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November 28, 2003
Notes from the Pentagon

A Pentagon counterintelligence unit has begun an investigation of the leak of a highly classified government letter that details years of reported contacts between al Qaeda operatives and senior members of Saddam Hussein's regime.

The Pentagon letter said contacts began in the early 1990s, when Osama bin Laden moved from being simply a terror financier to the builder of the global terror network al Qaeda.

Top Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) officials met with bin Laden at his farm in Sudan in the mid-1990s and relayed technical advise on how to make car bombs, a favorite al Qaeda tactic, the letter states.

The Weekly Standard broke the story by obtaining a copy of the top-secret letter signed by Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, and sent to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence late last month. The letter was a response to questions from the committee. The letter lists 50 intelligence reports of contacts between al Qaeda and Baghdad.

The leak angered the Bush administration. But supporters of the president's decision to invade Iraq and remove Saddam are relishing the disclosure. They say the intelligence is proof that Baghdad aided bin Laden, whose al Qaeda group was behind the September 11 attacks.

The Pentagon's Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) opened a probe that will look at the process by which the letter was sent from the Pentagon to Capitol Hill. It will also try to determine who had leaked it, a senior defense official told Inside the Ring.

It was reported previously that the CIA and Senate intelligence committee had asked the Justice Department to investigate the leak.

The counterintelligence unit normally focuses on shoring up security at places such as the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba. Getting the Feith letter case shows how egregious the Pentagon considers the breach, the official said.

"It was entirely unprofessional," the official said.

The source said the agency will try to determine whether the procedures in sending classified material to the Hill are "sound and should anything be tightened up." The source said the agency will identify everyone who handled the letter.

Strategic Guam
The strategic Pacific island of Guam is being looked at by the Pentagon as a place where U.S. military force numbers could be sharply increased.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld visited the island, located in the northern Pacific Ocean about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines, on Nov. 14.

A U.S. military officer in Guam said the U.S. territory's strategic value is that basing forces there puts them "14 hours closer to Asia than any U.S. base." "With the fall of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party, North Korea is the next major strategic threat," the officer said.

The officer did not mention the Taiwan Strait, where tensions have increased in recent days. China renewed threats to act against Taiwan over its plan to hold a referendum on a new constitution.

Other officials have said the recent basing of two Los Angeles class attack submarines, including the USS Corpus Christi, which was seen in port earlier this month, were intended to bolster any likely defense of Taiwan. A third submarine also is slated for basing on the island. An aircraft carrier battle group also could be "forward deployed" there.

The Air Force also has a major weapons supply depot on Guam that includes stockpiles of Conventional Air-Launched Cruise missiles and the newer satellite-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM, that was used in the Iraq war.

Rumsfeld on intelligence
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld does not favor a consolidation of U.S. intelligence agencies into one entity.

The secretary was asked his views on civilian and military intelligence consolidation by an airman at Osan Air Base, South Korea, on Nov. 18.

"There are people who talk about the idea of bringing all intelligence under a single entity. It's got some appeal," he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld said "national intelligence," the gathering and analysis of strategic information for policy-makers, could logically be consolidated into one agency to save money and improve efficiency.

"The problem with that is, it seems to me, is that national intelligence isn't what it's all about," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "National intelligence is important, but so is military intelligence. So is tactical intelligence. So is preparation of the battlefield. That can be quite different."

Mr. Rumsfeld said, however, that he does not believe all intelligence agencies should be brought under one roof.

"I think the truth is that we're probably arranged pretty well," he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld added that there are two things "you don't want to centralize excessively." One is research and development, which can be harmed by a lack of innovation by centralization.

"The second-worst thing you can do, I think, is to centralize intelligence," he said. "What we need is multiple sources of information. We need competing ideas and a variety of ways of gathering intelligence, it seems to me. We need people who think unconventionally about intelligence."

The remarks were viewed as a veiled criticism of the CIA, which is supposed to be the paramount U.S. intelligence agency.

Mr. Rumsfeld said intelligence officials need to think about their business, especially the "unknown unknowns," in ways that are "fresh and different."

"So I could criticize it, I could play it round or square, centralize it one place, centralize it another place, or leave it like it is," he said. "My best judgment tells me that we're probably better arranged today than we would be if we took either of the other courses."

Col. West update
Neal Puckett, the attorney for Army Lt. Col. Allen B. West, provided us with a two-page report on his client's Article 32 hearing on Nov. 19 in Tikrit. The Army has charged Col. West with aggravated assault and threatening to kill an Iraqi detainee. Col. West said he fired his pistol twice near the Iraqi to scare him into providing details about a plot to assassinate the officer.

"There [was] testimony that the Iraqis know that we cannot actually force or psychologically coerce them to give any information they don't want to give and regularly so state to interrogators," Mr. Puckett wrote.

"In this case, Lt. Col. West believed that the best course of action, in the limited time he had, was to take measures to ensure that any potential attacks on his soldiers were averted. He decided that the information must be obtained from the Iraqi policeman. He psychologically intimidated the detainee, who then provided names and places and methods of attack. Thereafter, Lt. Col. West's men took active security precautions, and no further attacks or ambushes occurred. One of the most important measures of effectiveness in combat is the absence of American casualties."

The hearing officer may recommend that Col. West face a court-martial or administrative punishment, or that the charges be dismissed.

Col. West spent his Thanksgiving running a 10K, serving turkey to soldiers and answering a barrage of e-mails.

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

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