Inside the Pentagon's "Office of Special Plans"
(Video YouTube, Audio MP3)
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
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 LewRockwell.com
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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?
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.
-- 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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
-- 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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
anyway, I -- my arg -- the observations that I made were
published. There was an OpEd that was published and then
in the end of 2003 through January, 2004 did a three
part -- they published my story in three parts. And it's
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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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