washingtonpost.com  > Nation > National Security

Some Question Background of Unit's Leader

Inexperienced Personnel Cited As a Risk to Espionage Work

By Barton Gellman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 23, 2005; Page A10

Col. George Waldroup, an Army reserve officer who commands the Defense Intelligence Agency's Strategic Support Branch, is described by associates as a colorful Texan who refers to himself in the third person, as "GW."

Among skeptics of the Pentagon's intelligence initiatives, including members of two elite special operations units interviewed for this article, Waldroup is controversial. His ascent to a top espionage post from a civilian career at the Immigration and Naturalization Service is a cautionary tale, according to them, about the risks of rapid expansion in the staffing and mission of clandestine units.

Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, defends the qualifications of leadership in the Strategic Support Branch. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais -- AP)

_____Related Articles_____
Secret Unit Expands Rumsfeld's Domain (The Washington Post, Jan 23, 2005)

Waldroup, according to two people who have worked with him, refers loosely to previous secret assignments but is not a graduate of the Army's Special Warfare Center or the CIA's Field Tradecraft Course for intelligence officers. Until last year, colleagues said, Waldroup managed the transportation and security of search teams seeking weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, arranging the convoys that took them in and out of their base near Baghdad International Airport.

Waldroup and his subordinates are central to Rumsfeld's plan to empower the U.S. Special Operations Command for intelligence missions it has not performed before.

The Strategic Support Branch's human intelligence "augmentation teams" have deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq with a commando unit -- most recently called Task Force 626 -- that drew the most demanding intelligence missions, including the hunt for weapons of mass destruction and the recruitment of informants in Iraq's insurgency. Task force members, in interviews, complained that some of Waldroup's personnel were unprepared for the assignment.

Waldroup did not respond to telephone calls and detailed written inquiries sent by e-mail.

Internal Pentagon briefings describe Strategic Support Branch members as experienced intelligence professionals with specialized skills, "military operations backgrounds," and the training to "function in all environments under adverse conditions." But four special operations soldiers who provided information for this article, directly or through intermediaries, said those assigned to work with them included out-of-shape men in their fifties and recent college graduates on their first assignments.

"They arrived with shiny black kneepads and elbow pads, shiny black helmets," said one special forces officer who served with Waldroup's men in Iraq. "They brought M-4 rifles with all the accoutrements, scopes and high-end [satellite equipment] they didn't know how to use." An older member of Waldroup's staff "became an anchor because of his physical conditioning and his lack of knowledge of our tactics, techniques and procedures. The guy actually put us in danger."

Another special forces officer, who served with the augmentation team members in Afghanistan, said some of the intelligence officers deployed with his unit were reluctant to leave their base and spoke only to local residents who ventured inside. "These guys can't set up networks and run agents and recruit tribal elders," he said.

Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby, the DIA director, declined to describe the qualifications or backgrounds of Waldroup or his men but bristled at the suggestion that "they're not up to the task."

"Frankly, what we're trying to do is put the absolute best intelligence capabilities forward to operate with, but not to operate as, special operations forces," he said. "I can point to successes where the intel folk are 50 years old, and I can point to successes where the intel folk are in their first tour, married up with operators who could act on the information that was generated."

Waldroup spent most of his working life as a midlevel manager at the INS, where he became embroiled in accusations that he participated in deceiving a congressional delegation about staffing problems at Miami International Airport in June 1995. The Justice Department inspector general's office, which concluded its probe the following year, quoted in its report sworn statements from subordinates that Waldroup, then assistant district director for external affairs, helped orchestrate a temporary doubling of immigration screeners on the day of the visit, instructed subordinates not to discuss staff shortages and physically confronted a union leader to prevent him from reaching members of Congress. Waldroup told the investigators that he was following an order from a superior in Washington to withhold information.

During the investigation, according to the inspector general's final report, Waldroup refused to disclose the password to his e-mail files, refused to sign an affidavit summarizing his testimony and, in a subsequent interview, "stated that he would not answer any questions" because "he wished to protect himself from exposure to criminal sanctions." The authors of the Justice Department report found insufficient evidence to file charges but said they were troubled by "recurrent failures to provide documents."

Jacoby, in an interview, said he knew nothing about the episode. He added: "I would offer to you that Colonel Waldroup continues to have access to very sensitive information based on appropriate security investigations, and if there were issues that would have come up, they would have been known to those investigators and been brought to my attention. So I continue to have the utmost confidence in Colonel Waldroup's capabilities."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company