TUNE IN: Taking Action on AI Today and in the Future

RSVP to join our online audience


Who is Stephen Cambone?

The release of the 9/11 Commission report this week – and the recent release of the Senate report on intelligence – are at last providing a clearer picture of the flaws in our system of gathering intelligence. And as the use of intelligence by the Bush administration in the run-up to 9/11 comes under increased scrutiny, we are also learning a great deal about the people behind its collection, interpretation, and dissemination.

A name that we have not frequently heard mentioned, however, is Stephen Cambone. As the nation's first ever undersecretary of defense for intelligence, Cambone wields vast power within the intelligence community; yet, his only qualifications for the post are a fierce loyalty to Donald Rumsfeld and an unshakeable right wing ideology.

The position of undersecretary of defense for intelligence is the newest senior Defense Department position, and its establishment fundamentally alters the structure of the intelligence community as a whole. Devised by Donald Rumsfeld, it places all of the Pentagon's formerly independent intelligence units – the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, each of the armed services' intelligence divisions, and others – under the auspices of a single official.

Though without operational authority per se, the undersecretary – or defense intelligence czar, as the position is known – wields tremendous power though his mandate to set the intelligence-gathering agenda and oversee budget allocation. According to a memo circulated by Paul Wolfowitz in May, 2003, the OUSD – I will "provide oversight and policy guidance for all DoD intelligence activities… [and] provide policy oversight for all the intelligence organizations within DoD."

As intelligence expert Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists recently told the New Republic, the effect of creating this new position is "to shift the intelligence community's center of gravity further into the Pentagon." "Shift," however, surely understates what has transpired. The OUSD-I now coordinates 85 percent of the United States' total intelligence budget; the director of central intelligence (DCI), in contrast, manages only 12 percent.

This shake up in the intelligence community took place quietly in early 2003, beneath the din of the impending invasion of Iraq. Cambone's confirmation hearing on February 27h was a cursory affair that attracted virtually no media attention – the New York Times didn't mention Cambone in his new capacity for over a month.

Nevertheless, people inside the Pentagon who knew Stephen Cambone immediately saw this nomination for what it was: the culmination of Rumsfeld's efforts to politicize intelligence gathering and analysis.

Cambone certainly was an "unconventional choice," according to former Army Secretary Tom White, "seeing as [he] had no previous experience in the intelligence community." Moreover, Cambone is despised by many within the Pentagon for his attempts to steamroll all opposition to Rumsfeld's military transformation projects, and is widely perceived as a pompous ideologue who cannot be trusted to bring the requisite objectivity to intelligence matters.

Rather, Cambone was chosen for the simple reason that he is Rumsfeld's troubleshooter, confidante, and right-hand man. As a former Pentagon official puts it, "Rumsfeld clearly trusts [Cambone] to execute his will, and I don't think there's a long list of people in that category."

How does one make it onto this very short list? In Cambone's case, he began by earning his Ph.D. at the Claremont Graduate Center – a known hotbed of neoconservatism – in 1982, and then went to work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. At Los Alamos, he vigorously advocated for the development of space-based weapons, and in 1990 was tapped by George Bush Sr. to lead the Strategic Defense Initiative at the Pentagon. After Bush was defeated in 1992, Cambone became a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he would spend the next five years writing and speaking about missile defense.

The close personal relationship between Rumsfeld and Cambone developed in the late 1990s when Rumsfeld selected Cambone to serve as staff director for two congressional commissions: the first on missile defense and the second on space-based weapons.

At this time, Cambone also worked on commissions sponsored by the Project for a New American Century and the National Institute for Public Policy that would together form the intellectual and ideological cornerstone of Rumsfeld's proposed "revolution in military affairs" – an overhaul that is vehemently opposed by much of the military and a source of intense animosity toward Cambone within the Pentagon.

According to the Washington Post, an Army general joked to a Hill staffer that "if he had one round left in his revolver, he would take out Steve Cambone." And Rep. Jane Harman, ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, observed last month that Cambone "doesn't have a lot of friends within that five-sided building."

Though initially there was little public awareness of the consequences of Rumsfeld's decision to create a defense intelligence czar – and of giving it to someone like Cambone – it only took one year and a stack of photographs of prisoners being tortured at Abu Ghraib to put both in the spotlight.

Cambone has since conceded that he was personally behind sending Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller to Iraq with orders to find more effective ways of interrogating prisoners. However, he flatly rejects the finding in Maj. Gen. Taguba's now infamous report that military intelligence was put in charge of military police at Abu Ghraib – a finding that would suggest that the orders for prisoner treatment were coming from higher up in the intelligence chain of command.

Cambone's performance before the Senate Armed Services Committee last May – at which he did little more than deny, evade, and equivocate – has also been found wanting.

When Sen. John Warner asked Cambone if his office had "overall responsibility for policy concerning the handling of detainees," Cambone coyly responded with, "Not precisely, sir." And when Cambone was pressed on the question of whether he and Rumsfeld believed that the prisoners in Iraq were protected by the Geneva Convention, he again ran for shelter beyond the word "precise":

Sen. Levin: You this morning said, again, the Geneva Convention applies to our activities in Iraq, but not precisely.

Mr. Cambone: No, sir. I think what the secretary – I – let me tell you what the facts are. The Geneva Convention applies in Iraq.

Sen Levin: Precisely?

Mr. Cambone. Precisely.

Sen. Levin: (Inaudible) –

Mr. Cambone: They do not apply in the precise way that the secretary was talking about…

More tough, long overdue questions must be asked of Cambone in the weeks to come. Now that his days of operation in secrecy and without accountability are over at last, we must demand a full – and very precise – account of all that came before.

Peter Ogden is a fellows assistant at the Center for American Progress.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


Pete Ogden

Senior Fellow