New allegations indicate that American civilian military leadership may have used an off-book quasi-military team to address political issues, placing those concerns above securing peace in the region, RAW STORY has learned.
Three U.S. intelligence sources and a source close to the United Nations Security Council say that the Pentagon civilian leadership under the guidance of Stephen Cambone, appointed to lead Defense Department intelligence in March 2003, dispatched a series of “off book” missions out of the ultra-secretive Office of Special Plans (OSP). The team was tasked to secure the following in order of priority: fallen Navy pilot Scott Speicher, WMD and Saddam Hussein.
While it is known that an authorized special operations unit was dispatched before the invasion of Iraq with similar objectives, sources say another team also operated on the ground in Iraq, primarily from the summer until the fall of 2003. This team appears to have been composed of 4-5 men.
The Fallen Navy Pilot
Lieutenant Commander Michael “Scott” Speicher was shot down over Iraq in 1991 during the first day of Operation Desert Storm. He was classified as Killed in Action (KIA) within a few months thereafter.
Sources say that in order to convince the administration to invade Iraq, Ahmed Chalabi, the discredited leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) and poster boy for neoconservative hawks, claimed that Speicher was alive and being held as a prisoner of war.
Chalabi -- considered by many to be a con-man and dilettante with a long history of scheming and dealings -- spun yarn after yarn about Iraqi WMD programs to hawks within the administration unable to find credible evidence of WMD from their own intelligence community in order to support a pre-emptive war.
Known abroad for counterfeiting and bank fraud, Chalabi was convicted in 1992 by a Jordanian court and sentenced to twenty-two years of hard labor. The longtime Iraqi exile had his home and offices raided by US forces in May 2004 after allegations that he was passing classified US documents along to Iranian intelligence. He has since been appointed to head the oil ministry, despite being unable to win a single seat in Iraq’s December election.
Sources from the US and foreign intelligence communities found Chalabi’s claims of WMD false, but administration hawks pushed for invasion using him as one of the primary sources. The New York Times’ Judith Miller also relied heavily on Chalabi for single-source information about a fictional Iraqi WMD program.
Sources say that along with promises of Speicher and WMD, Chalabi also promised to deliver Iraqi tribal chieftains to support coalition forces on the ground. So called “swoop” teams of special ops forces deployed in the region prior to the invasion were assured that support on the ground from tribal leaders would be ready upon the arrival of US and British forces. But like the claims of Speicher and WMD, no such support materialized.
Task Force 20 and other units
The primary operational team responsible for the early activity on the ground in Iraq was Task Force 20, which was comprised of CIA, FBI, Green Berets, Delta Force operators, and commandos from the Navy's Special Warfare Development Group. Task Force 20 consisted of roughly a 40-man assault team and a private aviation unit provided by Special Operations Command. Sources believe this was the team tasked with the three objectives of securing the fallen pilot, the weapons, and the dictator.
Other groups operating at this same time included the 75th Exploitation Task Force, a unit of roughly 900 specialists, made up of smaller tactical teams, who followed on the heels of TF20. Judith Miller was embedded with one of the units of the 75th.
Sources say the Office of Special Plans deployed several extra-legal and unapproved task force missions prior to and after combat operations began. Under the supervision of Doug Feith, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, the OSP ran largely unsupervised and operated in secrecy. According to those familiar with the plans, the off-book missions were approved by Feith -- himself currently under investigation by the FBI for allegations of passing US secrets to Israel and Iran -- Cambone and then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
But the lines between what were considered sanctioned forces and those considered almost as rogue units began to blur shortly after the invasion. Whether this was done deliberately to misrepresent official military, CIA, and other operations missions in the region, or whether this confusion stems from a lack of coordination remains unknown.
It is also difficult to establish whether or not TF20’s various sub-teams were used by civilian leadership to achieve other goals, not known to the primary unit.
What is, however, apparent is that the Office of Special Plans’ teams were deployed in obscurity and on occasion even bumped into sanctioned special ops teams, creating a sense of unease among the various forces on the ground.
Sources raised most concern about an alleged off-book 4-5 man team which operated in the summer through the fall of 2003. What this team was doing and under whose authority it operated is unclear.
Yet at least one source close to the UN Security Council tells RAW STORY that the smaller team was acting on behalf of Office of Special Plans and Defense Department leadership, specifically under the guidance of Feith and in tandem with Cambone.
Though most sources pointed to TF20 as the most likely to have spawned the clandestine force, one intelligence source disagreed. The source noted that by mid-2003 TF20 had been to nearly all of the major Iraqi installations without finding any evidence of WMD.
One intelligence source says the Office of Special Plans’ off-book team was using Speicher and WMD as a pretext for whatever their real objective may have been.
Secret team looked to ‘solve’ WMD problem?
This smaller unnamed team was tasked with interviewing former Iraqi intelligence officers in hopes of securing help with a “political WMD” problem, a source close to the UN Security Council says.
During the summer of 2003 through the fall of 2003, the team, whose members who were not named by sources, is said to have interviewed many Iraqi intelligence and former intelligence officers. The UN source says that the political problem discussed had more to do with solving the lack of WMD than anything else.
“They come in the summer of 2003, bringing in Iraqis, interviewing them,” the UN source said. “Then they start talking about WMD and they say to [these Iraqi intelligence officers] that ‘Our President is in trouble. He went to war saying there are WMD and there are no WMD. What can we do? Can you help us?’”
The source said intelligence officers understood quickly what they were being asked to do and that the assumption was they were being asked to provide WMD in order for coalition forces to find them.
“But the guys were thinking this is absurd because anything put down would not pass the smell test and could be shown to be not of Iraqi origin and not using Iraqi methodology,” the source added.
Former and current US intelligence officers explain that such forensics is essential and would have in fact proved if a weapons stash found was using Iraqi methodology.
“A good example of how forensics is used can be found in the recent development around enriched uranium isotopes found on centrifuges in Iran,” one said. “Iran claimed to have purchased the centrifuges from Pakistan, but certain people pushing for war with Iraq were claiming that this was evidence of Iraqis reconstituting their nuclear weapons program. The forensics showed that the Iranians were telling the truth and that they in fact had purchased the items from Pakistan, a US ally.”