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Context of 'March 7, 2003: Senate Confirms Controversial New Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence'

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In October 2001, the Pentagon establishes what is later known as the Strategic Support Branch (SSB), or Project Icon, to provide Rumsfeld with tools for “full spectrum of humint [human intelligence] operations” in “emerging target countries such as Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, Philippines and Georgia.” It become functional in April 2002. It is said that Rumsfeld hopes the program will end his “near total dependence on CIA.” According to Assistant Secretary of Defense Thomas O’Connell, a possible scenario for which the Strategic Support Branch might be called to action would be if a “hostile country close to our borders suddenly changes leadership… We would want to make sure the successor is not hostile.” When SBB’s existence is revealed in early 2005 (see January 23, 2005), the Pentagon denies that the program was established to sideline the CIA, insisting that its sole purpose is to provide field operational units with intelligence obtained through prisoner interrogations, scouting and foreign spies, and from other units in the field. [CNN, 1/24/2005; Washington Post, 1/25/2005] As an arm of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s (DIA) Defense Human Intelligence Service, SSB operates under the Defense Secretary’s direct control and consists of small teams of case officers, linguists, interrogators and technical specialists who work alongside special operations forces. [Washington Post, 1/23/2005] However some SBB members are reported to be “out-of-shape men in their fifties and recent college graduates on their first assignments,” according to sources interviewed by the Washington Post. [Washington Post, 1/23/2005] When the SSB’s existence is revealed in 2005, its commander is Army Col. George Waldroup, who reports to Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). SSB’s policies are determined by Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone. [CNN, 1/24/2005] Critics say Waldroup lacks the necessary experience to run SSB and note that he was once investigated by Congress when he was a mid-level manager at the INS. SSB includes two Army squadrons of Delta Force; another Army squadron, code-named Gray Fox; an Air Force human intelligence unit; and the Navy SEAL unit known as Team Six. According to sources interviewed by the Washington Post, the branch is funded using “reprogrammed” funds that do not have explicit congressional authority or appropriation. [Washington Post, 1/23/2005] However, this will be denied by the Pentagon when the unit’s existence is revealed. [CNN, 1/24/2005]

Entity Tags: Stephen A. Cambone, US Naval Special Warfare Development Group, Gray Fox, Donald Rumsfeld, Strategic Support Branch, or Project Icon, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment--Delta, George Waldroup, Thomas O’Connell

Timeline Tags: US Military, Complete 911 Timeline

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sends his special assistant, Stephen A. Cambone, to the Armed Services Committee to deliver and explain a request that Congress create a new top-level Pentagon position—the undersecretary of defense for intelligence. The proposal is quietly slipped into the fiscal 2003 defense authorization bill as an amendment and approved by the Senate on August 1, by the Conference Committee on November 12 and signed by the president on December 2 (see December 2, 2002). The move is seen by some as an attempt to preempt the Scowcroft Plan (see March 2002). [US News and World Report, 8/12/2002; Washington Post, 8/19/2004; USA Today, 10/24/2004] US News and World Report calls it a “bureaucratic coup” that “accomplishes many Pentagon goals in one fell swoop” and notes that “members of Congress aren’t even aware it is happening, let alone what it means.” [US News and World Report, 8/12/2002] Intelligence expert James Bamford warns about the implications of creating this new post in an October 24 op-ed piece: “Creating a powerful new intelligence czar under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld could shift [the] delicate balance [between CIA and the Defense Department] away from the more independent-minded Tenet and increase the chances that intelligence estimates might be ‘cooked’ in favor of the Pentagon…. [I]f the Pentagon runs the spy world, the public and Congress will be reduced to a modern-day Diogenes, forever searching for that one honest report.” [USA Today, 10/24/2004] In 1998, then-Deputy Defense Secretary John J. Hamre had proposed a similar idea, but Congress opposed the suggested reform “in part from concern at the CIA that the new Pentagon official would have too much power.” [Washington Post, 8/19/2004]

Entity Tags: Stephen A. Cambone, US Congress, Donald Rumsfeld, James Bamford, John J. Hamre

Timeline Tags: US Military

President George Bush issues an executive order transferring control of the covert operations unit “Gray Fox” from the US Army to Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in Tampa at the insistence of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s office. [New Yorker, 1/24/2005 Sources: unnamed former high-level intelligence official interviewed by Seymour Hersh] Gray Fox becomes part of the Strategic Support Branch (SSB), a unit jointly run by the Defense Department and the DIA (see October 2001-April 2002).

Entity Tags: Strategic Support Branch, or Project Icon, Donald Rumsfeld, Gray Fox, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US Military

US President George Bush signs the 2003 Defense Authorization Act. [US President, 12/9/2002] One of the act’s provisions creates the new Pentagon post of undersecretary of defense for intelligence (see June 21, 2002). [US Congress, 11/12/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US Military

The US Senate confirms the nomination of Stephen Cambone as undersecretary of defense for intelligence, a new Pentagon position that was created by the 2002 Defense Authorization Act (see December 2, 2002). [US Department of Defense, 4/15/2004] Cambone now oversees “assets that used to belong elsewhere, most notably a secret intelligence organization [code-named ‘Gray Fox’] that specializes in large-scale ‘deep penetration’ missions in foreign countries, especially tapping communications and laying the groundwork for overt military operations.” Asked by the Washington Post about the transfer of Gray Fox a few months later, Cambone responds, “We won’t talk about those things.” [Washington Post, 4/20/2003] He also sets the priorities for the Strategic Support Branch, a military unit running covert operations established shortly after 9/11 that Gray Fox is a part of (see October 2001-April 2002). [Washington Post, 1/23/2005] Cambone is not well-liked among the military and civilian intelligence bureaucrats in the Pentagon, “essentially because he [has] little experience in running intelligence programs,” New Yorker magazine will later report. [New Yorker, 5/24/2004] In fact, Cambone will become so hated and feared inside the Pentagon as Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s loyal “hatchet man” that one anonymous general will later tell the Army Times, “If I had one round left in my revolver, I’d take out Stephen Cambone”. [CounterPunch, 2/7/2006]

Entity Tags: Gray Fox, Strategic Support Branch, or Project Icon, Stephen A. Cambone

Timeline Tags: US Military

A Pentagon memo states that agents recruited as part of the Pentagon’s covert operations program, the Strategic Support Branch (see October 2001-April 2002), “may include ‘notorious figures’ whose links to the US government would be embarrassing if disclosed.” [Washington Post, 1/23/2005]

Entity Tags: Strategic Support Branch, or Project Icon

Timeline Tags: US Military, Complete 911 Timeline

The Washington Post reports that according to “[f]our people with firsthand knowledge” the Strategic Support Branch (see October 2001-April 2002) has “begun operating under Network Centric Operations Industry Consortium ‘non-official cover’ overseas, using false names and nationalities” in missions that “skirt the line between clandestine and covert operations.” Under US law, “clandestine” operations are conducted in secret, while “covert” operations are more sensitive and are denied by the government if revealed. Covert actions require a written “finding” by the president affirming its necessity with prompt notification of senior congressional leaders of both parties. [Washington Post, 1/23/2005]

Entity Tags: Strategic Support Branch, or Project Icon, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: US Military

Rumsfeld leaving the Defense Department.Rumsfeld leaving the Defense Department. [Source: Boston Globe]Donald Rumsfeld resigns as US defense secretary. On November 6, he writes a letter telling President Bush of his resignation. Bush reads the letter the next day, which is also the date for midterm elections in the US, in which the Democratic Party wins majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives. Bush publicly announces the resignation the next day. No explanation is given for the delay in making the announcement. [Reuters, 8/15/2007]
Replaced by Gates - Rumsfeld is formally replaced by Robert Gates on December 18, 2006. According to a retired general who worked closely with the first Bush administration, the Gates nomination means that George H.W. Bush, his close political advisers—Brent Scowcroft, James Baker—and the current President Bush are saying that “winning the 2008 election is more important than any individual. The issue for them is how to preserve the Republican agenda. The Old Guard wants to isolate Cheney and give their girl, Condoleezza Rice, a chance to perform.” It takes Scowcroft, Baker, and the elder Bush working together to oppose Cheney, the general says. “One guy can’t do it.” Other sources close to the Bush family say that the choice of Gates to replace Rumsfeld is more complex than the general describes, and any “victory” by the “Old Guard” may be illusory. A former senior intelligence official asks rhetorically: “A week before the election, the Republicans were saying that a Democratic victory was the seed of American retreat, and now Bush and Cheney are going to change their national security policies? Cheney knew this was coming. Dropping Rummy after the election looked like a conciliatory move—‘You’re right, Democrats. We got a new guy and we’re looking at all the options. Nothing is ruled out.’” In reality, the former official says, Gates is being brought in to give the White House the credibility it needs in continuing its policies towards Iran and Iraq.
New Approach towards Iran? - Gates also has more credibility with Congress than Rumsfeld, a valuable asset if Gates needs to tell Congress that Iran’s nuclear program poses an imminent threat. “He’s not the guy who told us there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and he’ll be taken seriously by Congress.” Joseph Cirincione, a national security director for the Center for American Progress, warns: “Gates will be in favor of talking to Iran and listening to the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but the neoconservatives are still there [in the White House] and still believe that chaos would be a small price for getting rid of the threat. The danger is that Gates could be the new Colin Powell—the one who opposes the policy but ends up briefing the Congress and publicly supporting it.” [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]

Entity Tags: Robert M. Gates, Joseph Cirincione, Brent Scowcroft, George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, James A. Baker, George Herbert Walker Bush, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, US Military, Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone resigns. His resignation closely follows that of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (see November 6-December 18, 2006). Cambone, who had held his position since early 2003, was widely considered Rumsfeld’s closest aide and his “hatchet man” (see March 7, 2003). [US Department of Defense, 12/1/2006] He was in charge of many of the military’s most covert and controversial programs. Less than a year later, Cambone will be hired by QinetiQ North America (QNA), a British-owned military and intelligence contractor based in Virginia. Shortly after Cambone is hired, QNA wins a $30 million contract to provide unspecified “security services” to the US military’s Counter-Intelligence Field Activity office (CIFA). Cambone helped create and run CIFA. In 2003, CIFA launched an electronic database called Talon to collect domestic intelligence. The database later faced scrutiny when it was reported to be collecting data on anti-military protesters and peaceful demonstrators. [CorpWatch, 1/15/2008]

Entity Tags: QinetiQ North America, Donald Rumsfeld, Stephen A. Cambone, Counter-Intelligence Field Activity

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

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