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Sunday, January 23, 2005

Analysis: Iraqi Insurgency Growing Larger, More Effective

The United States is steadily losing ground to the Iraqi
insurgency, according to every key military yardstick

A Knight Ridder analysis of U.S. government statistics shows that through all the major turning points that raised hopes of peace in Iraq, including the arrest of Saddam Hussein and the handover of sovereignty at the end of June, the insurgency, led mainly by Sunni Muslims, has become deadlier and more effective.

The analysis suggests that unless something dramatic changes - such as a newfound will by Iraqis to reject the insurgency or a large escalation of U.S. troop strength - the United States won't win the war. It's axiomatic among military thinkers that insurgencies are especially hard to defeat because the insurgents' goal isn't to win in a conventional sense but merely to survive until the will of the occupying power is sapped. Recent polls already suggest an erosion of support among Americans for the war.

The unfavorable trends of the war are clear:

- U.S. military fatalities from hostile acts have risen from an average of about 17 per month just after President Bush declared an end to major combat operations on May 1, 2003, to an average of 82 per month.

- The average number of U.S. soldiers wounded by hostile acts per month has spiraled from 142 to 808 during the same period. Iraqi civilians have suffered even more deaths and injuries, although reliable statistics aren't available.

- Attacks on the U.S.-led coalition since November 2003, when statistics were first available, have risen from 735 a month to 2,400 in October. Air Force Brig. Gen. Erv Lessel, the multinational forces' deputy operations director, told Knight Ridder on Friday that attacks were currently running at 75 a day, about 2,300 a month, well below a spike in November during the assault on Fallujah, but nearly as high as October's total.

- The average number of mass-casualty bombings has grown from zero in the first four months of the American occupation to an average of 13 per month.

- Electricity production has been below pre-war levels since October, largely because of sabotage by insurgents, with just 6.7 hours of power daily in Baghdad in early January, according to the State Department.

- Iraq is pumping about 500,000 barrels a day fewer than its pre-war peak of 2.5 million barrels per day as a result of attacks, according to the State Department.

"All the trend lines we can identify are all in the wrong direction," said Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, a Washington policy research organization. "We are not winning, and the security trend lines could almost lead you to believe that we are losing."

The combat numbers are based mainly on Defense Department releases compiled by O'Hanlon in an Iraq Index. Since the numbers can fluctuate significantly from month to month, Knight Ridder examined the statistics for fatalities, wounded and mass-casualty bombings using a technique mathematicians call a moving average - averaging the number of attacks in one month with the number of attacks in the two months immediately preceding it in order to better reveal the underlying trend.

Lessel said that since the U.S. assault on the former rebel stronghold of Fallujah in November, "we have been making a lot of progress" against the insurgency.

He said the number of attacks, bombings and kidnappings is down from November, experienced insurgent leaders are being arrested or killed, U.S. and Iraqi forces remain on the offensive and more Iraqis have been providing intelligence on insurgents.

Other indications that "things are turning around" include surveys that show 80 percent of Iraqis wanting to vote in the Jan. 30 elections and more than 90 percent opposing violence as a solution to the crisis. In addition, the recruitment and training of Iraqi security forces are being stepped up, Lessel said.

"I don't want to paint too rosy a picture. We still have an insurgency that has a lot of capabilities," he said. "When you ask is the insurgency growing, you have to ask is it growing in terms of popular support, and I don't see that happening."

There are some additional bright spots.

In the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad and the southern town of Najaf, the scene of intense fighting last year with Shiite Muslim rebels, millions of dollars are pouring into reconstruction efforts.

Both places are now relatively peaceful and are counted as victories, with the danger of a spreading insurgency backed by Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority largely thwarted.

Some 14 million Iraqis, mostly Shiite, are registered to vote in the Jan. 30 elections for an interim 275-seat National Assembly. They'll choose among 111 slates comprising 7,785 candidates.

Roughly 1,500 U.S.-funded reconstruction projects are employing more than 100,000 Iraqis, and the insurgents' campaign of attacks and threats has failed to deter sign-ups for Iraq's new security forces.

These developments, however, have had little impact on the broader trends that have moved against the United States through all the spikes and lulls in violence.

Most worrisome, the insurgency is getting larger.

At the close of 2003, U.S. commanders put the number of insurgents at 5,000. Earlier this month, Gen. Mohammed Abdullah Shahwani, the director of the Iraqi intelligence service, said there are 200,000 insurgents, including at least 40,000 hard-core fighters. The rest, he said, are part-time fighters and supporters who provide food, shelter, funds and intelligence.

"Many Iraqis respect these gunmen because they are fighting the invaders," said Nabil Mohammed, a Baghdad University political science professor.

The insurgents "are getting smarter all the time. We've seen a lot of changes in their tactics that say, one, they're getting help from outside, and two, they're learning," said Sgt. 1st Class Glenn Aldrich, 35, of Houston, a 16-year Army veteran, after spending an hour recently greeting Iraqis on a foot patrol through a Baghdad neighborhood.

The resistance has grown despite suffering huge casualties to overwhelming U.S. firepower. Exact statistics aren't available.

Insurgent attacks have shifted from small groups of men shooting at tanks with AK-47s to powerful car bombs and roadside explosives, and well-planned assaults, kidnappings and assassinations.

American soldiers have subdued Sunni hotbeds such as Fallujah and Samarra. Yet these military victories have failed to achieve the broader goal of weakening the resistance.

Guerrilla fighters leave behind a rear guard force to fight while moving the bulk of their fighters and leadership elsewhere. During and after the Fallujah battle in November, for example, Mosul and several Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad became more violent.

Some Iraqis say these aggressive U.S. military moves are counterproductive because mass destruction and the killing of Iraqis create more recruits for the insurgency.

"The insurgency will grow larger," said Ghazi Bada al Faisal, an employee of the Iraqi Ministry of Industry and a Fallujah resident. "The child whose brother and father were killed in the fighting will now seek revenge."

Some defense analysts are calling for a new strategy and more troops.

"We can only control the ground we stand on. We leave, and it falls apart," said Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst at the Washington Center for Near East Policy.

White proposes sending 20,000 more troops.

But the Bush administration hopes to replace U.S. troops with well-trained Iraqis.

In late 2003, Iraqi recruits, many of them young and looking for a paycheck, were pushed through a week or so of training, given guns and uniforms and then declared graduated.

During the first major fight in Fallujah in April, many of them fled. In the second Fallujah confrontation, in November, they fought behind the main lines of battle and were infamous for spraying gunfire erratically and without warning, but fewer left their posts.

Even so, an entire national guard battalion in Mosul went absent without leave in November. Much of the Mosul police force simply collapsed under fire.

Bush administration officials say the program to train and equip new Iraqi security forces of more than 272,000 members is making progress.

Yet several independent experts said it would take at least two years before there are any meaningful numbers of Iraqi forces with counterinsurgency skills and as many as five years before the U.S. goal is attained.

"I think you can achieve success, but it will take a while and, unfortunately, there will be a lot more blood," said Peter Khalil, who was a senior security adviser to the U.S.-led occupation authority in Iraq.

Of course, success isn't assured and the United States will be forced to deal with an elected Iraqi government that may set limits on what U.S. troops can do - and could even ask them to leave.

U.S. military officials had repeatedly, and accurately, predicted more violence in the approach to the elections, which is likely to bring to power a Shiite-dominated government after nearly a century of Sunni rule in Iraq.

Yet hopes that the election might lead to less violence have recently given way to more dire warnings, with expectations that Sunni insurgents who feel disenfranchised in the new Iraq will turn their guns on the elected government.

"I think that we will enter a different but still dangerous period in the post-election time frame," Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, the commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq, said on Jan. 15.

Bush has vowed to stay the course.

The Pentagon dispatched retired U.S. Army Gen. Gary Luck this month to examine the training of Iraqi forces and to put a fresh eye on the anti-insurgent campaign.

Tom Lasseter and Jonathan S. Landay
Knight Ridder Newspapers
Sunday 23 January 2005

Report: U.S. Can't Win Iraq war

An analysis of a U.S. newspaper group concludes the United States is headed toward defeat in the Iraqi war.

The Knight Ridder Newspapers analysis of U.S. government statistics shows the Sunni Muslim insurgency in Iraq steadily gaining on the U.S. military, the Detroit Free Press, owned by Knight Ridder, reported Saturday.

Among factors cited:

-- U.S. military fatalities from hostile acts rose from an average of about 17 per month in May 2003 to a current average of 82 per month;

-- The average number of U.S. soldiers wounded by hostile acts per month has spiraled from 142 to 808 during the same period;

-- Attacks on the U.S.-led coalition since November 2003 rose from 735 a month to 2,400 in October;

-- The average number of mass-casualty bombings has grown from zero in the first few months of the U.S.-led occupation to an average of 13 per month; and

-- Electricity production has been below prewar levels since October.

"All the trend lines we can identify are all in the wrong direction," said Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, a Washington policy research organization.

Batting Lead-Off for the Yankees: Israel

The quotes were accurate but the interpretations were wrong. U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney did indeed say, last Thursday, that Israel "might well decide to act first" to eliminate an Iranian nuclear threat. However, the headlines that claimed Cheney was apprehensive about such a development misunderstood the point he was making. Cheney is not worried about the Israeli context, nor is he warning Israel not to act without coordination with Washington. He is using the possibility of an Israeli operation against Iran to threaten Tehran, while shaking off American responsibility for that kind of escalation. His comment was not a warning to Israel but a means of deterrence against Iran.

In an interview with MSNBC, Cheney placed Iran at "the top of the list" of the world's "potential trouble spots." He reiterated the Bush administration's desire to avoid war and to use diplomacy to resolve the controversy over Iran's nuclear program - give and take with the European powers, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Security Council and sanctions to force Iran to honor its commitments. This is an essential path for the Americans, who this time - more than in the case of Iraq two years ago - will need to enter a multilateral, international framework. In the meantime, the Iranians are using the time to examine how bothered they are by their temporary agreement to freeze the uranium enrichment process. Their representatives in the negotiations with Germany, France and Britain are not hiding their intention to reassess the agreement and disavow it, should it emerge that the damage to their nuclear program outweighs the diplomatic advantage of gaining time.

In contrast to the Iranian use of Europe, Bush's independent ally, Cheney cites Israel as an ally even less amenable to American control. One of the concerns, he noted in the interview, is that Israel is liable to act against Iran "without being asked. ... If in fact the Israelis became convinced the Iranians had significant nuclear capability, given the fact that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel, the Israelis might well decide to act first and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterward."

As secretary of defense in 1991, in the administration of the current president's father, Cheney made use of a similar threat against Iraq, also in a television interview, which the enemy could receive and understand without mediation. Two weeks before the first American war against Saddam Hussein, Cheney told CNN that Iraqi use of chemical warheads against Israel was liable to result in an Israeli nuclear response. That was a rare comment in two regards. Senior U.S. officials publicly tend to ignore the Arab allegations that Israel possesses nuclear weapons. Cheney mentioned such weapons as though their existence were not in question, in a realistic tone, not one of denial, as a fact the foe (common to both the Americans and the Israelis) must take into account.

In contrast to the situation 14 years ago, Cheney this time refrained from talking about Israeli nuclear capability. Had he done otherwise, he would have implicitly raised the question of why Iran is forbidden to do what Israel is allowed to do (and perhaps reply that the difference is that Israel is not plotting to destroy Iran).

A nuclear Iran is in fact a common danger to Jerusalem and Washington, though each side in the partnership finds it convenient to cast the responsibility on the other. Israel wants to stop being an Iranian target and foist the burden of dealing with the issue on the international community, headed by President Bush. It is important for the Americans not to give the impression that they are eager to precede diplomatic discussions with a military strike, but also to remind the Iranians that their bluff in the nuclear poker game is liable to fall apart in the face of a card not part of the European deck - the Israeli joker.

In 1991 the U.S. administration, including Cheney's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, secretly extracted from Israel a commitment not to take independent action against Iraq. In 2005 the coordination between the two countries and the two armies is even greater. If Israel does take action, Bush and his vice president will be the last to be surprised.

Amir Oren

Next Year in Tehran

For the past three years the central war game of the U.S. armed forces has been centered on Iran. But what exactly will await them there, even they do not purport to know.

US war games: accommodate IDF tactics because the Iran invasion forces are envisaged to encounter situations similar to those in the West Bank

Six divisional task forces of the U.S. armed forces, subordinate to three corps commands arrive simultaneously from six different directions; two airborne expeditionary forces (combat wings, transport, command and control, intelligence, refueling); five aircraft carriers at a distance of up to 1,500 kilometers from their northernmost targets; three Special Forces battalions - all struck at Iran and pushed to seize its capital city.

The Iranians sent a far larger ground force into action against them, consisting of 15-17 corps commands, suffering blatantly from air inferiority but trained to use drones against the invader, along with missiles and weapons of mass destruction (most likely chemical and biological, not nuclear. The fighting centered on Tehran, where the Americans were out to topple the regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who was 30 days away from installing a nuclear warhead on a surface-to-surface missile, whose range included American targets.

It is on the basis of this scenario that, for the past three years, the central war game of the U.S. armed forces has been conducted, under the codename Unified Quest, or UQ for short. The stages of the game continue throughout the year and it reaches its peak in one feverish week in May, at the War College in Carlyle, Pennsylvania.

There was no point trying to hide the Iranian background to the event, in which a large number of officers and civilians take part - more than 500 every year - including observers from foreign countries (Britain, Spain, France, Germany, Turkey, Australia and Israel, too), from the State Department and the Department of Interior, from the CIA and the FBI, and from organizations such as Medecins sans Frontieres (Physicians Without Borders), which this year sent a delegation of physicians. Indeed, not only did the Pentagon forgo any attempt to keep the event secret, it tried to play up the Iranian aspect. The enemy state was called "Nair," and for the mentally challenged it was explained that this is a fictional state on the basis of the geography and culture of Iran.

Officially, there is no direct connection between the doctrinal, organization and operational ideas that the command of the integrated forces and the land arm are putting into practice in Unified Quest - similar war games are held under the auspices of the air force, the navy and the marines - and the decisions that will be placed on the president's desk, for him to make with his exclusive authority, when the time comes. In practice, there is no differentiating between the insights that are achieved in the war game and what the Pentagon will prepare for the president's authorization. The one small difference is between a war game and a war that will be no game.

Other headaches

Just as the American presence in Afghanistan did not prevent the incursion into Iraq, so it will not prevent an operation in Iran, either. A hint in this direction can also be found in the innovation that has been introduced into the next exercise in the UQ series. The games of 2002-2004 dealt with three scenarios, of which the Iranian scenario was only one, albeit the most important of the three.

Alongside it Washington had to deal with two other headaches, one an underground revolt in "Sumasia" (Sumatra / Indonesia), the other terrorism in the American homeland. The Israeli representative was assigned to help rehabilitate battle-torn Sumasia and not in the activity in Nair, perhaps in order to ward off in advance allegations about joint American-Israeli planning against Iran.

Now the Sumasi scenario, which has been fully played out, has been set aside, and the 2005 UQ exercise, which will be played in May 2005, though the preparations begin this month, will focus on "Nair." That is the immediate mission, and to bridge the gaps that were revealed in the previous exercises will require the massing of all the forces.

It turns out that even as the eyes of the world are on the collision course between Iran's thrust for nuclear arms and the international community, which is imploring Tehran to stop and is hinting that there will be those (Americans, Israelis) who will not balk at a preemptive strike against the nuclear facilities in Iran, systematic preparations are underway for a different type of military operation: not against the nuclear sites - that could be part of the operation, by means of Special Forces and air strikes, but that will not be enough - but against the regime that refuses to stop.

To create a deterrent threat against Iran, as the country pushes to go nuclear, without admitting to offensive intentions, a UQ narrative farther into the future, in 2015-2016, was set. But the timing ploy is transparent and suffers from an internal contradiction, because the rationale of the confrontation with Iran will not occur in another dozen years. It will be resolved, one way or the other, by Iranian submission or American action, in the years immediately ahead, and perhaps within one year.

President Bush's top adviser, Karl Rove, is said to have declared that you don't shoot in an election year - and, in the months ahead, the efforts at persuasion will continue, along with the warnings and the sanctions, until the moment of decision arrives, though the threat must not be brandished before the polls close.

Secretary of State Colin Powell last week was careful to use the phrase "at present" when he said at the United Nations that the U.S. does not have plans for military action. As soon as the words left his mouth, that present ended and a different present, a new one, began. In its official, futuristic, timetable, the campaign that has been practiced in Unified Quest will be superfluous or too late.

Lessons from the IDF

The two main problems identified by the commanders of the Americans' "blue" force (joined by the British and, it's hoped, by others as well) in doing battle against the "red" enemy are the complexity of the urban environment and the vulnerability of the supply and communications lines. About 12 million people are crowded into the urban space of Tehran, and that number will rise to 17 million in the coming decade. The population of Greater Tehran has shot up by leaps of millions in recent years. Israelis who were last there a quarter of a century ago, when Khomeini took power, will discover that the city has more than doubled in size.

American officers warn that the routine training for combat in built-up areas is more appropriate to villages and towns than to a vast conurbation of this scale, a "mega-city" that extends across dozens of square kilometers of territory.

One of the commanders of the "red," quasi-Iranian, force, retired Colonel Richard Sinnreich, wrote, in justification of the Israeli arm's Operation Defensive Shield in Jenin, that U.S. forces are more likely to encounter situations similar to those in the West Bank than those they encountered in Afghanistan. That was before the war in Iraq. General Kevin Byrnes, commander of TRADOC (U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command), said this year in a lecture that the study of the up-to-date lessons of the Israel Defense Forces and the British Army was an essential element in planning for Iraq. Even as he spoke, the reds of Sinnreich and his colleagues surprised the blues in the capital of Nair by transferring military units from sector to sector not secretly but completely in the open - though without the blues being able to bomb them, because the move was made in the course of a parade in the streets where thousands of children and other civilians were gathered.

Every soldier a combatant

The Americans don't yet have an answer to the problem that is vexing them in both Iraq and "Nair," along the 900 kilometers of the road from a southern naval base to the capital: how to minimize damage to their combat troops along the access roads.

One in four American deaths in Iraq takes place in non-combat circumstances, usually in vehicle accidents. Many of the other casualties result from the detonation of makeshift bombs. The Americans discovered that there is a large difference between "soldiers" of the type of the captured heroine Jessica Lynch - that is, uniformed personnel in the role of combat support, who have forgotten their basic training - and combatants. The first type are very soon killed, wounded or taken captive.

General Peter Schoomaker, who was recalled from retirement by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to become army chief of staff, in order to make the ground force more combative, set a new goal: every soldier will be a combatant. Signal operator and artillery gunner, military policeman and sergeant in a civilian auxiliary unit - all will first of all be riflemen, so they can defend themselves (and undercut the image of costly entanglement).

In the UQ game the lesson of Iraq was described in more rational terms: there is no gradual transition between the stages of the campaign, from "main battle operations" (whose conclusion Bush festively declared on May 1, 2003) to operations of stabilization and security. All the stages are intertwined. Even if Tehran is conquered, the regime is toppled and the president declares victory, resistance will continue, with the possibility that four of every five Iranians will support it (and there are 68 million Iranians, half of them too young to remember the shah).

It's likely that the Americans will look for a local or exiled underground which it will invite to assist the invasion and thus legitimize it, in the hope that the masses of the regime's opponents - of whom 30 percent or even 40 percent are unemployed - will join. The astonishing phenomenon of the past few weeks - the popular demonstrations in the wake of a promise by a mysterious individual, Dr. Ahura Pileghi Yazdi, in broadcasts from Washington, that Iran will be liberated from the revolutionary regime today, October 1 - shows that latent processes can be awakened at any moment and for any reason. But an external attempt to ride that wave will be a gamble. The Iranians possess a proud national consciousness; they want democracy without ayatollahs, but they also abhor external intervention, and they still remember with affront the intrigues of the CIA and British intelligence which toppled the prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, half a century ago.

The Americans have a long account to settle with the dead Khomeini and the living Khamenei. The day after the U.S. elections in another month will mark the 25th anniversary of the Iranian seizure of the American embassy in Tehran, which led to the incarceration of 50 hostages for 444 days. During that period the U.S. Army shamed itself in its own failure, without making contact with the enemy, in the planning and execution of an operation to free the hostages.

Afterward, toward the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the Americans fought the Iranians and felled them on the margins of the "war of the tankers" in the Persian Gulf. Iraq, from this point of view, was a double and ongoing diversion, in 1991 and 2003, and in the years between those two wars. The bothersome adversary - in developing missiles and seeking to go nuclear, in assisting Hezbollah and in exporting the revolution (and now also in encouraging insurrection against the Americans in Iraq) - was and remains, Iran.

American dreams

What exactly will await the Americans in Iran, even they do not purport to know. Speaking just a few months ago, at the convention of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby in Washington, Philo Dibble, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran and Iraq (formerly the deputy to the U.S. ambassador in Damascus), said that in the absence of an ongoing presence of his government's representatives in Iran in the recent past, America has no concrete acquaintance with the field there; there's material for reading, conversations are held with Iranians outside their country, developments are analyzed - but America doesn't really know.

Powell, in a talk with the Washington Times, recalled the period when he was a young colonel, the adjutant of the undersecretary of defense in the Carter administration, Charles Duncan, during a visit to Iran. The Iranian air force put on a spectacular show of fighter planes for Duncan, but the American experts who were deployed to assist the air force spoke about it with contempt to Powell, and described to him the gap between the pilots, who were from the aristocracy, and the operators of the systems in the backseat, who were from the lower classes. Powell, who was the national security adviser in the Reagan administration at the end of the Iran-Iraq war, quoted approvingly a remark by Henry Kissinger, who said, "It's too bad both sides didn't lose." And Powell is considered the spokesman of the moderates in the Bush administration.

All these channels converge to one clear operational conclusion. The Americans will be happy not to be drawn into a large operation in Iran. They would rather Khamenei abandons nuclear development, as Khomeini suddenly changed his mind on the eve of his death and gave in to the Iraqi demand for a cease-fire (according to a new study, one reason for this was the downing of a civilian Airbus of Iran Air by missiles fired from an American ship). They will ask the UN to authorize a multilateral operation. They will want the counter-revolution to come from within and not be tainted by foreign intervention. But if all these dreams do not come true soon, and if the connection between missile and nuclear warhead becomes imminent, they will pull out the plans that were practiced in Unified Quest and send the blues to fight the reds.

Amir Oren — Ha'aretz

Secret Unit Expands Rumsfeld's Domain

Contributor's Note: In these two articles, The Washington Post confirms much of the story Sy Hersh first revealed in last Monday's New Yorker. - sw

New espionage branch delving into CIA territory.

The Pentagon, expanding into the CIA's historic bailiwick, has created a new espionage arm and is reinterpreting U.S. law to give Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld broad authority over clandestine operations abroad, according to interviews with participants and documents obtained by The Washington Post.

The previously undisclosed organization, called the Strategic Support Branch, arose from Rumsfeld's written order to end his "near total dependence on CIA" for what is known as human intelligence. Designed to operate without detection and under the defense secretary's direct control, the Strategic Support Branch deploys small teams of case officers, linguists, interrogators and technical specialists alongside newly empowered special operations forces.

Military and civilian participants said in interviews that the new unit has been operating in secret for two years -- in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places they declined to name. According to an early planning memorandum to Rumsfeld from Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the focus of the intelligence initiative is on "emerging target countries such as Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, Philippines and Georgia." Myers and his staff declined to be interviewed.

The Strategic Support Branch was created to provide Rumsfeld with independent tools for the "full spectrum of humint operations," according to an internal account of its origin and mission. Human intelligence operations, a term used in counterpoint to technical means such as satellite photography, range from interrogation of prisoners and scouting of targets in wartime to the peacetime recruitment of foreign spies. A recent Pentagon memo states that recruited agents may include "notorious figures" whose links to the U.S. government would be embarrassing if disclosed.

Perhaps the most significant shift is the Defense Department's bid to conduct surreptitious missions, in friendly and unfriendly states, when conventional war is a distant or unlikely prospect -- activities that have traditionally been the province of the CIA's Directorate of Operations. Senior Rumsfeld advisers said those missions are central to what they called the department's predominant role in combating terrorist threats.

The Pentagon has a vast bureaucracy devoted to gathering and analyzing intelligence, often in concert with the CIA, and news reports over more than a year have described Rumsfeld's drive for more and better human intelligence. But the creation of the espionage branch, the scope of its clandestine operations and the breadth of Rumsfeld's asserted legal authority have not been detailed publicly before. Two longtime members of the House Intelligence Committee, a Democrat and a Republican, said they knew no details before being interviewed for this article.

Pentagon officials said they established the Strategic Support Branch using "reprogrammed" funds, without explicit congressional authority or appropriation. Defense intelligence missions, they said, are subject to less stringent congressional oversight than comparable operations by the CIA. Rumsfeld's dissatisfaction with the CIA's operations directorate, and his determination to build what amounts in some respects to a rival service, follows struggles with then-CIA Director George J. Tenet over intelligence collection priorities in Afghanistan and Iraq. Pentagon officials said the CIA naturally has interests that differ from those of military commanders, but they also criticized its operations directorate as understaffed, slow-moving and risk-averse. A recurring phrase in internal Pentagon documents is the requirement for a human intelligence branch "directly responsive to tasking from SecDef," or Rumsfeld.

The new unit's performance in the field -- and its latest commander, reserve Army Col. George Waldroup -- are controversial among those involved in the closely held program. Pentagon officials acknowledged that Waldroup and many of those brought quickly into his service lack the experience and training typical of intelligence officers and special operators. In his civilian career as a federal manager, according to a Justice Department inspector general's report, Waldroup was at the center of a 1996 probe into alleged deception of Congress concerning staffing problems at Miami International Airport. Navy Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, expressed "utmost confidence in Colonel Waldroup's capabilities" and said in an interview that Waldroup's unit has scored "a whole series of successes" that he could not reveal in public. He acknowledged the risks, however, of trying to expand human intelligence too fast: "It's not something you quickly constitute as a capability. It's going to take years to do."

Rumsfeld's ambitious plans rely principally on the Tampa-based U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, and on its clandestine component, the Joint Special Operations Command. Rumsfeld has designated SOCOM's leader, Army Gen. Bryan D. Brown, as the military commander in chief in the war on terrorism. He has also given Brown's subordinates new authority to pay foreign agents. The Strategic Support Branch is intended to add missing capabilities -- such as the skill to establish local spy networks and the technology for direct access to national intelligence databases -- to the military's much larger special operations squadrons. Some Pentagon officials refer to the combined units as the "secret army of Northern Virginia."

Known as "special mission units," Brown's elite forces are not acknowledged publicly. They include two squadrons of an Army unit popularly known as Delta Force, another Army squadron -- formerly code-named Gray Fox -- that specializes in close-in electronic surveillance, an Air Force human intelligence unit and the Navy unit popularly known as SEAL Team Six.

The Defense Department is planning for further growth. Among the proposals circulating are the establishment of a Pentagon-controlled espionage school, largely duplicating the CIA's Field Tradecraft Course at Camp Perry, Va., and of intelligence operations commands for every region overseas.

Rumsfeld's efforts, launched in October 2001, address two widely shared goals. One is to give combat forces, such as those fighting the insurgency in Iraq, more and better information about their immediate enemy. The other is to find new tools to penetrate and destroy the shadowy organizations, such as al Qaeda, that pose global threats to U.S. interests in conflicts with little resemblance to conventional war.

In pursuit of those aims, Rumsfeld is laying claim to greater independence of action as Congress seeks to subordinate the 15 U.S. intelligence departments and agencies -- most under Rumsfeld's control -- to the newly created and still unfilled position of national intelligence director. For months, Rumsfeld opposed the intelligence reorganization bill that created the position. He withdrew his objections late last year after House Republican leaders inserted language that he interprets as preserving much of the department's autonomy.

Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, deputy undersecretary for intelligence, acknowledged that Rumsfeld intends to direct some missions previously undertaken by the CIA. He added that it is wrong to make "an assumption that what the secretary is trying to say is, 'Get the CIA out of this business, and we'll take it.' I don't interpret it that way at all."

"The secretary actually has more responsibility to collect intelligence for the national foreign intelligence program . . . than does the CIA director," Boykin said. "That's why you hear all this information being published about the secretary having 80 percent of the [intelligence] budget. Well, yeah, but he has 80 percent of the responsibility for collection, as well."

CIA spokeswoman Anya Guilsher said the agency would grant no interviews for this article.

Pentagon officials emphasized their intention to remain accountable to Congress, but they also asserted that defense intelligence missions are subject to fewer legal constraints than Rumsfeld's predecessors believed. That assertion involves new interpretations of Title 10 of the U.S. Code, which governs the armed services, and Title 50, which governs, among other things, foreign intelligence.

Under Title 10, for example, the Defense Department must report to Congress all "deployment orders," or formal instructions from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to position U.S. forces for combat. But guidelines issued this month by Undersecretary for Intelligence Stephen A. Cambone state that special operations forces may "conduct clandestine HUMINT operations . . . before publication" of a deployment order, rendering notification unnecessary. Pentagon lawyers also define the "war on terror" as ongoing, indefinite and global in scope. That analysis effectively discards the limitation of the defense secretary's war powers to times and places of imminent combat.

Under Title 50, all departments of the executive branch are obliged to keep Congress "fully and currently informed of all intelligence activities." The law exempts "traditional . . . military activities" and their "routine support." Advisers said Rumsfeld, after requesting a fresh legal review by the Pentagon's general counsel, interprets "traditional" and "routine" more expansively than his predecessors.

"Operations the CIA runs have one set of restrictions and oversight, and the military has another," said a Republican member of Congress with a substantial role in national security oversight, declining to speak publicly against political allies. "It sounds like there's an angle here of, 'Let's get around having any oversight by having the military do something that normally the [CIA] does, and not tell anybody.' That immediately raises all kinds of red flags for me. Why aren't they telling us?"

The enumeration by Myers of "emerging target countries" for clandestine intelligence work illustrates the breadth of the Pentagon's new concept. All those named, save Somalia, have allied themselves with the United States -- if unevenly -- against al Qaeda and its jihadist allies.

A high-ranking official with direct responsibility for the initiative, declining to speak on the record about espionage in friendly nations, said the Defense Department sometimes has to work undetected inside "a country that we're not at war with, if you will, a country that maybe has ungoverned spaces, or a country that is tacitly allowing some kind of threatening activity to go on."

Assistant Secretary of Defense Thomas O'Connell, who oversees special operations policy, said Rumsfeld has discarded the "hide-bound way of thinking" and "risk-averse mentalities" of previous Pentagon officials under every president since Gerald R. Ford.

"Many of the restrictions imposed on the Defense Department were imposed by tradition, by legislation, and by interpretations of various leaders and legal advisors," O'Connell said in a written reply to follow-up questions. "The interpretations take on the force of law and may preclude activities that are legal. In my view, many of the authorities inherent to [the Defense Department] . . . were winnowed away over the years."

After reversing the restrictions, Boykin said, Rumsfeld's next question "was, 'Okay, do I have the capability?' And the answer was, 'No you don't have the capability. . . . And then it became a matter of, 'I want to build a capability to be able to do this.'"

Known by several names since its inception as Project Icon on April 25, 2002, the Strategic Support Branch is an arm of the DIA's nine-year-old Defense Human Intelligence Service, which until now has concentrated on managing military attachés assigned openly to U.S. embassies around the world.

Rumsfeld's initiatives are not connected to previously reported negotiations between the Defense Department and the CIA over control of paramilitary operations, such as the capture of individuals or the destruction of facilities.

According to written guidelines made available to The Post, the Defense Department has decided that it will coordinate its human intelligence missions with the CIA but will not, as in the past, await consent. It also reserves the right to bypass the agency's Langley headquarters, consulting CIA officers in the field instead. The Pentagon will deem a mission "coordinated" after giving 72 hours' notice to the CIA.

Four people with firsthand knowledge said defense personnel have already begun operating under "non-official cover" overseas, using false names and nationalities. Those missions, and others contemplated in the Pentagon, skirt the line between clandestine and covert operations. Under U.S. law, "clandestine" refers to actions that are meant to be undetected, and "covert" refers to those for which the U.S. government denies its responsibility. Covert action is subject to stricter legal requirements, including a written "finding" of necessity by the president and prompt notification of senior leaders of both parties in the House and Senate.

O'Connell, asked whether the Pentagon foresees greater involvement in covert action, said "that remains to be determined." He added: "A better answer yet might be, depends upon the situation. But no one I know of is raising their hand and saying at DOD, 'We want control of covert operations.' "

One scenario in which Pentagon operatives might play a role, O'Connell said, is this: "A hostile country close to our borders suddenly changes leadership. . . . We would want to make sure the successor is not hostile."

Barton Gellman
The Washington Post
Sunday 23 January 2005