Who is Stephen Cambone?

Stephen Cambone, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld‘s right-hand man, was for the first time caught in the glare of media attention as part of the congressional inquiry into Iraq prison abuses. Under sharp questioning by a few senators on May 11, 2004, Cambone vigorously defended both Rumsfeld and Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy. Cambone’s attempt to split hairs on whether the Geneva Conventions were applicable to intelligence gathering in Iraq and his awkward defense of the role of military intelligence in interrogations put him at odds with the U.S. Army general who first investigated abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. As the first-ever undersecretary of defense for intelligence, Cambone will likely come under increased fire as the prison scandal unfolds. Some of the most intense questioning of Cambone centered on whether the Geneva Conventions were “precisely” respected. What “precisely” Cambone knew and when he knew it, and what precisely was the role of military intelligence will be questions that Cambone will be required to answer.

Cambone, who as director of strategic defense policy during the Bush I administration under Defense Secretary Cheney had been a prominent promoter of missile defense systems, served as the staff director of the two congressional commissions – one on missile defense and another on space weapons – chaired by Donald Rumsfeld in the late 1990s.

The two Rumsfeld commissions focused on the issues at the top of the list for the national security militarists and the large military contractors: the ballistic missile threat to the United States and U.S. space-based defense capabilities. In the tradition of Team B, the unstated agenda of these commissions was to turn up pressure on the administration to support new weapons programs and substantially increase major military spending. Both commissions received funding from defense spending bills – in effect using taxpayer revenues to subsidize them. But perusing the backgrounds and connections of the individuals charged with overseeing the commissions, Rumsfeld and his right-hand man Stephen Cambone, most observers at the time believed that the conclusions were preordained.

After Rumsfeld was named defense secretary, he made Cambone his special assistant in January 2001. Then, in March 2003 Cambone was appointed the first-ever undersecretary for intelligence – a position that “will allow the Defense Department to consolidate its intelligence programs in a way that could undermine CIA head George Tenet’s role,” one defense analyst noted. Well-known and much-despised by both military and civilian officials in the Pentagon prior to joining the Bush II administration, Cambone, serving as Rumsfeld’s henchman and intelligence chief, soon began creating a new enemies list in the CIA and State Department.

While Cambone was directing the two Rumsfeld commissions, he also participated in two national security strategy and military transformation commissions sponsored by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) and the National Institute for Public Policy (NIPP). The institute’s 2001 report, Rationale and Requirements for Nuclear Forces and Arms Control, and PNAC’s Rebuilding America’s Defenses were blueprints for Rumsfeld’s promised “revolution in military affairs.” Several other PNAC associates, in addition to Rumsfeld himself, also served on the Rumsfeld commissions, including Paul Wolfowitz, Malcolm Wallop, William Schneider, and James Woolsey. Both the NIPP and PNAC studies seem to have served as blueprints for the defense policies initiated by the administration of George W. Bush with respect to nuclear policy, national security strategy, and military transformation.

Despite – and perhaps because of – his close relationship to the defense secretary, Cambone is apparently widely disliked in the Pentagon. Tom Donnelly, PNAC military analyst and lead author of Rebuilding America’s Defenses, wrote in the Weekly Standard that “fairly or not, Cambone has long been viewed as Rumsfeld’s henchman, almost universally loathed – but more important, feared – by the services.” The Washington Monthly reported in late 2001, “It would be hard to exaggerate how much Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his top aide Stephen Cambone were hated within the Pentagon prior to September 11. Among other mistakes, Rumsfeld and Cambone foolishly excluded top civilian and military leaders when planning an overhaul of the military to meet new threats, thereby ensuring even greater bureaucratic resistance. According to the Washington Post, an Army general joked to a Hill staffer that "if he had one round left in his revolver, he would take out Steve Cambone." Cambone’s reputation in the building hasn’t improved much since Sept.11, but Rumsfeld’s has been transformed.

When asked by the New York Times (April 11, 2003) if he thought hard-liners in the Pentagon had politicized intelligence to support arguments for the war in Iraq, Cambone responded: “Any policy maker has certain views. Policy makers are where they are and doing what they do because they have a view.” Further, he said, “The politicization of intelligence, I think, happens when intelligence is thought to be more than it is. And what it can be at best is a summary judgment at a given moment in time based on the information that one has been able to glean.”

Cambone’s work on missile defense issues extends well beyond his participation on the influential Rumsfeld missile threat commission. According to the Carnegie Non-Proliferation Project, “As Director of Strategic Defense Policy, [Cambone] was a major contributor to President [George H.W.] Bush’s decision to refocus the SDI [Strategic Defense Initiative] program in 1991 and developed the concept for a global protection system. He was a member of the high-level group appointed by the president to discuss the global protection system with Russia, U.S. allies, and other states. In addition, he was responsible for addressing and resolving policy issues that arose in the compliance review group (DOD [Department of Defense] organization to oversee compliance with the ABM [antiballistic missile] treaty) and the strategic systems committee of the Defense Acquisition Board, which is responsible for approving DOD weapon system acquisition.”

Before he joined the Bush Sr. administration, Cambone worked for SRS Technologies, a defense contractor. SRS recently received a $6 million contract to provide administrative and management support for the Missile Defense Agency.

SRS has also received a lot of attention recently for its work on the controversial military effort to mine the passenger records of JetBlue. Torch Concepts, the SRS subcontractor that worked on the project, “worked directly with the Army and had a specific mandate to ferret information out of data stream [to find the] abnormal behavior of secretive people,” said SRS’s Bart Edsall in an interview with Wired News. Privacy advocates immediately cried foul when the story broke. Lee Tien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation said, “We should put the brakes on all these data-mining programs, and have a serious national conversation, because travel data is just one example of the many kinds of data every data-mining operation wants to suck in from private business.”

“Stephen Cambone,” Right Web Profiles (Silver City, NM: Interhemispheric Resource Center, May 2004).


Institutional Affiliations

  • National Defense University, Institute for National Strategic Studies: Director of Research
  • Center for Strategic and International Studies: Senior Fellow for Political-Military Studies, 1993-1998
  • National Institute for Public Policy (NIPP): Member of team that produced a January 2001 NIPP study entitled Rationale and Requirements for U.S. Nuclear Forces and Arms Control, which served as a blueprint for George W. Bush’s Nuclear Posture Review.
  • Project for the New American Century: Project Participant on PNAC’s 2001 “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” report

Government Service

  • Department of Defense: Special Assistant to the Secretary and Director for Program Analysis & Evaluation, March 2003-Present
  • Department of Defense: Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, 2001-Present
  • Commission to Assess U.S. National Security Space Management and Organization: Staff Director
  • Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States: Staff Director, 1998
  • Department of Defense: Director of the Strategic Defense Policy Office, Bush Sr. adminstration
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory: Served on the staff of the director and specialized in theater nuclear weapons issues

Corporate Connections/ Business Interests

  • SRS Technologies: Deputy Director of Strategic Analysis, 1986-1990


  • Claremont University Graduate School: M.A. and Ph.D.
  • Catholic University: B.A.