Major General Barbara Fast was due to take command, this summer, of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.
She had previously served as the deputy commander of the Intelligence Center and had been selected to become its commander before she was called to Iraq in July 2003. She is now back from Iraq, but her command has been put on hold.
General Fast, as some of you may know, has been in the news lately. She was the senior Army intelligence officer in Iraq at the time of the Abu Ghraib prison abuses. Although she was not directly involved in the operations of Abu Ghraib, her career may be finished -- that is, if the Army bows to Senator John McCain.
A little background is necessary at this point.
When major ground combat operations concluded in Iraq, the Army reorganized its forces. Some units went home. Other units were swapped out with stateside units.
The headquarters in charge of ground forces also underwent some significant changes. Its mission changed for one. It was no longer directing a major ground campaign; now it was responsibile for stabilizing Iraq and providing support to the Coalition Provisional Authority.
By June 2003, a major insurgency was underway by Saddam loyalists and Saddam sympathizers from other Arab countries such as Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan -- to include al-Qaeda operatives.
It soon became apparent that the scope of the mission had expanded. The Army's ground headquarters needed to be augmented -- most especially with additional intelligence support.
The Army sent in Major General Barbara Fast.
When she arrived in Iraq in July 2003, General Fast immediately made an assessment of the intelligence architecture that would be needed to support the expanded mission. She then organized various intelligence cells, equipping them with communications and computers that could "reach back" to national intelligence databases in the United States. She recognized that technical intelligence, alone, would not be enough so she set up Human Intelligence (HUMINT) operations, i.e. a system of spies and informants.
The intelligence operations that she set up led to the capture of key members of the the former Iraqi regime -- to include the capture of Saddam Hussein himself. Her hard work also saved the lives of our soldiers, coalition partners and Iraqi civilians.
During the time period of the Abu Ghraib abuses, the intelligence focus was on Saddam Hussein's capture and large scale enemy activity at Fallujah and Najaf. This consumed the time of General Fast and her intelligence staff. The responsibility for intelligence interrogations was entrusted to the commander in the field, Colonel Thomas Pappas, who commanded the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade.
The final report on Abu Ghraib praises Major General Fast for her intelligence successes, yet it also criticizes her for not closely supervising Colonel Pappas.
In my opinion, two things are wrong with that:
1. Colonel Pappas's immediate commander was Major General Wojdakowski, the deputy commander of ground forces, not Major General Fast. Major General Fast was a staff officer, not a commander.
2. The day that a Colonel in the United States Army needs to be closely supervised is the day that that Colonel needs to be fired. Yet Major General Wojdakowski did nothing.
That's how I see it, but I admit I can't be completely objective.
I've known Barbara Fast for some time. She and her husband, Paul (a retired Lieutenant Colonel), and I served together. We were also neighbors for two years. They are two of the most decent people I know.
Barbara has had an extraordinary Army career -- one that has found her, time and again, where the rubber meets the road, i.e. serving with troops. She could have been just as successful taking the easy jobs, but she didn't. Those of us who know her never doubted that she would one day be a general -- one star, two stars, three, four. She is that good.
I would trust her with my son in combat and that's the highest compliment I can give anyone.
Senator McCain has said that Barbara Fast should not be placed in command of the Intelligence Center. He is a powerful member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
He is also a media darling -- and a pompous horse's ass who has a history of going off half-cocked on any number of issues. While that may endear him to the media and keep his name in the spotlight, it is also why the very people who know him best, his Senate colleagues, overwhelmingly supported George W. Bush in the 2000 Presidential primary.
McCain being an ex-P.O.W. should not inoculate him from criticism, nor should it give him undue deference within the walls of the Pentagon. But it often does. I'm hoping it won't this time.
I know that whatever the Army's ultimate decision, Barbara Fast will salute and move on. If the decision goes against her, it'll be a significant loss to the soldiers, the Army and the nation.
Some of you have confused
Major General Barbara Fast (U.S. Army - Military Intelligence)
Brigadier General Janis Karpinski (U.S. Army Reserve - Commander of Military Police at Abu Ghraib)
(MerryMadMonk shudders at the thought)
Hopefully, the pictures below will help:
Major General Barbara Fast
Brigadier General Janis Karpinski