- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2002

The increasing flow of leaks of our purported Iraqi war plans from the Pentagon in the last month suggest either that: 1) Our top generals are so adamantly opposed to the president's intentions that they are leaking detailed order of battle memoranda in the hope of undercutting them; or 2) we are in the midst of a mind-numbing government disinformation campaign designed to baffle and rattle the Iraqi regime, preparatory to commencement of hostilities.

The conventional Washington opinion has embraced the former theory, in part, at least, because conventional opinion also opposes the war plans. But I am inclined to the second theory disinformation. It is true that the senior military ranks are able and active players of the Washington leak game on behalf of routine policy and procurement battles (funding the Crusader artillery piece, for example).

But it is hard for me to accept that the generals and admirals of my acquaintance are capable of so wantonly undercutting their commander in chief on such a deadly matter as imminent war plans. After all, these unauthorized leaks if they are really that might cost thousands of battle deaths should we soon be going to war.

It is certainly true that between January and the late spring there was a vigorous policy debate within the administration on whether to invade Iraq. But from all accounts, the president decisively made up his mind to go forward just before Israel started its controversial incursions into the West Bank, when, it will be recalled, Vice President Richard Cheney was planning his Middle East trip to organize basing rights for the war.

While I concede the following is conjecture, assume that about a month ago the government started a campaign of, what, in the U.S. intelligence community is called, purposeful information or what the Russians call disinformation.

On July 5 and 6, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times reported on a leaked "preliminary Pentagon planning document" that called for an invasion force of 250,000. The New York Times wrote that "The willingness of the officials to outline Pentagon thinking … suggests unhappiness in some quarters with the current drift of strategizing."

A week later, on July 15, Michael Duffy of CNN/Time Magazine wrote an article headlined, "Decoding the headlines about Iraq Bush's team isn't preparing for war but fighting over whether and how to fight." It was largely an "informed" analysis of previously reported leaks.

Two days later was a particularly interesting day of reporting. The Washington Post and Associated Press both reported July 17 on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld losing his temper over leaks. They cited a leaked internal Rumsfeld memorandum: "Rumsfeld lamented a damaging lack of professionalism we continue to see on a daily basis," referring to a willingness of some defense officials to provide classified information to reporters. "It is wrong. It is against the law," Mr. Rumsfeld wrote.

That same day, the always-in-control Mr. Rumsfeld went on CNBC to grumble about leaks. If the secretary of defense wanted to emphasize the credibility of the Pentagon leaks, what better way than by bitterly (and publicly) complaining about them?

That was also the day that CNN reported that the Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz was in Turkey where "A split is reported to have emerged between the U.S. and Turkey over possible military action." On the same day in Scotland, the respected paper The Scotsman reported that British Prime Minister Tony Blair had presented to Parliament the case for supporting an invasion of Iraq.

Two days later, Mr. Bush met with 10th Mountain Division troops, where he vowed to strike pre-emptively against countries that are developing weapons of mass destruction. According to The New York Times, the president just smiled when the troops yelled "Let's get Saddam."

Two days later, on July 21, a rash of stories from Europe reported that European leaders were resigned to the likelihood of war with Iraq. The London Observer reported that a "massive assault … could be likely at short notice." That same day, The Washington Post caught the mood of Europe with a story that started: "Talk in Europe of a possible U.S. invasion of Iraq has been shifting … [from] panicked incredulity … to nervous resignation."

On July 25, the London Evening Standard and Russia's Pravda reported U.S. and British special forces were in staging areas in Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait "with military action likely within months possibly as early as August." The battle plan, according to these leaks, involved attacking the Iraqi countryside but not going into Baghdad (a Baghdad-last plan). The authoritative Manchester Guardian reported the next day that a "slimmed down force of 50,000 … could be deployed within a matter of days."

Then last Sunday, The Washington Post's Thomas Ricks known to have excellent high Pentagon sources reported leaks from "members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff" that the senior brass don't think Iraq is an immediate threat and are recommending containment not invasion of Iraq.

The next day, The New York Times had a major front-page story reporting a new Baghdad-first battle plan (the opposite of last week's Pravda-reported Baghdad-last plan), in which our forces would take Baghdad, but not the countryside.

Which leak is the real one? Are any of them real? What's a threatened dictator to think? Given that Mr. Bush publicly announced his intentions to change the Iraqi regime months ago, only such a baffling serious of planned leaks could hope to regain the critical element of surprise.

If this is a purposeful information effort, it wouldn't be the first time. Back in the mid-1980s, Admiral John Poindexter, Ronald Reagan's national security adviser, executed a similar disinformation campaign before the Libyan bombing. After the fact, The Washington Post and other Washington media complained bitterly about being "used" by artful White House war-planners. Are they being used again?

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