!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Thomas Wilson
Positions that Thomas Wilson has held:
- Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency
Thomas Wilson was a participant or observer in the following events:
Bob Drogin. [Source: CBS News]Reporter Bob Drogin, in his 2007 book Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, notes that when the Iraqi defector known as “Curveball” appears in Germany (see November 1999), the US intelligence community knows very little about the state of affairs with Iraq’s secret weapons programs. Saddam Hussein had been fascinated with chemical and biological weapons for a long time, and had a history of using chemical weapons both against the Iranians and allegedly against his own citizens. UN inspectors found thousands of chemical munitions after the 1991 Gulf War; in 1996, UN engineers destroyed what many thought could have been a bioweapons factory. The inspectors were thrown out in 1998, and after that, reliable information about Iraq’s weapons programs was scanty at best. One top CIA official will tell Drogin that the US was “almost in Chapter 11 in terms of our human intelligence collection.” But most US officials believe that Hussein has something going on, they just don’t know exactly what. According to the 2007 reflections of Defense Intelligence Agency chief Vice Admiral Thomas Wilson, the “mind-set [is] we’re going to see the WMD. I don’t know anybody who [doesn’t] believe it [is] there.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/21/2007]
In January, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Henry Shelton is given a three hour briefing on Able Danger. Shelton supported the formation of Able Danger back in 1999 (see Fall 1999). The content of the briefing has never been reported. Then in March, during a briefing on another classified program called Door Hop Galley, Able Danger is again brought up. This briefing, given by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, is attended by Vice Adm. Thomas Wilson, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency; Richard Schiefren, an attorney at DOD; and Stephen Cambone, Special Assistant to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense. [Government Security News, 9/2005; Office of Congressman Curt Weldon, 9/17/2005 Sources: Curt Weldon] In mid-September 2005, Weldon will say, “I knew that the Clinton administration clearly knew about this. Now I know of at least two briefings in the Bush administration.” He calls these two briefings “very troubling.” He wants to know what became of the information presented in these briefings, suggesting it shouldn’t have been destroyed as part of the other Able Danger data purges. [Delaware County Daily Times, 9/16/2005; Office of Congressman Curt Weldon, 9/17/2005]
Thomas Wilson. [Source: Defense Intelligence Agency]Navy Vice Adm. Thomas Wilson, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testifies before Congress. He analyzes the current state of the world and lists some of the threats he sees facing the US. He says a terrorist attack is the most likely threat. He predicts that within the next two years there will be a “major terrorist attack against United States interests, either here or abroad, perhaps with a weapon designed to produce mass casualties.” He predicts higher-casualty attacks as terrorists gain “access to more destructive conventional weapons technologies and [weapons of mass destruction].” [American Forces Press Service, 2/22/2001; American Forces Press Service, 2/22/2001]
During a briefing on another classified program called Dorkawk Galley, Able Danger is again brought up. This briefing, given by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, is attended by Vice Adm. Thomas Wilson, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency; Richard Schiffrin, an attorney at DOD; and Stephen Cambone, Special Assistant to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense. [Government Security News, 9/2005; Office of Congressman Curt Weldon, 9/17/2005 Sources: Curt Weldon] In mid-September 2005, Weldon will say, “I knew that the Clinton administration clearly knew about this.” Referring to this meeting and another meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff (see Early 2001), he will add, “Now I know of at least two briefings in the Bush administration.” He calls these two briefings “very troubling.” He wants to know what became of the information presented in these briefings, suggesting it shouldn’t have been destroyed as part of the other Able Danger data purges. [Delaware County Daily Times, 9/16/2005; Office of Congressman Curt Weldon, 9/17/2005]
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz asks the CIA to look over the 2000 book, Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein’s Unfinished War Against America by Laurie Mylroie, which argued that Iraq was behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center (see October 2000). Wolfowitz will mention shortly after 9/11 how he asked the CIA to do this, but it is unknown what their response is. Presumably it is not one Wolfowitz liked. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 559] Wolfowitz also asks Thomas Wilson, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), to have his analysts look at the book. The DIA is unable to find any evidence that support the theory. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 76] Around late July, the US reopens the files on WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef, presumably in response to these requests (see Late July or Early August 2001). But no evidence will be found to support Mylroie’s theory that Yousef was an Iraqi agent. The 9/11 Commission will conclude in 2004, “We have found no credible evidence to support theories of Iraqi government involvement in the 1993 WTC bombing.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 559]
The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency informs military leaders in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon that al-Qaeda is responsible for the morning’s attacks. General Richard Myers, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will later describe: “At noon, Vice Admiral Tom Wilson, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, confirmed what everybody at the conference table had already surmised: The attacks had undoubtedly come from al-Qaeda.” [Myers and McConnell, 2009, pp. 156] Later in the day, Wilson will inform General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, of a single piece of intelligence that had suggested a terrorist attack may have been imminent (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Myers and McConnell, 2009, pp. 159]
Vice Admiral Thomas R. Wilson, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, submits a written testimony, titled Global Threats and Challenges, to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He says that the agency’s “near-term concerns” include another terrorist attack, a major war between India and Pakistan; the worsening of civil unrest within Pakistan; and violence against US interests in Colombia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Notably, he does not include Iraq as a near-term concern. Rather, in the section devoted to Iraq, he writes: “The on-going UN sanctions and US military presence continue to be the keys to restraining Saddam’s ambitions. Indeed, years of UN sanctions, embargoes, and inspections, combined with US and Coalition military actions, have significantly degraded Iraq’s military capabilities. Saddam’s military forces are much smaller and weaker than those he had in 1991. Manpower and equipment shortages, a problematic logistics system, and fragile military morale remain major shortcomings. Saddam’s paranoia and lack of trust—and related oppression and mistreatment—extend to the military, and are a drain on military effectiveness. Nevertheless, Iraq’s ground forces continue to be one of the most formidable within the region. They can move rapidly and pose a threat to Iraq’s neighbors. Baghdad’s air and air defense forces retain only a marginal defensive capability. The Air Force cannot effectively project air power outside Iraq’s borders. Still, Saddam continues to threaten Coalition forces in the No Fly Zones, and remains committed to interfering with Coalition military operations monitoring his military activities.” [US Congress, 2/6/2001]
Vice Admiral Thomas R. Wilson, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, submits a written testimony, titled Global Threats and Challenges, to the Senate Armed Services Committee. It is the same testimony that he submitted to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence six weeks earlier describing Saddam Hussein’s military ambitions as being effectively contained by UN sanctions (see February 6, 2002 for a fuller description of this testimony). [US Congress, 3/19/2002 ]
A memo written by an intelligence analyst working under Pentagon policy chief Douglas Feith asserts that while “some analysts have argued” that Osama bin Laden will not cooperate with secular Arab groups like Iraq, “reporting indicates otherwise.” A subsequent investigation by the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General (see February 9, 2007) will criticize the memo, titled “Iraq and al-Qaeda: Making the Case,” saying that it constituted an “alternative intelligence assessment” and therefore should have been developed in accordance with intelligence agency guidelines for publishing alternative views. [US Department of Defense, 2/9/2007 ; New York Times, 2/9/2007] Nevertheless, Bush administration officials such as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, DIA Director Thomas Wilson, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and the chief of staff for Vice President Cheney, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, embrace the memo. Cheney’s office is particularly enamoured of the report; journalists Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman later report a White House official as saying of Cheney and his staffers, “They so believed that the CIA were wrong, they were like, ‘We want to show these f_ckers that they are wrong.” The memo is based on an earlier briefing by Feith entitled “Assessing the Relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda,” which accused the CIA of using overly rigorous standards to analyze information that might show links between Iraq and the terrorist organization. Feith’s briefing uses almost no evidence to claim a “mature, symbiotic” relationship between the two, alleging “more than a decade of numerous contacts” between al-Qaeda and the Hussein government, and asserting “possible Iraqi coordination with al-Qaeda specifically related to 9/11.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 220-222] An updated version of the “Making the Case” briefing will be presented to the White House in September 2002 (see September 16, 2002).
Entity Tags: Office of the Vice President, Thomas Wilson, Office of Special Plans, Stephen J. Hadley, Spencer Ackerman, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Franklin Foer, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), George J. Tenet, Douglas Feith
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
A reinforced door on an Army truck at a base at Ar-Ramadi, Iraq. [Source: Public domain via the Department of Defense]During a visit by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Camp Buerhing in Kuwait, Specialist Thomas Wilson asks Rumsfeld why soldiers have to improvise armor for themselves out of scrap metal. Wilson, a National Guardsman from Tennessee, is referring to so-called “hillbilly armor” or “hajj armor” (see March 2003 and After). He asks Rumsfeld, “Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?” His question meets with shouts of approval and applause from the assembled 2,300 soldiers; an obviously discomfited Rumsfeld responds: “It isn’t a matter of money, it isn’t a matter on part of the Army of desire. It’s a matter of production and capability of doing it. As you know, you go to war with the Army you have.” Colonel John Zimmerman of the Tennessee National Guard says: “What we basically have is what we call hillbilly steel, hillbilly armor. It’s real frustrating for these soldiers.” Zimmerman says 95 percent of his unit’s 300 trucks do not have appropriate armor. Specialist Blaze Crook says he was appalled when he saw the condition of a vehicle he is slated to ride in. “It’s got huge windows on the front of my truck,” he says. “It’s basically like a window of opportunity to get shot, or shrapnel or anything like that to come through. It just doesn’t make me feel good that I’m riding up there without the proper armor.” Kurt Hendler, a reservist with the Navy’s Seabees construction force, says he and his colleagues are using steel plates intended for road repairs to retrofit trucks and Humvees with better armor. “We cover up the doors and put on some three-inch plate to protect the passenger and driver’s side from IED [improvised explosive device] attacks, sniper fire, and any other small-arms fire,” he says. [ABC News, 12/8/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 156-157] White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later call Rumsfeld’s answer “a defining moment of his career—and not a positive one.” He will add, “[H]is comments helped solidify an already-accepted media narrative: the administration was sending troops that were ill equipped to fight the IED threat from terrorists and insurgents; worse still, administration officials were either unaware of the problems, unable to fix them, or totally unconcerned.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 250] Wilson will come under scathing attack from right-wing commentators such as Rush Limbaugh when it is learned that he was given his question to ask by a reporter (see December 9, 2004).
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was put on the spot by a recent question from a US soldier in Kuwait about he and his fellow soldiers being forced to use scrap metal as so-called “hillbilly armor” for their vehicles (see December 8, 2004). The media now learns that the question, posed by Specialist Thomas Wilson, was given to Wilson by a newspaper reporter embedded with his unit, the 278th Regimental Combat Team, a Tennessee National Guard unit preparing for deployment in Iraq. Reporter Lee Pitts, of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, tells colleauges in an e-mail that he wanted to ask the question himself but was denied a chance to speak to Rumsfeld at the so-called “Pentagon town hall meeting.” Instead, Pitts says, he asked Wilson to pose the question. Pitts says he has been trying for weeks without success to “get this story out.” “I just had one of my best days as a journalist today,” Pitts writes. He says that when he learned that only soldiers would be allowed to ask Rumsfeld questions, he talked with Wilson and another soldier, and they “worked on questions to ask Rumsfeld about the appalling lack of armor their vehicles going into combat have.” Pitts says he “found the sergeant in charge of the microphone for the question and answer session and made sure he knew to get my guys out of the crowd.” Pitts writes that when Wilson asked his question, “the place erupted in cheers so loud that Rumsfeld had to ask the guy to repeat his question.” Rumsfeld’s apparently callous response—“you go to war with the army you have”—has caused a flurry of outraged responses (see December 15, 2004). Meanwhile, Wilson is weathering intense criticism for his question from some right-wing pundits and commentators. Talk show host Rush Limbaugh accuses him of “near insubordination” for daring to ask Rumsfeld such a pointed question. The New York Post claims that Wilson and Pitts “set up” Rumsfeld with the question. (Rumsfeld himself will compliment a later question about “negative press coverage” as obviously “not being planted by the media.”) Even though President Bush says he doesn’t blame Wilson for asking the question—“If I were a soldier overseas wanting to defend my country, I would want to ask the secretary of defense the same question”—Limbaugh and others are joined by Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita in criticizing Wilson and Pitts. “Town hall meetings are intended for soldiers to have dialogue with the secretary of defense,” Di Rita says. “The secretary provides ample opportunity for interaction with the press. It is better that others not infringe on the troops’ opportunity to interact with superiors in the chain of command.” [Poynter Online, 12/9/2004; CNN, 12/10/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 156-157] Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write that the subject of Wilson’s question is not news at all; news reports of troops being sent into Iraq with broken weapons and damaged vehicles have circulated throughout the print media for well over a year. What is newsworthy, Rich will write, is that a soldier publicly called Rumsfeld out on the policy of sending troops into combat with substandard equipment. Also newsworthy is the fact that Rumsfeld’s claim that the only thing standing in the way of all soldiers receiving adequate equipment is “production and capability” is a lie. Manufacturers of vehicle armor, weapons, and other essential equipment say that they could easily increase production if the Pentagon were to ask them to do so. [Rich, 2006, pp. 157]
Neoconservative commentator William Kristol does not join other conservatives in lambasting Specialist Thomas Wilson for asking Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld an uncomfortable question about inadequate body armor (see December 8, 2004 and December 9, 2004). Instead, Kristol excoriates Rumsfeld for his apparently flippant response, “You go to war with the army you have.” The Army has “performed a lot better in this war than the secretary of defense has,” Kristol writes, but, he continues, “Rumsfeld is not the defense secretary [President] Bush should want to have for the remainder of his second term.” He calls Rumsfeld’s response “arrogant buck-passing” and slams Rumsfeld for his apparant callousness, quoting the secretary as telling the troops: “[I]f you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored humvee and it can be blown up.” Kristol retorts sarcastically: “Good point. Why have armor at all? Incidentally, can you imagine if John Kerry had made such a statement a couple of months ago? It would have been (rightly) a topic of scorn and derision among my fellow conservatives, and not just among conservatives.” Rumsfeld has not performed well since the war began, Kristol writes, constantly resisting calls to increase troop numbers and then unfairly blaming field commanders such as General Tommy Franks and General John Abizaid for not requesting more troops. “All defense secretaries in wartime have, needless to say, made misjudgments,” Kristol writes. “Some have stubbornly persisted in their misjudgments. But have any so breezily dodged responsibility and so glibly passed the buck?” He concludes, “These soldiers deserve a better defense secretary than the one we have.” [Washington Post, 12/15/2005]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.