WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) on Monday criticized a congressionally chartered panel of military experts for publishing what he called incorrect and possibly classified information about the Pentagon's strategy for repositioning U.S. forces abroad.
Congress created the Overseas Basing Commission (search) to evaluate the Pentagon's plan to withdraw tens of thousands of troops from Asia and Europe and to restructure the forces that remain abroad. It posted an interim report of its findings on its Web site last week but removed it just hours later after the Pentagon asserted that some of the information was classified.
Aside from the allegation of publishing classified information, the Overseas Basing Commission drew heat from some Pentagon officials for having concluded in its report that Rumsfeld was moving too fast on his overseas basing plan and was not fully consulting other agencies.
The commission also said Congress had not yet looked closely enough at the Pentagon (search) plan, and it suggested that the movement of U.S. troops from overseas bases to domestic bases — as foreseen in Rumsfeld's plan — would put some troops on bases that are not ready to receive them. This in turn could hurt the military's ability to recruit and retain the forces it needs.
Rumsfeld did not address those criticisms directly, but he made clear his displeasure.
"I'll be quite honest. I think the Overseas Basing Commission was unhelpful in many respects," Rumsfeld said in testimony before a separate base-closing commission that is reviewing his recommendations on closing, consolidating and reorganizing domestic military bases.
Rumsfeld said he had been informed by aides that some of the information contained in the Overseas Basing Commission report "may have been classified." He did not specify the information, but other officials have indicated it was related to the Pentagon's interest in negotiating basing agreements with Bulgaria and Romania. Rumsfeld seemed to allude to this in his criticisms.
"Some of the information, we already know, that was posted on the Web site has given concern to some of the countries we've been negotiating with because it revealed our negotiating position in a way that we hadn't previously discussed with the other countries, which is notably unhelpful," he said.
Rumsfeld added that aides told him some "factual information" in the report "is not completely correct." He was not more specific.
A Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, said "appropriate procedures" are being followed to determine the extent of the possible security breach and to determine what steps should be taken next.
The chairman of the Overseas Basing Commission, Al Cornella, said in a telephone interview Monday that he had not seen Rumsfeld's comments but he believed the matter would be resolved soon.
"We have not received any specifics from the (Pentagon) in regard to what they're talking about in any kind of official letter or notice," Cornella said. He said that after the interim report was posted on the Web site last Thursday his office received an e-mail message from the Pentagon asserting that certain unspecified information in the report was classified.
The commission then removed the report from its Web site.
Cornella said he expects to receive a more detailed communication from the Pentagon within a few days to specify the offending passages, and the matter could then be resolved and the report reinstated on the Web site.