National Public Radio broadcast
To the Point with Warren Olney
Guests: David Armstrong, Mark Riebling, Richard Anderson, William Arkin
October 31, 2002
WARREN OLNEY. Talking, today, about reports that, at the Pentagon, Secretary of State Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, are building up, what's been referred to as, a Secret Army, a covert group, to fight the War on Terror. Also, has developed a new intelligence unit to look at other intelligence data, see if, in fact, they can find connections between Saddam Hussein and terrorist groups, particularly Al Qaeda. Connections that haven't been made public, yet. Although, it was pointed out by William Arkin, they may, in fact, be known, and, yet, is just simply not revealed. David Armstrong, though, investigative reporter for the National Security News Service, sees this as part of a continuum, that goes all the way back to the Ford Administration, of cooking intelligence in order to meet preconceived positions. Taking up a different view, I suspect, is Mark Riebling, a writer on National Security issues, and author of, Wedge: From Pearl Harbor To 9/11, How The Secret War Between The FBI The And CIA Has Endangered National Security. David Armstrong, I'd like to talk first about your article, "Dick Cheney's Song of America: Drafting A Plan For Global Dominance." What does this all have to do with global dominance?
DAVID ARMSTRONG. Well, the, this is really part of a long-term position, held by many of the senior Bush Administration officials. The, this is one element, currently, in the war with Iraq, as, sort of, a test case for a long-term strategy. Staring in 1992, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Bush, the first Bush Administration put together a defense planning guide, drafted by Paul Wolfowitz, that, essentially, called for, this was under, of course, Defense Secretary Cheney, at the time. And, it called, essentially, for the United States to prevent new rivals from rising up to challenge the US on the world stage, thereby, preserving total superiority over friends and allies, alike. It was America's imperial moment, as they saw it, and an opportunity to consolidate power and not have to be concerned with possible retaliation by the Soviets, or other Super Powers. This policy, which included, of course, massive military superiority, massive economic superiority, missile defense, space weaponization, and all of the policies that the current Administration has adopted, was roundly rejected at the time. It was seen for what it was, a power play by the United States, and it was loudly denounced. It was shelved as a result of that bad reaction, and issued only as a white paper in the very last days of the first Bush Administration. Then, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell, was also an advocate of this policy, at the time. He, in fact, when it was first put forward, when the United States, when the Defense Department was rounding up support on Capitol Hill for it, at the time, he announced that he thought that US dominance was an appropriate position to take in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. And, in his words, he wanted to be the bully on the block. Well, not everyone saw it that way. With an election coming up, they had to shelve the plan, and issued it only in the very closing days of the first Bush Administration.
WARREN OLNEY. So, you're saying, then, that what we are seeing now is a revisitation of this, in the aftermath of September 11.
DAVID ARMSTRONG. September 11th gave them the perfect opportunity to revivify this plan, to put it back into action. During the first months of the Bush Administration, many of the elements, space weaponization, missile defense, and the rest, were all there, but it didn't seem to add up to a cohesive plan. And on September 11th, we saw that, we saw the plan cohere, in a sense, and come together in a more obvious way. And, Iraq is really the test case for that process.
WARREN OLNEY. David Armstrong, once again, investigative reporter for the National Security News Service. Mark Riebling is a writer on National Security issues, and author of, Wedge: From Pearl Harbor To 9/11, How The Secret War Between The FBI and CIA Has Endangered National Security. Mark Riebling, what do you say to what we have just heard from David Armstrong? And, what does this imply for the view of our current leadership, as to America's role in the world?
MARK RIEBLING. I think it's appropriate that we're speaking of all this on Halloween, because what I'm hearing is, frankly, a lot of scare-mongering. I'm hearing about a vast Right Wing war conspiracy, a scenario for a James Bond film, in which Rumsfeld is Blofeld. Global domination? I mean, really, the idea that he's, A, intent on taking over the whole spy community, and, B, after that, the whole world, I think is overstated.
But, one of the things I talked about in Wedge, which is very much about all these interagency things, is that every time there's a major intelligence failure there's talk about a makeover. But, every time there's talk about a makeover, it's transmuted into warnings about a takeover. That's why these bureaucratic turf battles get blown up into talk about an American Gestapo, for instance.
It's what we heard about after Pearl Harbor, where CIA was trying to get off the ground, and J. Edgar Hoover played the media by exaggerating the powers of the new agency. Or, again, when the Pentagon tried to bring together its spy programs in 1960 to integrate Army, Navy, Air Force intelligence -- Alan Dulles, who was then chief of the CIA, engineered a front page article in The New York Times, headlined, “CIA To Lose Role As Chief Evaluator Of Data.” Which wasn’t true at all.
So I would interpret what we’re seeing now in that context. Every time the Secretary Of Defense tries to get a hand on his many intel programs, we hear warnings about the dire consequences to liberty. When you look behind those warnings, what you really see is the CIA trying to preserve its perks.
WARREN OLNEY. Well, how, then, would you interpret these events? I don't think there's dispute that this new intelligence unit has been created in the Pentagon, or that the covert army, that was described earlier by William Arkin, is certainly being built up.
MARK RIEBLING. I read Mr. Arkin's article. It was a great article. But, a lot of the things they're talking about are just in a 78 page plan, which is supposed to be presented, as I understand it, to Rumsfeld this week. And, so, a lot of these things haven't come actually come about.
But I would just note that Mr. Arkin used the word, interagency, several times. I'm really a specialist in that aspect -- in my work I've focused on the interagency problems. If you want more effective intelligence, you have to have this kind of fusion. Considering that everyone and his brother has talked about the need for closer interagency intelligence cooperation, I'm surprised that, once we're actually seeing it, some of these same people claim to be scared by it. You can't have it both ways.
WARREN OLNEY. What about the history that was outlined by David Armstrong, and the kind of language that was used by Team B, and, also, by the Missile Defense Task Force, and the suggestion that the same people who wrote these documents, and have now written a new statement of what America's policies ought to be, are saying very similar kinds of things? And, it does suggest, does it not, that the United States should have total superiority? That, this is, if you want to paraphrase it, a time for an imperial moment, whether we like it or not, this obligation has been put upon us.
MARK RIEBLING. If I could just focus, for a second, on the alleged twisting of facts, and the military bias. I think everyone acknowledges that people come to the evidence with different preconceptions. Even Mr. Armstrong conceded that the CIA had been low-balling the Soviet threat during the 1970s. Now, perhaps, Team B overstated it. But, the point is, we can't go into these problems assuming that the civilian bias, which tends toward arms control, and the view that everyone is rational, is necessarily more appropriate than the military bias. That needs to be argued, not just assumed. What are the facts? That’s actually the subject of my forthcoming book, about the rivalry between the Pentagon and the CIA. What we're talking about here is the clash of two mind-sets. The military mind tends to be conservative, realistic and historical. The civilian mind tends to be liberal, idealistic and utopian. Journalists, obviously, are civilians, and they tend to distrust, and to suspect, the military’s motives.
WARREN OLNEY (OVERLAPPING) Aren't we supposed to have civilian control of the military, though?
MARK RIEBLING. Well, oversight and management, yes – not daily operational control. The military controls more than 85 percent of the Intelligence Community’s budget and collection assets. It wants to be able to analyze the “take” from those assets, and it wants a say in targeting the collection.
What’s more, the Pentagon has been right a lot of the time when CIA has been wrong. Again, I go into this in detail in my forthcoming book, and I explore why this has been the case. But especially in the War on Terrorism, the Pentagon's indications and warning have been far superior to the CIA's. And that's in large part, what we're worried about, or should be -- indications and warnings of enemy action.
WARREN OLNEY. I need to introduce another guest. Before I do, I just want to go back to David Armstrong, and give you an opportunity to respond, as briefly as you can, to the phrase, scare-mongering, used by Mark Riebling. Go ahead.
DAVID ARMSTRONG. Well, this isn't a question of scare-mongering, these are their statements. If you read the new National Security strategy, which is almost a carbon copy of the defense planning guidances that were issued in 1992, you will see that they say that the number one task for the United States, in the coming century, is to maintain a, sort of, hegemony, a global dominance, to ensure that no new rivals rise up to challenge it. And, that goes for friends and foes alike.
This has not got anything to do with trying to cook up some unusual interpretation, it's simply a reading of their own statements, and their own policies. As for the question of civilian control, or military control, of intelligence, that we have intelligence agencies. And, if they're not functioning correctly then there's an opportunity to try to solve that problem. To put it in the hands of politicians and policymakers seems, to me, the wrong approach.
These are people who have an agenda, who have an approach, and they need to get accurate and timely intelligence to be able to carry out their responsibilities. But, putting them in charge of interpreting the data seems, to me, to be a dangerous solution to a problem.
WARREN OLNEY. I'll try to get back to our other three guests, but I want to introduce, now, Richard Anderson, who's a political scientist at the University Of California At Los Angeles, specializes in Russian politics. In the '70s, he was a military analyst for the CIA. He, then, served as an aid on the House Intelligence Committee for Congressman, and then, later, Defense Secretary Les Aspen. Richard Anderson, welcome to our program. What do you make of all that we have been hearing in the last thirty minutes, which you have been listening to very patiently, and intently?
RICHARD ANDERSON. Well, I like Mr. Riebling's sense of humor. I mean, Rumsfeld, Blofeld, makeover, takeover, I mean, that's funny. In an odd way, to some degree, I agree with his analysis. That is that, when I was at the CIA and, later, in the Congress, one of the things I learned was that, the CIA really exists to give us skeptical opinion about what the Defense Department says. The CIA is, basically, the President's truth squad when it comes to the Pentagon.
The Pentagon, it's not so much that the military is realistic, as that, the military is charged with defense. And, the military figures they can do a better job of defense if they have more resources. And, they can get more resources if it's threat is bigger. So, the military is constantly telling us that there are all these dangers out there. And, then, what the CIA exists to do is take a, kind of, neutral, skeptical view of that.
And, that's what they do. Then, the defense people come back, and they find some outside people who are, Team B. I always thought that Team B, you know, that one of the principle people from Team B sat at the desk next to mine in the CIA. Frankly, I always thought that Team B stood for, Team Biased. Because, they did bring in people with a deliberate preconception.
It wasn't that the CIA was underestimating the Soviet threat, it was that the CIA's estimate of the Soviet threat didn't coincide with the overestimate by the Pentagon. Whenever you get a Republican Administration in, of course, a Republican Administration's going to favor the military and the Pentagon more than a Democratic Administration, just because of the nature of the support for those two parties.
And, therefore, they're going to start putting pressure on the CIA. Now, that said, while I think there's some dangers in what Secretary Rumsfeld is doing, it's also true that you have to ask yourself what the situation is. And, whenever you have a bunch of agencies trying to coordinate some action, like the War On Terrorism, then, that's going to be subject to more bureaucratic delay, and conflicts and difficulties than having one agency firmly in control.
And, so, if Secretary Rumsfeld is moving to take personal control of these intelligence and military operations in the War On Terrorism, that is going to make the War On Terrorism more decisive than the same campaign would be if it were subject to a lot of interagency coordination.
WARREN OLNEY. Richard Anderson, once again, a political scientist at the University Of California. Has worked for the CIA, also, for the House Intelligence Committee, and, then, for the Defense Secretary, or, excuse me, for, when, later, Defense Secretary Les Aspen was in the Congress.
Back to Mark Riebling, again, author of, Wedge: From Pearl Harbor To 9/11, How The Secret War Between The FBI And The CIA Has Endangered National Security. What do you say to the fact that, or the prospect that what's happening here, the explanation, I should say, is that they're trying to keep everything they're doing from the Congress to avoid oversight? And, is that, do you think, an appropriate thing for the Pentagon to do?
MARK RIEBLING. If we're talking about this new unit which has been set up in the Pentagon, let's keep in mind that this is two to four staffers sitting at desks with computers. So, what they're going to do that needs congressional oversight I don't know. If we're talking about this vast Secret Army, which Mr. Arkin has talked about, then, this will need no more, or less, scrutiny than Delta Force and Green Berets have had in the past. So, I don't really see any great dramatic developments here.
I guess the one thing I would be concerned about is that, it is true that the military does tend to make the best case for the worst case scenario. The possibility does exist that, especially in this climate, where Americans are very concerned, and the support is there in Congress, that we will route our taxpayer dollars into unnecessary programs. So, that would be my primary concern. But it’s a concern that’s been there all along, certainly throughout the Cold War, and it’s a big leap from that to believing that the Pentagon has a secret plan for global dominance.