"fixing" the data around the policy

We already know from the Downing Street Memos that the Bush Administration was intent on arranging for intelligence data to support going to war in Iraq, even though the data were far from conclusive.

Later we learned about the dozens of former generals and other military big shots who were dispatched by the Pentagon to provide “expert” advice and interpretations to the major television and radio outlets on how the war was being “won” in Iraq.

Most recently, the report from the Senate Armed Services Committee provides irrefutable evidence that the torture of detainees in the war on terror was aimed to extract false confessions to justify the invasion of Iraq after the fact.

What hasn’t been clear is where this agenda of deception actually originated. That the recently most vocal apologist, in addition the Richard Bruce Cheney, has been a former speech writer for George W. Bush, Marc A. Thiessen creates the impression that it was a White House program.

But there’s something a bit peculiar about Mr. Thiessen. Although his employment by Senator Jesse Helms in the 1990’s is being trotted out, there’s been little mention of the fact that Marc Thiessen was the chief speech writer for Donald Rumsfeld from 2001 to 2004. And he didn’t labor alone. In addition to Tori Clarke, who set up the Generals’ promotional activities (that they were “objective” is refuted by none other than Joe Galloway for Salon), Thiessen was assisted by one Larry Di Rita, now a Senior Vice President at Bank of America, who remained in Rumsfeld’s shop from 2001 until the Secretary resigned in 2006.

Like Thiessen, Di Rita has come out as a strong apologist for the strategy of fixing the data to fit the policy, as may be seen in his rather lengthy email exchange with Joe Galloway in regard to criticism of Donald Rumsfeld by retired Marine Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, which Glenn Greenwald has posted here.

Perhaps Di Rita, reading Galloway’s column in early 2006 was simply irked by the title:

After losing war game, Rumsfeld packed up his military and went to war

Putting “losing” and “war” into the same sentence was a serious no-no. Be that as it may, what caught my attention is the story Van Riper told about an exercise in 2002–i.e. in the run-up period for the invasion of Iraq. (Although there’s an open invitation to make use of the entire exchange on this page it’s not necessary to copy it all).

One event that shocked Van Riper occurred in 2002 when he was asked, as he had been before, to play the commander of an enemy Red Force in a huge $250 million three-week war game titled Millennium Challenge 2002. It was widely advertised as the best kind of such exercises – a free-play unscripted test of some of the Pentagon’s and Rumsfeld’s fondest ideas and theories.

Though fictional names were applied, it involved a crisis moving toward war in the Persian Gulf and in actuality was a barely veiled test of an invasion of Iran.

In the computer-controlled game, a flotilla of Navy warships and Marine amphibious warfare ships steamed into the Persian Gulf for what Van Riper assumed would be a pre-emptive strike against the country he was defending.

Van Riper resolved to strike first and unconventionally using fast patrol boats and converted pleasure boats fitted with ship-to-ship missiles as well as first generation shore-launched anti-ship cruise missiles. He packed small boats and small propeller aircraft with explosives for one mass wave of suicide attacks against the Blue fleet.

Last, the general shut down all radio traffic and sent commands by motorcycle messengers, beyond the reach of the code-breakers.

At the appointed hour he sent hundreds of missiles screaming into the fleet, and dozens of kamikaze boats and planes plunging into the Navy ships in a simultaneous sneak attack that overwhelmed the Navy’s much-vaunted defenses based on its Aegis cruisers and their radar controlled Gatling guns.


The referees stopped the game, which is normal when a victory is won so early. Van Riper assumed that the Blue Force would draw new, better plans and the free play war games would resume.

Instead he learned that the war game was now following a script drafted to ensure a Blue Force victory: He was ordered to turn on all his anti-aircraft radar so it could be destroyed and he was told his forces would not be allowed to shoot down any of the aircraft bringing Blue Force troops ashore.

OK, so it was Rumsfeld who made adjustments by “fixing” the enemy’s weaknesses, but it’s Di Rita and Thiessen who are coming to the defense of discredited policies.

Di Rita, for example, claimed in 2006 that:

Anyway, I think your columns have been representative of a school of thought within military circles that I don’t believe is particularly widespread.

The army is so much more capable and suitable for the nation’s needs that it was 5 or 10 years ago. To my mind, the voices your columns represent missed the forest for the trees.

Which may account for why Gen. Barry McCaffrey (ret) thought the exchange should be published online right away.

Perhaps the do-over is catching or a certain personality attracts individuals like Rumsfeld and Cheney and Wolfowitz and Richard Perle as acolytes to “try and try again” until their agenda comes to fruition. Meanwhile, reality is “fixed” to be consistent with their imagination.