Retired Col. Lawrence Wilkerson was Colin Powell’s chief of staff at the State Department, and close friend and adviser for 16 years. Two weeks ago he spoke to a Washington Public Policy Institute.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON (Ret.): What I saw was a cabal between the Vice President of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made.
RAY SUAREZ: In an interview this week, Wilkerson repeated his charge that an alternate decision-making process had evolved run by the vice president and his allies at the Defense Department in the first Bush term.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON (Ret.): This is the first time that so much power has been concentrated in the office of the vice president.
While the formal process was engaged — that is to say, everyone debating and dissenting and so forth and so on — the informal process was making the decisions.
There was a labyrinth out there of people who sopped up information, manipulated information, handed information, and built information, I think in some cases, that supplemented, augmented, helped this alternative decision-making process to realize its decisions rather than those that might have been flummoxed or stopped or halted or still in debate in the formal process.
RAY SUAREZ: How did this work in practice?
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON (Ret.): Well, with regard to Iraq, it was centered in Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith’s office. Other people were sprinkled throughout the government.
RAY SUAREZ: Wilkerson says that a faction of the Central Intelligence Agency was aligned with the vice president’s office. At times, this group was in conflict with CIA Director George Tenet, the DCI.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON (Ret.): And so, you would get one part of the agency, the official part, if you will, with the DCI as the mouthpiece of that official part, saying, “Wait a minute. I don’t think that ought to go in the president’s state of the union address; that’s not right. We don’t have firm evidence that Iraq is seeking uranium from the country of Niger, so it shouldn’t go in there.”
Then you would have this dissenting body in the agency report up the chain to the vice president’s office and back in it would go, into the state of the union address.