“Known and Unknown”: A Review of Donald Rumsfeld’s Memoir

On February 8, 2011, former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld published his highly anticipated memoir, “Known and Unknown.” The title refers to the dilemma of having to act on uncertain and incomplete information and establishes a defense of the Bush administration's controversial policies on Iraq and other national security issues.

Rumsfeld presents a robust case for the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq in line with that of other members of the administration. The weak points in his defense, however, will be apparent to anyone who has been tracking Iraq closely in the news over the last nine years. He omits certain pieces of information and frames others in ways that serve to remind readers why he and other members of the administration lost the trust and confidence of the American public as well as many high-ranking military and intelligence officers.

On Iraq prewar intelligence, referring to then-secretary of state Colin Powell's infamous United Nations speech on the eve of the invasion, Rumsfeld writes, “Powell himself later contended, in defense of his participation, 'There were some people in the intelligence community who knew at that time that some of these sources were not good, and shouldn't be relied upon, and they didn't speak up. That devastated me.' When asked why these people did not speak up, he replied, 'I can't answer that.'” Rumsfeld continues, “Powell was not duped or misled by anybody.” (p. 449)

Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell's chief of staff at the State Department, disputes this. In an interview with MSNBC's Cenk Uygur on February 17, 2011, Wilkerson stated, in reference to Powell's briefing, “I think there was some manipulation of this material and there was some outright lying.” He further notes that one of the CIA officials involved in the preparation of the briefing, “may have been talking directly to [then-vice president] Dick Cheney's office.”

It has been established that officials loyal to Cheney continued to use information from Iraqi defectors to build the case for war despite warnings from US intelligence analysts on their unreliability. Two Cheney officials – Scooter Libby, the vice president's chief of staff, and John Hannah, his deputy assistant for national security affairs – provided the first draft of Powell's speech, which Wilkerson subsequently rejected due to numerous examples of grossly unsubstantiated intelligence conclusions.

Craig Unger, author of “The Fall of the House of Bush,” described Hannah as, “the key liaison between Cheney's office and Ahmed Chalabi.” He wrote, “Wilkerson thought that much of the bogus intelligence probably came from Chalabi and the INC [Iraqi National Congress].”

Rumsfeld's omissions do not end with the dubious prewar intelligence process. On winning the war of perception in the Muslim world, he writes:

CENTCOM [United States Central Command] … working closely with the Iraqi government and the US embassy, sought to provide accurate information to the Iraqi people in the face of an aggressive campaign of disinformation by providing accurate news stories for local Iraqi papers. Yet when it was reported that the Pentagon had hired a contractor who in turn compensated our Iraqi allies for printing truthful stories, critics and the press portrayed this as inappropriate government propaganda.” (p. 626)

Rumsfeld is referring here to a Los Angeles Times article published November 30, 2005, reporting that:

the US has paid Iraqi newspapers to run dozens of such articles … presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists…. The operation is designed to mask any connection with the US military. The Pentagon has a contract with a small Washington-based firm called Lincoln Group, which helps translate and place the stories. The Lincoln Group's Iraqi staff, or its subcontractors, sometimes pose as freelance reporters or advertising executives when they deliver the stories to Baghdad media outlets.

The Los Angeles Times article continues. “The military's effort to disseminate propaganda in the Iraqi media is taking place even as … the State Department is training Iraqi reporters in basic journalism skills and Western media ethics.” The newspaper quotes an unnamed senior Pentagon official, who stated unequivocally, “Here we are trying to create the principles of democracy in Iraq. Every speech we give in that country is about democracy. And we're breaking all the first principles of democracy when we're doing it.”

Donald Rumsfeld continues to defend an administration that betrayed the trust of the American public, manipulated our own Congress into authorizing use of force against Iraq, attempted to deceive the international community to build diplomatic support for regime change and condoned subversion of the most fundamental element of genuine democracy: the free press. In its relentless pursuit of Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration undermined the very rule of law it charged itself with upholding.