Inside The Secret War Council

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Rumsfeld: Saddam could strike here

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That's why when Perle invited Laurent Murawiec, a senior Rand Corp. analyst, to give a briefing on the kingdom, it stirred up such a fuss. "I didn't know what he was going to say, but he had done some serious research on Saudi Arabia," Perle told TIME. In fact, Murawiec's work for Rand has not focused on Saudi Arabia.

Perle's ignorance of Murawiec's talking points matched his unfamiliarity with his briefer's past. Back in the 1980s, Murawiec worked for political extremist and perpetual presidential aspirant Lyndon LaRouche as an editor of LaRouche's magazine, Executive Intelligence Review. By the end of last week, LaRouche was denouncing both his former associate and "suspected Israeli agent Richard Perle" for pushing the U.S. toward war with the Islamic world.

None of Murawiec's arguments were relayed to Rumsfeld, Perle said last week from his vacation home in France. While Perle considers such unvarnished views important "to stimulate discussion," he points out that the board also received a more mainline briefing from U.S. intelligence officials.

When the substance of Murawiec's briefing leaked to the Washington Post, U.S. officials tried to pretend it had never happened. Rumsfeld dismissed it as the musings of "a French national, a resident alien," and Secretary of State Colin Powell phoned the Saudi Foreign Minister to calm down his government. Rand issued a statement distancing itself from its analyst's comments. Murawiec wasn't talking.

Rumsfeld made clear last week that despite the Saudi embarrassment, he values the board's advice. "I have always benefited from a competition of ideas," he said. But in a Pentagon known for marching in lockstep to Rumsfeld's orders, the surreal Saudi briefing left some thinking that Perle's board should focus next on picking its targets — and the weapons used against them — more wisely.

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