Return to

November 19, 2004
Notes from the Pentagon

Passed over
Acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee tells us he tried but failed to persuade Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that the "acting" should have been removed from his title.

Mr. Brownlee, a retired Army colonel and highly decorated Vietnam War combatant, wanted to be nominated to the Senate for the Army secretary post after Mr. Rumsfeld fired Thomas White in April 2003. Mr. Brownlee, who resigned this week and leaves office Dec. 3, thought he earned his stripes by spearheading an overhaul of procurement polices to get armored vests, trucks and utility vehicles to Iraq. He also enlisted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take over much of the country's reconstruction.

Mr. Brownlee was told by retired Adm. David Nash, the top contracting official in Iraq, that he was not having a lot of success in persuading workers to leave the safe confines of Washington, D.C., for Iraq's mean streets. The Army Corps is there today, doing what civilians would not do. "Nash told me ... no one would help him. ... He was going to resign," Mr. Brownlee recalled in an interview.

But his accomplishments during an 18-month tour as acting secretary (he came aboard in 2001 as Army undersecretary) did not dissuade Mr. Rumsfeld from sticking to his practice of giving top jobs to former CEOs. This week, the Senate confirmed businessman Francis Harvey to the post.

"I'd be extremely honored to have been given the job," Mr. Brownlee said. "I've done the job for 18 months. I feel like I've been the secretary."

Of Mr. Rumsfeld, he said, "He told me way upfront he preferred to have a businessman as the secretary and not a former career Army officer. I might have argued with him a bit."

Realizing a life ambition might not be fulfilled, Mr. Brownlee never accepted the secretary's trappings. He stayed in his smaller undersecretary's office instead of moving to the secretary's E Ring suite. And he eschewed the secretary's limo, preferring to drive to and from the Pentagon in his nine-year-old BMW.

Of the current generation of Army soldiers in Iraq, Mr. Brownlee said: "It is hard, difficult, dangerous work. I just admire them so."

Intelligence casualties
U.S. military combat casualties in Iraq are well-known and reported regularly by the Pentagon.

But the sacrifices of courageous U.S. intelligence personnel working secretly in Iraq, in support of U.S. and allied military forces, almost never are made public.

Unfortunately, U.S. intelligence officers have been killed and wounded during recent fighting that has escalated and is expected to increase as post-Saddam Iraq moves toward free elections in January.

Four U.S. intelligence officers from more than one agency have been killed recently, including one who died in a mortar attack that left many others wounded.

"It is still tough going over here with mortars/rockets dropping in around me," one officer told us. The officer recently was wounded by machine-gun fire.

Kanter opposed
One name being floated by the White House for the post of deputy secretary of state is former State Department official Arnold Kanter. But conservatives in the Bush administration and on Capitol Hill say they are opposing the choice.

One senior Republican in the Senate said Mr. Kanter will have a very difficult time being confirmed if he is chosen to be the deputy to Secretary of State-designee Condoleezza Rice.

"He opposed withdrawal from the [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty and supported the [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty]," this Republican said.

Mr. Kanter also is a close associate of Brent Scowcroft, who was national security adviser during the administration of President George Bush and who went against the current President Bush by publicly opposing the Iraq war.

"Now is not the time to put the Scowcroft team back into power," said the Republican.

Conservatives on Capitol Hill also are not happy about several other officials mentioned for top security jobs, the official said.

They point out that conservatives played a pivotal role in re-electing Mr. Bush and should not be left out of appointments to top posts.

Acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee tells us he made it a practice to visit soldiers in Iraq at least every three months.

Everyone knows one constant request from commanders is for more armored vehicles, including 8,000 Humvees with improved armor, the ubiquitous multipurpose jeep.

But lesser known is that some soldiers want to keep the thin-skinned models. This is because insurgents like to mount hit-and-run ambushes on light trucks. The soldiers then chase them. The armored Humvees are too slow; but the thin-skinned ones can run down the enemy.

"We had combat units expressing a preference not for armor but for something fast," Mr. Brownlee said. He said soldiers strip out the back and mount a machine gun, making the Humvee a good overland hunter.

Larry Di Rita, the voice of the Pentagon and the right hand of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, has asked that his nomination for assistant secretary of defense for public affairs be pulled from the Senate. His nomination, along with a host of others, has been held up by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. The senator still is awaiting information from the Pentagon on a scandal-tainted Air Force-Boeing deal on leasing jet tankers and is using the "holds" as leverage.

Until a few weeks ago, the Pentagon was pressing senators to approve Mr. Di Rita, says a congressional source. But the source said Mr. Di Rita had few allies on the Senate Armed Services Committee willing to press Mr. McCain to drop the hold. Mr. Di Rita's nomination would have gone back to the White House once the Senate adjourns this month, even if he did not request the withdrawal.

Mr. Di Rita said that he will continue as a top Rumsfeld aide and Pentagon spokesman.

"I thought the issue needed clarity," Mr. Di Rita said in an interview, explaining why he decided to withdraw. "Just letting the nomination die did not seem appropriate. This is a period of transition. Like a lot of people in Washington, I'm examining all my options and I thought it would be unfair to the president and the Senate if I were to [examine options], if I had just been confirmed for a position that implied a longer-term commitment for a particular position."

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved the Di Rita nomination.

Mr. McCain has allowed some Pentagon candidates to win a Senate floor vote, such as Francis Harvey, the incoming Army secretary.

New power
Congress has given the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) more power to enforce rules against employers who discriminate against Guard and reserve personnel called to active duty.

The legislation, which President Bush is expected to sign, authorizes a pilot program under which the OSC will receive about half of the complaints that normally would be screened first by the Labor Department. This would change current procedure whereby Labor reviews and recommends all claims for prosecution against government agencies that violate the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994.

Under new Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch, and aide Jim Renne, the office has been reducing a backlog of cases it inherited from the OSC chief.

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

  • Inside the Ring Archives
    1999 Columns
    2000 Columns
    2001 Columns

    2002 Columns
    2003 Columns
    2004 Columns
    Return to