Washington, DC - March 7, 2014 8AM-5PM at the National Press Club

"..a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils."

-George Washington, Farewell Address


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Inside the Pentagon's "Office of Special Plans"
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by Karen Kwiatkowski retired from the U.S. Air Force with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel following service at the top echelons of the Pentagon, including the Office of Special Plans during the run-up to the war in Iraq. She served as Political-military affairs officer in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Under Secretary for Policy, in the Sub-Saharan Africa and Near East South Asia (NESA) Policy directorates; worked on the North Africa desk; served on the Air Force Staff, Operations Directorate at the Pentagon; served on the staff of the Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) at Fort Meade, as well as tours of duty in Alaska, Massachusetts, Spain and Italy. Kwiatkowski is the author of two books about U.S. foreign policy towards Africa: African Crisis Response Initiative: Past Present and Future (US Army Peacekeeping Institute, 2000) and Expeditionary Air Operations in Africa: Challenges and Solutions (Air University Press, 2001). Kwiatkowski has an MA in Government from Harvard University, MS in Science Management from the University of Alaska, and completed both Air Command and Staff College and the Naval War College seminar programs. She earned her Ph.D. in World Politics from Catholic University of America in 2005. Kwiatkowski's analysis of the U.S. invasion of Iraq has been featured in a number of documentaries, including Why We Fight in 2005. She has written for The American Conservative and for since 2003.

Thanks. It's an honor to be here with the distinguished people here and to learn what we're going to be learning. I really wished that I had the benefit of Steve Sniegoski's background knowledge before I started working in the Undersecretary of Policy in the Department of Defense under -- Under Rumsfeld and the neocons there.

Before -- I worked in Undersecretary of Policy, African Affairs, starting in 2000, at the tail end of the Clinton Administration. And of course Clinton had had the famous visit to Africa and that kind of thing. And so Africa was kind of a place where the Pentagon was even then, and of course it's grown in interest now. But it was a growing area of policy interest.

When the Bush Administration came in, of course, that changed. And for the first eight months, until 9/11/2001, the Bush Administration actually had shown very little interest in anything that it seemed we were doing in the Pentagon. Certainly no interest in Sub-Saharan African policy or Central African policy, which is where I worked.

After about six months after 9/11 -- of course after 9/11 we all know how things shifted and changed and our new set of enemies. Of course we engage in a war with Afghanistan. But there was a growing interest in the Middle East, certainly in invading Iraq. And I know anybody who was in this country and even outside of this country at the time, remember the calls for -- that Rumsfeld made to scoop up all the evidence. If Iraq is involved, they must be involved. Saddam Hussein must be involved.

So this interest in invading Iraq was there and a call went out in the headquarters of the -- you know the top levels of the DoD in the staff there. The call went out, they said they said they need more people to work in Near East South Asia, which is where Iraq policy, Saudi Arabia, Israel policy, all that is done.

They needed people to work. And there were no volunteers because people had already -- people smarter than me, had kind of figured out what was going on over there. The head of Near East South Asian affairs was Luti [William Luti]. He had a reputation which wasn't really that he was a good guy to work for or anything like that. And so people look out for themselves in the Pentagon. You know staffers, you know, they just want an easy job, no pain and as much gain as possible, that's what we're looking for.

So there were no volunteers. And I of course was a Lieutenant Colonel at the time and I was made to volunteer. I was volunteered. And so you know, I did my interview with Bill Luti and I told him, I said I'm not really a volunteer. You know, I'm in my 19th year, I actually have other plans. I don't have a real expertise in this area. And you know, I -- and by the way sir, did I mention that I'm not a volunteer. And he said fine, fine, and so I got to work.

And one of the first things that was said to me, and again, you have to realize, my area of interest and expertise, I had some background in Saudi Arabia and stuff, but not much and it was not my you know, Iraq certainly I knew nothing about.

I also had never heard the term neoconservative. I mean this word's been around since the 70s. I had not heard it, I did not know what it meant. I was a you now, a typical Libertarian leaning Republican wearing a uniform. And the guys I worked with, my peers in the military, tended to be just exactly that. Liberty leaning, constitution loving, Republicans, realists in their foreign policy perspectives.

So we didn't know what neoconservatives were. We were not neoconservatives and if you know, we would have been happy to know if that' what we were, but we weren't. And we'd never heard that term.

So one of the first things that was said to me when I got into the new -- my new office, and of course I was working North African countries, Morocco and that kind of thing. So I wasn't working Israel, Syria, Iraq or anything like that. I was working near -- I was sitting next to those guys. But one of the first things that was said to me was, if you have anything nice to say about the Palestinians, don't say it here.

Now you have to realize, I gave very little thought at the time to Palestinians or Israelis. These are not people that I worked with. This is not areas that I had been -- that I had studied. What I knew of Israel and Palestine certainly was problematic and troublesome and you know, this is a hard situation. You know, just the typical superficial knowledge. So I was actually shocked that someone would think that I would even have an opinion that I would say anything about Palestinians or Israel.

But I was warned. I was warned in advance by someone who saw himself as doing me a favor. You know, if you have anything nice to say, don't say it here. That was -- that kind of really -- you know, these sign of warnings, they go further than just the warning. Because now I said, what? That's so strange. Why would someone say that to me and why would it matter?

And all this, so I -- and then of course, I was educated by my other compatriots there in the office, Colonels, Navy Captains, people with more experience than me. People who had worked for Bill Luti, who had worked for Doug Feith, had worked for this Administration's Middle East policy analysis folks, and policy makers. And they kind of set me straight as to what was happening.

And what -- although it wasn't said that way at the time, what was happening was a realistic and preferably non-interventionist foreign policy in the Middle East was being -- there was a battle between that and what I have to say is a fantasist, interventionist and neoconservative foreign policy. A foreign policy that is aimed at just what Dr. Sniegoski said, aimed at destruction, aimed at destroying stability of various enemies.

Now whose enemies? Well, they weren't United States enemies, but they were enemies of another country. And so I came to understand that that was a concern. And again, I'm just there serving out the end of my career, just trying to do a good job. I think I worked hard. I didn't hold it against them that I wasn't a volunteer

But I -- I really was educated by these other guys that I worked with, many of whom sought employment in the military assignment system elsewhere, because they really were not going to be told the kinds of things that they were being told to do. It was against their principles. Not enough that they would quit, not enough that they would stand up and say we're not going to do this, but enough that they would call their assignments officer and get the hell out of Dodge, which is what they did.

I was already, you know my exit plan was I had my eye on retirement at that time. So I said well, I guess I can do this and I stayed there. And I made a few -- I stood up against a little -- a few things that I saw. One of -- but very to no avail, okay

Now, I got to clarify in the introduction, I didn't work in the Office of Special Plans. And from what I just told you, you probably can figure out why. First off I wasn't a volunteer. Second off I was a realist. Third off I wasn't an expert or a particular aficionado of this Middle East particular policy, particularly Israel and Palestine, particularly Iraq.

So -- but what I did do, is I worked in the place from which the Office of Special Plans was drawn and formed. And in the summer of 2002, this office was put together. We shared space for some time in our Pentagon offices and to the extent of being really crammed closely together, which I think you know, you learn things when you're crammed close together with people for a period of time.

The people who were being brought in over the summer of 2002, were political appointees almost to a man. There were a couple of military folks from other agencies, but for the most part they were political appointees. They were neoconservatives in their particular viewpoints. To some extent they were academics or hangers on in those academic policy type circles.

These folks came in, shared space with us over the period of the summer, and in August of 2002, we had a staff meeting, Bill Luti presided over it. He hauled everybody in his office, it was a big office, we could fit there. It's standing room only. And he explained to us, he understood how crowded it had been, and we finally -- he had found new space for what would be known as the Office of Special Plans, okay.

And then immediately after that he said, and don't tell anybody that that's what it's called. Because you know this idea of special plans and what not, he said this is the expanded Iraq desk. We had an Iraq desk of a couple of guys. This now of 16 to 20 guys, was the expanded Iraq desk. And that's how we were told to communicate this.

Now I don't -- I mean you guys are all -- you've been around the block. You don't tell somebody in a room of you know,15, 20, 30 people, here's this, this is a secret, I don't want you to -- okay, so immediately of course, OSP became part of the terminology.

They did move into a vaulted area and at that point in the fall of 2002, I did not see those folks as a group on a routine basis. We did see individuals there.

But here's the thing, we were told at that same staff meeting in August, that all talking points that had to do with -- now this was the expanded Iraq desk. But all talking points that had to do with -- anything to do with terrorism, with WMD, or with Iraq, or with Saddam Hussein, a short list of topics, anything that we produced as staff officers, and we produced lots of paper as you can quite imagine. Anything we produced that touched on any of these topics, would have to be vetted and approved through the Office of Special Plans and we were given the point of contact. And so that's how we did it.

So as a result of that policy, which of course all us good little staff officers do what we're told, we got to see what kinds of things were being approved, and what kinds of feedback we were getting on the work we were doing. And what was happening.

So what was happening was a set of talking points, originating from the Office of Special Plans, was produced on a regular basis and updated on a regular basis. And those talking points in general were provided to us to kind of add on to all of our paperwork, kind of as an appendix, but it wasn't really an appendix, it was supposed to be integrated in with whatever we produced. And anything that we produced that went off the reservation so to speak policy-wise, would be deleted or changed.

A couple -- you know, that's a big thing. This talking point set evolved over time. And the way it evolved, and I'm just you know, reading the newspaper here, I don't know, I don't really understand what's happening in a larger scale. But what I did notice was whenever the New York Times or the Washington Post or some other media outlet publicized something that we heretofore had been considering classified that was in our talking points, it would then be withdrawn or reworded in those talking points.

And a key thing as many of you will remember, in December of 2002, was the unsubstantiated and later proved false report that Saddam Hussein had met with hijackers in Prague, Czechoslovakia prior to 9/11. This was this really vacuous connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. Of course it didn't exist, wasn't true. And when it was finally shown through FBI documentation and other documentation within the system, within our government system, when it was finally shown not to be true, only then, only then was it withdrawn from the talking points that we were feeding up the chain to all of the superiors including Rumsfeld and then presumably to Dick Cheney and the Administration.

So very reactive, very publicity savvy, very unscientific, very unintelligence. This is not how we do intelligence in the government. This is not how we do it in the military. It was really playing fast and lose with the facts. Even the facts that are being shared within the Pentagon. So there was a great sense that we were not only as staff officers lying to people up the chain and around us in the Pentagon, we were being lied to on purpose. We were being manip -- so there's a sense of that manipulation.

Of course a few years later, the whole country got a sense of you know, when we found out how this had evolved, everybody felt manipulated. But it was very strange to feel that while you're wearing a uniform, doing what you think you're supposed to be doing in a really otherwise tight organization.

So that's kind of the -- in December, of course in January, the final straw for so many people was Colin Powell's presentation, which of course very much filled with things that we had been -- we had been pushing that line from the Office of Special Plans in our documents, so that's what we were told to say, knowing much of it was not true. And in fact of course, he pushed it on the whole world knowing I think, that much of it was not true.

So this is kind of what they were doing. They were in a propaganda mode. Office of Special Plans was a propaganda office. It was not the expanded Iraq desk. It was a neoconservative propaganda office.

Now want to go back just a little bit to something that Ms. McKinney said about you know, what is it the zoo, knowing the -- now I can't remember her rhyme. I'm sure you guys remember it. But knowing the characters, knowing who's who in the zoo basically, okay.

When I came over to work for Bill Luti in Undersecretary for Near East and South Asia policy, work in the North Africa desk, when I did that, I really was disconnected in many ways from the White House. We certainly were not connected to the Clinton White House and we hadn't been up until 9/11, very well connected to the Bush White House either. Although many military people thought Bush was a conservative. If you remember, he ran on a non-interventionist, limited government platform.

So he was somewhat popular at the time prior to 9/11. But we didn't have connections. The policy, that was a separate branch. Well you know, it's not a separate branch from the executive, but it was not something we worked with. But it turned out that Bill Luti was placed as Undersecretary of Near East/South Asia by Scooter Libby and Dick Cheney, who -- which is where he worked in Dick Cheney's staff before he came over into the Pentagon.

Now he had a military background, he was a retired Navy Captain, which is a dime a dozen in the Pentagon. I mean that doesn't -- that means nothing. It really -- I'm not trying to you know, denigrate anybody's career or that, but it's just not that important there. So he was not someone who had achieved a great rank in the Navy. And yet here he is at this position.

But he had gotten there because he was going to push an agenda of Scooter Libby -- a Scooter Libby and Dick Cheney agenda. A neoconservative agenda. Okay, so there's a name. Of course Doug Feith, obviously he was our boss as Undersecretary of policy. Where doe he come from? Well one of the things he had done that we all found, was the Clean Break document, you know, and David Wurmser, who worked in the Office of Special Plans, also an author of the Clean Break.

So you have these folks who are propagandizing, who are gaining their position though political appointments, political appointments heavily influenced by a very particular genre of policy. Not Republican, not Democrat, but neoconservative, which embraces both. And it is pro-Israel, not in a fundamental sense, but pro-Israel in the Likudnik sense, which is to you know, if we do these things, it will be good of Israel. And of course there's a whole other body of thought that says if you do these things, it will not be good for Israel.

So anyway, I -- my arg -- the observations that I made were published. There was an OpEd that was published and then later the American Conservative, in the end of 2003 through January, 2004 did a three part -- they published my story in three parts. And it's pretty interesting.

One of the things that I will share with you here if -- and many people here may already be familiar with it. But the comfort level and the access that the Israeli generals and the Embassy, the Israeli Embassy had to our -- to our leadership, to our building, and you remember, after 9/11 that building, you know, we locked down a little bit more. It wasn't just that you could walk into the Pentagon. It was a process.
One of the rules that had been changed was -- am I running out of time? I'm going to wrap it up really quick.

One of the rules that had changed, was the number of escorts that were required for guests, and it was one to three. It had been much higher. But now if you had a large group, you had to have several escort officers. And there were a group of Israelis waiting, whoever was supposed to have escorted them didn't show up, so a call was made.

So a couple of us went down to bring them into the E-ring to visit with Rumsfeld. And they were impatient of course because they had been waiting. But as soon as they -- as soon as we got there, they pretty much just went through, barged through. And we thought we were leading them to where they were going. That's not the case, we were basically running after them as they went to the office, where they were quite comfortable.

And they went straight into the office of who they were going to see, I can't remember who it was. But the door was shut. And so the secretary jumped up from her desk and said wait, wait, he has -- he has someone in his office, you'll have to wait.

So I'm just like you know regular staff officer and we're looking for something to do while we're waiting and I saw this sign-in rooster and I said well, you know maybe we can have these guys sign in, that will be something they can do. Because nobody likes to sign in and you have to do it. Except these guys didn't have to do it. And they said oh, no -- and this is the secretary -- oh, no, they don't have to sign in.

Well you know, this is the kind of access that it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It leads -- it clenches your stomach, it makes you wonder what's happening in your country. How your country makes policy, how it uses the most powerful military machine that it has. And we have this powerful military force. How is it being used?

So these were the questions that I asked and of course I retired. And I'm going to step down, so thank you very much.

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