are you gonna do?)


  20. Finest says:

    Here’s a classic bit of horse manure from your own Washington Post:
    Juan Carlos Llorca, AP
    [Mayan]Priests to Purify Site After Bush Visit,
    Guatamala City — Mayan priests will purify a scared archaeological site to eliminate “bad spirits’ after President Bush visits next week, an official with close ties to the group said Thursday.
    MAYAN priests?? SACRED archaeological site? Excuse my blasphemy but this movement is extinct and has been for an entire epoch. One of the most savage, ignorant and warlike groups of humanity the world has ever known has adherants from the local community college, get space in WaPo? These guys take a course in ancient history and dress up like civil war reinactors? What’s next? Vestal virgins to sanctify the CIA agents returned to Rome for trial.
    Where do we draw the leftist line and when does intelligence trump sheer stupidity (and where is the editor?). If there was a Mayan religion today they would be all be in prison for child endangerment, serial mass murder and bad costuming. On holidays, the archaeological sites in Guatamala are party hangouts. Down some six packs, throw up and purification is in order. Just ask the locals.


  21. Brigitte N. says:

    On the face of it, this looks good.
    But Gates said a lot of reasonable things about Iraq during his confirmation hearing and presumably as member of the Iraq Study Group. Since then he has been co-opted by the clique of influentials in the administration. If they give (or gave) their blessings, perhaps this will be done–otherwise forget it.


  22. Ben Rosengart says:

    I think eCAHNomics is taking the short view. Cleaning up after Bush is going to involve reversing structural damage to the Constitution at all levels, especially the highest. That effort is going to be driven by technocracy, not partisanship or ideology — there’s nothing inherently Republican or Democratic, conservative or liberal, about centralizing power in the Executive branch.


  23. Dennis says:

    This may seem small, but then, it’s not so small because of what it may lead to otherwise.
    Will this include shutting down the military’s intelligence operations having to do with American citizens peaceful protests? Or will the military continue to film and make pictures of the protesters? And what about other forms of military spying on Americans?


  24. eCAHNomics says:

    This site is becoming increasingly charming in its praise of how cleverly the deck chairs are being rearranged on the the Titanic.


  25. clem says:

    It’s a lovely thought that the Defense Department might get out of the business of manufacturing intelligence, but isn’t it more likely that the same activities will continue, maybe organized differently or simply under a new name?
    We can’t seem to give up on total information awareness, either.


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