By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 16, 2005
A government commission studying overseas military bases sent Congress a report that included criticism of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's strategy, then removed the document from the commission Web site after the Pentagon complained that it divulged classified information.
The congressionally appointed panel contends that the 262-page report is based only on public sources, and several commission officials say they believe the Defense Department was annoyed because their conclusions include harsh criticism of some elements of Rumsfeld's plan for streamlining the military.
An official involved in the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Pentagon's primary complaint appeared to be that the report specified Bulgaria and Romania as countries U.S. forces would rotate through for training, rather than using a more vague regional identification such as Eastern Europe.
The Overseas Basing Commission released a partial version of the report at a news conference on May 9, but now the panel has removed that version from its Web site because of the Pentagon's complaints.
The controversy was first reported yesterday by Newsweek.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the Defense Department's objections are not about the panel's views but about release of classified information. "The commission was informed and agreed to the requirement to submit their report for a security review in advance of releasing it," Whitman said. "Their failure to do so appears to have resulted in unauthorized disclosure of classified information. When the department raised concerns over its premature posting to the Internet, the commission removed the report. The department has initiated appropriate procedures for security breaches of this nature and also notified the congressional sponsors of this commission."
The commission chairman, Al Cornella, a Republican, said in an interview that he was trying to cooperate but that he had not agreed to have the Pentagon clear the report in advance. "The commission is confident that everything in our report was obtained from unclassified sources or settings," he said.
According to e-mails that an official involved in the dispute read to The Washington Post, Barry Pavel, the Defense Department's director of strategy on global posture, wrote to Cornella on May 7 to warn of "the potential need to conduct an investigation regarding violation of security classification procedures, including the IT-related aspects (eg, possibly having to clean your servers, etc)."
Commission officials said they took that as a threat to revoke their security clearances and to bring military police or information technology agents to their Arlington offices.
The officials said Pavel raised the concerns with Cornella on May 6 in an e-mail with the subject line, "Re: report." "I'll be frank," Pavel wrote, according to the e-mail read to The Post. "I found it professionally disappointing; riddled with errors of fact, misperceptions, and misunderstandings; and divulging classified information that will damage our foreign relations and national security."
The officials said that after the complaint, they removed the original report from their Web site, collected the printed copies that they could retract, removed some appendixes and had the reports rebound before the news conference.
Cornella asked Pavel to mark up a report with his objections. Another Pentagon official replied, according to the official who read the e-mail, which was casually punctuated, "Al A proper security review cannot be done on the fly."
Pavel did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment.
The commission, asked to provide recommendations on Rumsfeld's plan to return 70,000 troops from overseas and to reposition many of the remaining forces, urged that "the pace of events be slowed and re-ordered." The commission found "no evidence of an overwhelming strategic or operational imperative" to handle the redeployment with the speed the Pentagon had planned.