Virginia Sen. John W. Warner (R) said that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and a senior aide improperly manipulated the national base realignment plan announced earlier this year to compel the movement of more than 20,000 defense jobs away from the Washington area.

Two years before the Pentagon revealed its base closing plan May 13, in a stream of memos and internal records, top department officials were saying that "thinning of headquarters in the National Capital Region remains a[n] objective," according to Warner.

Raymond F. DuBois, Rumsfeld's principal aide for personnel and organizational planning, guided planners in an April 1, 2004, meeting: "The Secretary of Defense wants to reduce footprint and headcount in the [region] . . . -- Moving activities from the [region] is good but moving activities beyond the 100-mile radius of the Pentagon is better," according to minutes of his remarks cited by Warner.

Warner, chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Defense Department acted improperly by singling out one area of the country for cutbacks. He added that he did not know the reasoning behind the 100-mile limit.

He said Rumsfeld's team used the base realignment process to achieve other goals, specifically, unrelated real estate management goals. Congress intended the base-closing procedures to focus on one issue: efficiency -- or, in Pentagon jargon, "military value."

"In simple terms, the military value model was rigged," Warner said, citing a final report in which Pentagon planners adopted criteria that prejudged all leased space as less desirable than owned buildings and the concentration of activities near Washington "as a negative."

DuBois said the Pentagon followed proper procedure in determining the Washington area closures. DuBois, now acting undersecretary of the Army, said Warner's arguments are "well-crafted" but leave out key points. "Decisions were made with respect to leased space in Northern Virginia consistent with military value as well as cost savings -- the two most important criteria," he said.

Warner has submitted summaries of scores of pages of Defense documents to the U.S. Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which begins meeting today to vote on the Pentagon recommendations. A final version is to be delivered by Sept. 8 to President Bush, who can accept the entire package or send it back once for revisions before forwarding it to Congress, which must reject or accept the plan in full.

In all, the Pentagon plan would shut or trim 837 bases and save $49 billion over 20 years. The District, Arlington and Alexandria stand to lose about 30,000 jobs by 2011 under the plan -- some of the biggest cuts in the country -- including 23,000 workers in leased buildings in Northern Virginia. Maryland and Virginia would gain more than 20,000 jobs on military bases in outlying suburbs, including Fort Belvoir in southeast Fairfax County, Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County and Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County, Md.

In an interview, Warner acknowledged that his argument could help a legal challenge from Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) or local groups if the commission approves the Northern Virginia closures.

Rumsfeld has not detailed publicly why the Pentagon wants to disperse defense jobs away from Washington. But internal department reports prepared for the process refer to security in moving workers out of leased office buildings and out of the region.

When the senator's committee asked the Pentagon to disclose its legal review of the closures, it invoked attorney-client privilege, the senator said.

"I'd have to consult with the governor . . . other members in the delegation and the local community because it would be a lot of cost, but I think Virginia has a very strong resolve that whatever is done by the BRAC Commission in this state is done with strict accordance to the law," the senator said. "It's simple. BRAC is designed to eliminate excess facilities, not designed to go back to redo business decisions with leasing structure, which you can do 365 days a year."

DuBois said efficiency led to the department's focus on Washington. "Is it necessary to have them here now? Should they be closer to their suppliers . . . their contractors . . . to testing and evaluation ranges?" DuBois asked. "Those are components of military value. . . . Those are the selection criteria and the prism they should use to make these judgments."

Department leaders have long targeted the area for cuts. In 2002, Rumsfeld expressed concern over the concentration of Defense facilities. That December, briefing reporters about the coming base closing process, DuBois said the area was a target-rich environment: "We have now huge -- excuse me -- very large military installations here in the Washington area. We also have an enormous amount of leased space in the Washington metropolitan area. And the question is, can we better utilize the military installations . . . and reduce the expense of leased space?"

According to the senator, base closing planners in March 2003 reported as an "assumption" that "moving from leased spaces to military installations will contribute to security of these functions."

The Pentagon has adopted anti-terrorism standards that will require leased sites to be set back at least 82 feet from surrounding traffic, citing the threat of truck bombs. The rule will take effect this fall, and virtually no leased sites in the region satisfy it.

The message was reinforced by DuBois in April 2004 and again Oct. 5. DuBois was reported in minutes as saying that "leadership expectations" included "(1) significant reduction of leased space in the [National Capital Region]; (2) reduce DOD presence in terms of activities and employees."

"The public record is clear," Warner said. "All installations' functions and activities were not considered equally."

At a Pentagon briefing yesterday, Rumsfeld defended the massive effort and cautioned commissioners against changing any of the Defense Department's recommendations.

"This was our chance in maybe a quarter of a century to reset our force, to look at military value . . . and have it all come together in a way that's in the interests of the taxpayers of America" and the armed forces, Rumsfeld said. "They didn't come out of midair. And there wasn't an ounce of politics in any aspect of it."

DuBois said that dispersing military facilities would "probably not" make the Washington area or the Pentagon less of a terrorism target but could make them more efficient and valuable.

"If there were no defense agencies, no leased space in Northern Virginia, would the Pentagon have been attacked on Sept. 11, 2001? Yes," DuBois said. "To say, 'Aha, now we have lessened some ephemeral sense of being in the cross hairs' is not really accurate. . . . But efficiency and effectiveness -- those are essentially the two sides of the [base closing] coin."