EXCLUSIVE dKOS INTERVIEW WITH Lt. Col. KAREN KWIATKOWSKI
Thu Jun 16th, 2005 at 11:41:33 CST
"The Downing Street Memo confirms what I witnessed and have been writing about... It all fits, and should lead to a deluge of related documents and witnesses." - Lt. Col Karen Kwiatkowski
As you know, Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) is holding a hearing today to investigate, for the first time at the Congressional level, the now-infamous "Downing Street Minutes." Rep. Conyers is expected to begin connecting the dots, to work backward from the undisputed authenticity of the DSM to paint a fuller picture of exactly how the push to "fix" the case for invading Iraq was carried out here in the United States.
I can think of no one more qualified to address this matter than Lt. Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, who blew the whistle on the Pentagon's "Office of Special Plans," a cadre of neoconservative planners, operating off-the-books and outside accepted intelligence channels, whose sole mission was to build the case on Iraq's WMD capability. According to repeated statements by Kwiatkowski, members of the OSP - few, if any, of whom had any background in intelligence gathering or analysis whatsoever - were engaged in a coordinated effort to "cherry-pick" data which happened to support their objective, while ignoring any data that might have undermined the goal of war with Iraq.
To anyone who's read the DSM, this all sounds depressingly familiar.
My intent with this diary - in the event partisans like House Judiciary Chairman, James Sensenbrenner, further torpedo John Conyers' investigation - is to reexamine the Office of Special Plans as a means of adding weight to what we've learned from the Downing Street Minutes. While the DSM may be "the smoking gun," I believe the Office of Special Plans is the silver bullet - the one that tore through our Constitution and put our Democracy in Intensive Care. With the gracious cooperation of a brave Soldier for Truth, I hope to shine some light on a crime whose victims now number into the tens of thousands.
NOTE: This interview was made possible by Kossack, Shockwave, who facilitated all communication between myself and Colonel Kwiatkowski. If his name appears in the comments section, consider giving him a tip. He's a good one to have on our side. Believe me.
INTERVIEW: Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, USAF (Ret.)
Karen Kwiatkowski retired from the Air Force in July of 2003, after 20 years of service. A graduate of the Naval War College, she served as a communications officer both in the field and in acquisition programs, as a speechwriter for the Director of the National Security Agency as well as in the office of the Secretary of Defense's staff covering African affairs. In May of 2002, she was transferred to the Pentagon's Near East / South Asia policy office (NESA) where she worked, ostensibly, for Deputy Undersecretary of Defense, William Luti. It was here in the offices of NESA that she witnessed the cementing of the neoconservative stranglehold on this country's military policymaking, and its means of presenting intelligence to the public.
alysheba: The seeds of the OSP were planted, as I understand it, at the moment Bush took office. Before they'd even been confirmed, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith had begun purging the Pentagon of career analysts who didn't share their views on Iraq, clearing the way for an ideological platform that had been articulated in 1997 with the formation of PNAC. At the time you signed on with the NESA office, who were the major ideological "players" in the office and to what degree did the OSP "exist"?
Karen Kwiatkowski: A lower level ideological player in my staff circle was our boss, Bill Luti. When I arrived in May 2002 into NESA, Luti was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy, Near East South Asia. He was a retired Naval Captain who had been a military aide to Secretary of Defense Cheney a decade or so earlier, and in 2001, he was reassigned to the Pentagon from a short stint on Vice President Cheney's staff in 2001.
By November 2002, Luti had been elevated from Deputy Assistant to Deputy Under Secretary. For 2001 and most of 2002, Luti's immediate supervisor was Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodman, and he was not an ideologue of the neoconservative variety. Rodman appeared to me to be largely inconsequential on many NESA policy issues, inasmuch as a lot of NESA work was conducted between Bill Luti or one of his assistants, such as Abe Shulsky, directly to and from Under Secretary for Policy Doug Feith or higher. Shulsky later headed up the OSP.
Luti had his Ph.D. from Tufts, the Fletcher School of International Relations, and Shulsky had completed advanced study at the University of Chicago. I was told by co-workers that he had studied under Strauss there, but I don't know. Of course, other key higher level ideologues relating to Middle East policy included Doug Feith and his former patron, Richard Perle, now reincarnated as Chairman of the Defense Policy Board. Certainly, Paul Wolfowitz was a passionate ideologue.
Almost all of the political appointees in NESA and many in other parts of OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense) Policy were also narrowly ideologically driven, at least in NESA. Guys like Dave Schenker who had come in from WINEP to work the Israel/Syria/Lebanon desk. Before I got to NESA, David Wurmser had been a political appointee within OSD Policy. Of course, PNAC itself was a significant source of members of the Defense Policy Board. There is a long list of big and not so big neoconservative fish in the tiny tank that was processing and creating Middle East policy within OSD.
OSP existed in several forms before it was disbanded in the fall of 2003. Initially there was the smaller group (a couple of folks) that were assigned by Rumsfeld after 9/11 to reexamine the intelligence to see what had been missed or overlooked by the professional intelligence system. In retrospect, that seems quite presumptuous, but we used to love that about Rumsfeld in the early days. I don't know who these guys were, although I think Abe Shulsky could have been one of them. In any case, Shulsky was the unquestioned leader of the OSP when it had grown to about 18 or so people, and was provided separate spaces from the rest of NESA in August 2002.
We had a NESA staff meeting that August, and Bill Luti announced that the OSP was formed, was moving out of our spaces, and curiously we were told to tell no one that it was called the OSP. Instead, we were to refer to it as the "Expanded Iraq Desk." Several weeks after the OSP folks left our spaces, Larry Franklin (indicted on May 4th for passing secrets to Israel via AIPAC) and another person who was working the Iran desk also moved up to OSP.
Later, perhaps to accommodate Iran, it was sometimes referred to as the Northern Arabian Gulf desk. OSP did Iraq work, and also influenced and overlapped function with other parts of OSD in engaging in terrorism and WMD proliferation work. They produced sets of talking points on demand for the rest of NESA and others in OSD on Iraq, terrorism and MD. We were mandated to use these points verbatim, in their entirety and without modification or supplementation. We were directed by Bill Luti to never use an older set of talking points, but for each paper we wrote for our seniors or others, we were to request the latest set of talking points. Abe Shulsky was the final approving authority on every version of the talking points, and I remember sometimes we had to wait for him to release the current set. They were generally classified SECRET, but of course many of the phrases and points brought out in the talking points were very familiar to all Americans because they were consistently reflected in presidential and vice presidential speeches in the fall and winter of 2002.
a: Anyone whose dismissal was of particular concern to you?
KK: It seems that most of the potential non-team players in Middle East policy had been taken out or replaced before I arrived in NESA. This included the Director of NESA, Joe McMillan, the career (non-political) flag level civilian incumbent who would have served as Bill Luti's second. This position stayed vacant from 2001, and wasn't filled until after we invaded Iraq.
Strangely, NESA was always crying for people, and trying to get them, but it is difficult to find political ideologues who are eligible for such career civil service positions. The Defense Intelligence Agency assigns a senior professional intelligence officer to each of the OSD policy directorates. NESA's DIO at the time, Bruce Hardcastle, was marginalized and complained about by the politically appointed ideologues during the time I was there. Luti was unhappy with his briefings on the WMD danger that Iraq posed to us and others, and pressured the DIO to change those intelligence assessments. Hardcastle, true to his surname perhaps, however, steadfastly exhibited courage and integrity.
Basically, by late 2002, Luti found a different way to present the information he wanted, and ceased utilizing the DIO briefing. I was busy that fall and winter trying to arrange a visit to North Africa where Luti and Mr Hardcastle (the DIO) were both expected to attend. I was informally advised by a co-worker that Luti would not permit the DIO to be in the same room, in effect had refused to work with him in any way. It is very interesting in a policy planning organization at that level to simply refuse to work with, listen to, or be briefed by your top professional intelligence advisor.
It seems petty and childish, but it was typical of how professional civilians and military folks were marginalized and not necessarily fired, but simply removed from access to the decision-makers on Iraq policy and planning.
Another personnel changeout that occurred before I got there was the replacement of the retired military officer, then career civilian who worked the Israel/Syria/Lebanon desk. This individual, by reputation an outstanding action officer with lots of on-the-ground experience, was replaced by political appointee David Schenker from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel thinktank.
I saw no one fired, but I watched as military and civilian professional alike found ways to shorten their tour under Luti and the neo-crazies. I actually was assigned in the office to replace a CIA loan officer who curtailed his 12 month assignment to NESA after only five months. He found a job in Yemen, and was grateful for the opportunity. Military people buckled under and privately called their buddies, working to get out of what is normally a prized OSD level three year tour. Civilians did the same, and those who didn't like the ideology of the new NESA found ways to leave or mentally check out.
a: I'm still trying to understand the geography of the NESA offices. Were you, for example, doing your work on North Africa at one desk while the person at the next desk was working on OSP-specific material? How exactly did the pro-war "groupthink," as you called it in a Common Dreams interview, resonate outward from those working directly for the OSP component of NESA?
KK: Near East South Asia policy covers Bangladesh to Marrakech. During the summer of 2002, it was like that, regular apolitical desk officers were sitting next to folks who were assigned or who had come in to work Iraq policy for Abe Shulsky and Bill Luti. These future OSP guys for the most part had no exposure to policy or the Pentagon except from college or thinktanks, and it was not clear what they were doing in any case. They weren't doing desk officer work, and that was obvious to the rest of us. Once they were removed to their own spaces, we quickly forgot about them.
There were two military officers in OSP, both Air Force pilots taking an OSD staff tour. These two would be expected to have been apolitical. One was, and he was the key guy who seemed to interface with the rest of the staff officers, and was a really hard worker. The other Colonel was a former congressional staff aide to Newt Gingrich, now on the Defense Policy Board, and he was obviously political and seemed very much a true believer in the neoconservative cause and planning for Iraq. Neither of these guys were intelligence or political military affairs officers, nor were they regional experts.
a: Is the apolitical colonel Kevin Jones? And the ideologue - the former Gingrich advisor - Col. William Bruner, the man you had been told was "Chalabi's handler?"
KK: Yes on both of them.
In a sense, the selection of people for OSP was designed for pro-war groupthink. Most came to OSP predisposed as true believers that Iraq was to be forcefully converted to a country we controlled, and many of those believers felt that way because their Israeli law partners, family members, friends, advisors and counterparts all felt that way. Richard Perle, Dough Feith and David Wurmser had drafted the 1996 proposal "A Clean Break: A Strategy for Securing the Realm" in support of Netanyahu's political campaign, and it had called for the replacement of Saddam Hussein for Israeli security interests. The apolitical persons in OSP (if there were any at all) who might have countered the groupthink had no background or knowledge of Iraq, intelligence and the proper uses thereof, and I think perhaps some of them were awestruck to be so close to the decision makers and the Vice President's office.
a: Given the coziness between Bruner/Luti and Chalabi, did any of the now-debunked intel to have come from "Curveball" make its way through the OSP? When Curveball's claims (mobile weapons lab / unmanned chem-warfare aircraft / etc.) were debunked in the national media, or perhaps even when you witnessed Colin Powell regurgitating them in front of the UN, did you recognize any of them as "talking points" which had emanated from the OSP?
KK: I don't know for sure, but it seems as if Curveball's bad info did come to the OSP, and may have been disseminated by it. I think that Curveball's info (according to the Rockefeller-Roberts report) came directly to the intelligence community at an earlier date, where it was debunked, but it then found its way back into the community through OSP and/or the Vice President's office.
The later "occurrence" of the same kinds of "reports" may have appeared to intelligence analysts as an independent confirmation of something they had previously rejected. I didn't witness this personally, but the things Curveball insisted were true are very similar to the bullets and phrases I was familiar with from OSP talking points, and these things were not found or reflected in mainstream military intelligence I saw.
Interestingly, the famous "Niger yellowcake" story, debunked by Ambassador Joe Wilson but later inexplicably included in the President's 2003 state of the union address, was never included in our OSP provided talking points. I think this speaks to the multifaceted and comprehensive nature of the administration's very effective effort to create a pretext for a war already predetermined.
a: During your time at NESA, did you ever have any contact with British officials who may have been aware of the OSP's operations?
KK: I don't recall any. Our relationship in the Pentagon with the Brits is close, and I am sure the right guys at the British embassy and elsewhere in Washington knew something about what OSP was doing. It was quite an open secret, and many of the military attachés I spoke with from North Africa and from European countries in the course of my work there were well versed through their own sources as to what was happening in OSP. They seemed to know that OSP was critical to the shaping of Iraq policy and responsible for the alarming stupidity of much of what was going on and being said in 2002 and 2003.
The misuse of intelligence to push the pro war agenda concerned many of them, because you see, other countries have intelligence capability too and some of them wondered what the Americans were smoking.
Luti and others from OSP attended a December 2002 meeting in London with Chalabi's people to produce a new Iraq constitution to be used after we toppled the Ba-ath regime.
a: On July 23rd, 2002, Head of Britain's MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove told Tony Blair that there had been "a perceptible shift in attitude" toward invading Iraq, according to the "Downing Street Minutes." Do you believe that information coming out of the OSP during the preceding months contributed to the "shift in attitude" perceived by Dearlove?
KK: On July 23rd, 2002, OSP had not formally formed or at least been announced, although Abe Shulsky and much of his staff was been present in our spaces for several months. What they were producing in the spring and early summer of 2002 is unclear to me. It certainly wasn't being produced for staff officers at my level, we were still using the processed intelligence as usual to prepare our papers. However, this was a time of major Pentagon leaks to the media, most specifically the New York Times and other papers.
Rumsfeld acted as if he was furious, and mandated a major FBI/AF OSI joint investigation regarding the leaks of war planning information on the upcoming invasion of Iraq. Nothing came of that investigation, and no reporter seems to be curious today as to what the investigation results were, and what part of the Pentagon leaked the info.
There were also increased placement of hysterical "news" articles about the threat Iraq posed in terms of WMD, terrorism and subtle hints of a 9/11 role. The New York Times' Judith Miller appears today as a Jayson Blair-wannabe for the national security pages. The American Enterprise Institute, key neoconservative members of the Defense Policy Board and other neoconservative or prowar thinktanks all published profusely during this time frame. Abe Shulsky probably had a hand in it, but I didn't personally witness his role. I did see how he designed and warped intelligence and hearsay and unverifiable fact for us staff officers to use after August 2002. Quite a creative guy, with little integrity or respect for the truth, at least based on his talking points for our use.
a: One of the recurring themes in the latest series of leaked documents to come out of Britain is the lack of American attention to the issue of postwar planning. Did what you saw coming out of the OSP evince a similar lack of concern for the postwar phase of operations?
KK: One of my final emails to the NESA deputy director, and the one that technically got me moved back to my original OSD Directorate for Sub Saharan Africa, related to my own observations regarding the absence of realistic post war planning.
Everyone wanted to know what they (OSP) were thinking for post-war. The Turkish government had presented our ambassador in Ankara with a long list of post war planning questions. The OSP prepared the answers, and the deputy direct shared this No-Dis Secret message with the rest of us, in hopes that it would answer our general questions.
War with Iraq had been imminent since December if not earlier, so people were wondering about what the aftermath would look like for us, even if they didn't work Iraq issues. One third of the answers to the 40 plus questions were "We're working on that" or "TBD." Another one third were pat answers that showed little competence or forethought. And the rest of the answers were patently insane or unrealistic.
For example, one of the questions from the Turks had to do with human crossflow into and from Iraq after the military victory in Baghdad. Not just refugees but others. Of course, Turkey had some concerns along these lines with Kurdish separatism problems they have. The OSP-drafted answer was that the U.S. Army would secure all of Iraq's borders. I had noted in my email to the deputy director a length comparison between the U.S. border with Mexico and the Iraq border, and suggested in a clearly disrespectful and inappropriate way that the US army was probably not going to be able to secure Iraq's border in any way, shape or form.
Yes, I admit, I had failed the groupthink test and was removed from NESA within the week. But today, it is painfully and tragically obvious that the OSP planning was not just idiotic and inadequate, it was criminal. The only question is whether this was because of incompetence or by design.
a: In your Salon article, you mention Bill Luti's passion for repeatedly forwarding documents to Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Were there other ways in which the Vice President's influence manifested itself within the OSP?
KK: Just an unusual intimacy, in many ways and at many levels. I can only assume that OSP talking points were provided to Cheney's office and his speechwriters, and to Bush's speechwriters. I say this because I had already heard so many of those phrases that the President and Vice President used in the fall and winter of 2002 because I had copied them into my own staff papers, on the authority of Luti and Shulsky.
a: Was there ever a concrete incident in which you were instructed to remove items you knew to be truthful from any material you'd been working on?
KK: In my own case, yes. I was made in late January or early February to change a paper on Libya because I stuck with the intelligence reporting we had, and they wanted it to make Libya out as a bigger evildoer than the intelligence indicated. After three tries the deputy director told me Luti would never accept it this way, and had me email the file to him. He worked it and I don't recall how it ended up.
This had never happened to me in 20 years, and it was because I wouldn't write the "correct" WMD concerns in my paper, because I didn't believe the intelligence supported that "correct" WMD concern. Ironically, after the Iraq invasion, it turned out the our war on terror ally Pakistan had been sending its WMD stuff to Libya, and that certainly wasn't in the intel I had access to. I believe the Pakistan-Libya link came as something of a surprise to the administration. I could have used that to please Bill Luti in early 2003. Darn!
In other words, no one, after August 2002, could write anything directly from the intel sources on Iraq, WMD or terrorism. All written material on those subjects was controlled, created and distributed by Shulsky's OSP. You don't have to change the "facts" when you create them yourself and mandate their unadulterated usage in every paper.
a: By far the most damning statement I've seen attributed to you was a comment you made in your interview with Common Dreams. You said: "The truth is, we know [Saddam] didn't have these things. Almost a billion dollars has been spent - a billion dollars! - by David Kay's group to search for these WMD, a total whitewash effort. They didn't find anything, they didn't expect to find anything."
To date, former UNSCOMM Chief Weapons Inspector, Scott Ritter, is the only person I've seen echo this sentiment publicly, perhaps because it implicitly suggests that the war involved not manipulation, not mistakes, but outright lies. Can you point to anything or anyone else who could help to prove that others actually "knew" Iraq had no WMD?
KK: Tommy Franks and the President must have known, because they sent the bulk of troops into Iraq without chem, bio or nuclear protection gear.
The choice isn't between mistakes and outright lies, it is between being sociopathic mass murderers of American soldiers and Marines or just outright liars. The administration knowingly manipulated what they had in the intelligence and lied about the rest to bring our country, the Congress and the other countries along.
Our intelligence said that Saddam's military capabilities in every category (with the exception of fiberoptic communications and ground survivability strategies against air attacks of the kind we were conducting) was fourth rate and degraded after the 1991 Gulf War, a dozen years of bombing as part of Northern and Southern No Fly Zone enforcement, and sanctions. That intelligence was accurate. Kay had access to it, we all did. Ritter was and remains correct.
a: How did your desire to alert the public to the nature of the OSP first manifest itself? Was it in response to any specific event?
KK: By August 2002, I (and many of my co-workers as well) had seen enough to conclude that these folks were actually lying to pursue an agenda and not just misreading and struggling with on-the-job policy training. I didn't understand why, but when I began to understand the neoconservative ideology through the writings on Irving and Bill Kristol, Perle and Feith, I began to see what was happening.
It was a usurpation of administrative process, and a hijacking of the Pentagon to pursue an narrow and dangerous agenda, that made no security sense for the United States. I sent some of my personal essays, many of them darkly and cynically humorous, to the late Colonel David Hackworth, who published them anonymously on his website Soldiers for the Truth. I also accelerated my planned retirement date.
a: According to Mother Jones, as of February, 2004, no single representative of any of the entities said to be investigating the state of America's prewar intelligence on Iraqi WMD - not the CIA, not Congress, not the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board - has contacted you with a request for testimony. Has anything changed in the last eighteen months? What has been your level of involvement with the Conyers hearing?
KK: The Rockefeller-Roberts commission staffers (not the senators) interviewed me and it was a hostile interview. The Republican staffers wanted evidence that I had personally witnessed (in the same room as) direct threats and intimidation of intelligence officers or others who failed to report or produce party-line - i.e. the pro-war storyline -- in their documents and briefings.
I tried to explain how marginalization of the type I've described previously, replacement of key decision makers with political hacks, incompetents and yes-men, and an intimidating atmosphere aided by the well flaunted relationship of the OSP agenda and Dick Cheney's office constitute an atmosphere of intimidation. They were not interested in that at all.
The funny thing is that if I had been complaining about systematic sexual harassment or prejudicial work environment for a particular class of people - for example, women, persons of color, the foreign born, non-drinking conservative Christians, you name it - the Congress would have been all over it. Instead, I was talking about discrimination and a hostile work environment for truth tellers in the intelligence and policy community and they simply did not care.
Anyway, the Rockefeller-Roberts Commission said they would conduct a Part II investigation of politicization of intelligence after the 2004 elections. Then they quietly cancelled Part II. There are massive amounts of information that Congress has access to that would make an assessment of politicization of intelligence, particularly by the OSP, a massive embarrassment for the Congress as well as the administration.
I was contacted by Conyers' staff for their work on the "Downing Street Memo." I asked if I could send in a short statement, and I did that, and I believe it will be or is already posted on Conyers' website. The "Downing Street Memo" confirms what I witnessed and have been writing about, as well as those better placed in 2001 and 2002 to observe what the top levels (Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Feith, Cheney and Bush) were thinking. It all fits, and should lead to a deluge of related documents and witnesses.
a: When Harold Rhode, longtime Pentagon specialist on Middle Eastern affairs and one of the chief architects of the OSP, was contacted by Mother Jones for comment on the OSP story, he said: "Those who speak, pay." Since you came forward, there has been a concerted effort to discredit you. Could you describe, in detail, ways in which you have been made to "pay" for daring to speak about the OSP?
KK: Yes, there has been an effort to discredit me. But it has been conducted primarily by the narrowly read and obscenely incestuous family of the American Enterprise Institute, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the National Review Online, and Frontpagemag.com, and a few of their related outlets and sympathizers.
I have been called anti-Semitic, a LaRouchite, an anarchist, and disgruntled. I am none of those things, but I must say, anarchist at least sounds exotic. They rarely challenge my credibility directly, because everything I have personally said or written about what I saw is rock solid accurate. There have been only a few cases where I have been misquoted, and those instances have been jumped on by neocon agitators like a pack of starving dogs on a raw steak.
If I saw something and misunderstood it, you'd think my neoconservative detractors would explain that. But they can't because they know better than I do what was going on, and they apparently don't want to go there. I take a perverse pleasure in being attacked by the chickenhawks who planned and supported this war, while making 100% sure they wouldn't be serving in it, nor their children.
a: If you had an opportunity to address the families of every soldier killed in Iraq, what would you tell them?
KK: Many deaths in many wars are pointless and in the end serve only as unnecessary sacrifices and individual tragedies in vain pursuit of some misguided government policy. Rudyard Kipling said it a hundred years ago, with his Epitaph: "If any question why we died, tell them, because our fathers lied."
That's not very comforting.
My heart goes out to these families, and they have a right to expect accountability and honesty from the President and the Congress. They should insist that the President go ahead and for the very first time, honestly explain why we are in Iraq.
It is about nationally directed economics (not the free market), guaranteed noncompetitive American contracts, puppet governments, Israel's security and Likud Party dreams of leveraging the U.S. military for Israel's own strategic interests, petro-dollar security, and hedging the future China threat - especially if someday we decide not to pay them for all the T-Bills they've been soaking up so we can go play war around the world today. It is about changing our military footprint out of Saudi Arabia into a more central and convenient, operationally cost-effective Iraq. It's about how Bush feels in being a "War President" - a big change from his alcohol-drenched and cocaine-satiated days in the Air National Guard. It's about never having to read an intelligence report that challenges your preconceptions or disrupts your agenda.
I cannot imagine their pain, and it breaks my heart.
The Office of Special Plans:
Documentary Films in Which K.K. Appears: