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VICE PRESIDENT- alleged corporate crook Dick Cheney used his brief time behind enemy lines – i.e., in San Francisco – to talk about taking down Saddam Hussein. "We're looking at all our options," Cheney said as protesters made noise outside the Commonwealth Club of California.
Those options keep showing up in great detail in the press: Since early July the New York Times has run at least four stories based on classified blueprints for invading Iraq. The most recent piece, which ran Aug. 7, claims the Bush administration is leaning toward "striking deep within Iraq and then radiating outward" using a force of 80,000 to 100,000 troops to seize control of Baghdad.
According to the Times, the Pentagon has ruled out airpower-only strategies and the possibility of using covert operatives to oust Saddam.
The Times reported the battle plans were originally leaked to the paper by a disgruntled Pentagon bigwig who thinks the invasion scheme sucks. That could be the whole story – leaks, of course, are a cherished Washington institution.
But there could be something else going on. Perhaps the Pentagon is surreptitiously publicizing boilerplate invasion scenarios it doesn't actually intend to use as a way to gauge public support for a new war on Iraq. Intelligence experts I spoke to say that scenario is entirely possible. "I think that's a very sound hypothesis," says David MacMichaels, a former analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency. "Leaks always attempt to influence policy – and some of them do."
Or maybe this is a concerted disinformation campaign, with the defense establishment intentionally duping the country's top journalists in an effort to mislead Hussein.
"If, in reality, Ike is going to Normandy, then you say MacArthur is going to Calais," says John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a Beltway think tank focused on intelligence and military tactics. "A year from now, when they're writing the history of this, I wouldn't be surprised to learn the leaks were part of a strategic deception plan."
The Times isn't the only publication with high-level sources in D.C. Loose-lipped military insiders are feeding confidential information – much of it contradictory – to the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Both the New York Times and L.A. Times claim we should expect a rapid attack with a force of less than 250,000 troops – possibly as low as 70,000. But according to a July 26 Inquirer story, "a force of 250,000 to 300,000 U.S. troops would invade Iraq and overthrow Hussein, backed by massive air strikes."
Meanwhile, the Post, in an Aug. 8 piece, claimed U.S. soldiers are currently engaged in an exercise designed to simulate battle in Iraq.
At least one former spy doesn't buy the idea of a media hoax. "The Pentagon is not that smart," argues Robert David Steele, a 25-year CIA and defense veteran, founder of Open Source Solutions (a private intelligence-gathering outfit), and author of two books on intelligence. "Only a loosely educated, badly advised president would make such a fundamental mistake as to talk all this up. In the worst case, it will incite a preemptive attack or attacks from Saddam Hussein."
Still, it wouldn't be the first time military operatives manipulated the fourth estate. In the mid 1980s Ronald Reagan used a squad of six U.S. Army soldiers trained in psychological warfare techniques to shape media coverage of the civil wars in Central America. According to muckraker Robert Parry – the former Associated Press reporter who broke the Iran-Contra story – this secret operation was dubbed "Project Truth."
American University communications professor Christopher Simpson points to another Reagan-era episode during which Pentagon operatives apparently leaked bogus plans for conquering Libya to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. "In that particular incident they didn't want to go to war; they wanted a war scare," says Simpson, author of Presidential Directives: National Security During the Reagan-Bush Years. "They wanted to destabilize the country and spur a coup."
Hmm ... Is Bush borrowing a trick from the Gipper?
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