Writing in the December 16, 2002, edition of The Nation, I broke the news–and explored the concerns many in the US intelligence community had–about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s quiet success in prevailing upon Congress to authorize the creation of a new senior position at the Pentagon,the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. Several months later, in the pages of the Columbia Journalism Review, I followed up with a piece devoted to the media’s utter lack of interest–perhaps best demonstrated by the absence of any reporter from a farcical confirmation hearing–in the new Under Secretary himself, Stephen Cambone.
Despite his status as the Pentagon’s über-intelligence authority, in the initial days of the breaking Abu Ghraib scandal Cambone was virtually invisible. When Rumsfeld was called to the Hill to testify before the Armed Services Committee on May 7, however, Cambone was unexpectedly summoned to the witness table from his chair behind Rumsfeld. That cameo appearance resulted in a more expansive return appearance on May 11, in which Cambone less than deftly tried to undermine Abu Ghraib investigator Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba. (Cambone disputed the general’s conclusion that military intelligence units effectively controlled the prison’s military police detachment.) Cambone also reacted adversely to Senator Jack Reed’s assertion (confirmed by Taguba) that recommendations made in a report on improving intelligence collection at Abu Ghraib by then-chief Guantánamo Bay interrogator Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller clearly called for the use of MPs in interrogations, which helped create an environment that begot the subsequent abuse and torture in the tiers. As a May 12 Washington Post editorial points out, Cambone’s office approved interrogation practices that are in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions.
At the May 11 hearings, Cambone and another senior Defense Department official, Army intelligence chief Lieut. Gen Keith Alexander, essentially cast themselves as mere Pentagon representatives fielding questions about Abu Ghraib–and not as men who might bear any responsibility for what they desperately tried to cast as an aberrant and isolated incident. Yet many of their assertions on May 11 are in fact contradicted by statements they made before the same committee a month before, as well as a year-old memo outlining the responsibilities of Cambone’s office.
The Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, or OUSD(I) in Pentagonese, was originally conceived by Rumsfeld as a centralizing measure, a way to give him “one dog to kick” rather than a “whole kennel” of individual civilian and uniformed defense intelligence agencies. In choosing the person responsible for ostensibly bringing unprecedented order and control to the Pentagon’s spy shops, the Secretary chose Cambone, a man with no intelligence experience but a favored protégé and loyal partisan who had served on Rumsfeld’s ballistic missile threat commission and worked with the neoconservative Project for the New American Century. Previously principal deputy to Under Secretary for Policy Doug Feith (and, in that capacity, liaison between Feith and the ideological intelligence analysis unit that would later morph into the notorious Office of Special Plans), Cambone went out of his way in his confirmation hearings to say that he would closely “consult and coordinate” with Feith to “insure [that] DoD-related intelligence activity supports the goals” of the Pentagon’s policy shop.