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In 1991, Todd, 27, quickly won a transfer to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where she gained her first top-secret security clearance and became the desk officer for Iraq, Kuwait and Oman. In charge of analyzing regional events, in particular the effectiveness of economic sanctions against Saddam Hussein, Todd found herself rubbing elbows with Pentagon neoconservatives who she says were already conspiring with Iraqi exiles to replace the dictator a dozen years before the invasion of Iraq. She believed overthrowing Hussein and his fellow Sunnis, implacable enemies of Iran, would be a strategic blunder.
With Bill Clinton’s election victory in 1992, Todd became desk officer for Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. It was a lively time, with covert U.S. involvement in operations to liquidate Pablo Escobar, the Colombian drug kingpin, and Abimael Guzman, leader of Peru’s Shining Path revolutionaries.
Two years later, she was back on more familiar turf, as Pentagon desk officer for Turkey, Spain and Cyprus. Clearly on a fast track, she was appointed special assistant to Walter Slocombe, undersecretary of defense for policy. For her work there, she received the department’s Distinguished Civilian Service Award. And in 1997, she got the brass ring: transfer to the White House National Security Council.
“Very heady stuff,” she remembered. But she was now also involved in another high-voltage relationship.
Cabelly stepped forward.
“Robert had a vested interest in making sure I got a decent job, because I was raising [our daughter],” Todd said. “Robert’s business partner helped me set up my own company,” the consulting firm G.E.T. LLC, in Rockville. Her first client was Nuri Colakoglu, a Turkish steel and shipping magnate.
Unknown to Cabelly, she says, she began an affair with Colakoglu, who showered her with jewels and spun her around the Mediterranean on his yacht. And unknown to her, she says, Cabelly was getting into business with some of Africa’s worst despots, including Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan, listed by the State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Cabelly never confided the particulars with her, Todd said. “The most detail I ever heard was that Bashir wears cheap, fussy leopard-print slippers,” she said. “But [Cabelly] was always stepping out of the room with his mobile to talk to high-level U.S. officials.”
Cabelly seemed to be providing an unofficial back channel to Sudan, she said.
Then one day in January 2005 she got an intriguing offer from Adm. David Nichols, commander of the 5th Fleet: Come to Manama, Bahrain, as a political adviser, on contract — you can keep your other clients. They had conferred twice the previous year, when Todd stopped in Bahrain during a business trip.
“I was immediately impressed by the sharpness of her mind and the incisiveness of her comments on Middle East strategic issues,” Nichols would write years later, in a glowing recommendation of her work.
The job went well for two years, until Cosgriff showed up.
Nichols and his seccessor as 5th Fleet commander, Adm. Patrick Walsh, had been determined to avoid rhetoric or maneuvers that could lead to an unintended clash with Iran. In one instance, Todd recalled, commanders in Bahrain had used her to leak one inflammatory plan from Washington to Time magazine. It was derailed.
But Cosgriff seemed as eager as the Bush administration hawks to mix it up with the Iranians.
When Cosgriff instructed Todd and other staff not to tell the State Department about his plan to marshal the big decks (two aircraft carriers, an amphibious helicopter assault carrier and five supporting warships) that May in 2007, Todd said, it was just too much. She immediately called a family friend at the State Department’s Iran desk. Her contact alerted superiors, according to sources familiar with events, and Cosgriff was told to stand down, at least until the critical conference with the Iranians was over. He was also told to notify the Saudis and other gulf allies before resuming the maneuver.
The armada passed through the strait a week later, on May 23, without incident. Likewise, in Baghdad, Iranian and American diplomats met as scheduled.
Cosgriff was furious about “the [expletive] storm” coming down on him from Washington because of the leak, according to Todd and another staff member.
Cosgriff declined to comment for the record, but a retired senior naval officer said Cosgriff “was collaborating with ... Adm. Fallon” and had “taken a little heat. ... It was a ‘lessons learned’ thing — you gotta notify people.”
Administration officials privy to the affair, meanwhile, said they were surprised when Fallon portrayed himself, in a much-talked-about 2008 Esquire interview, as nearly single-handedly stopping Bush administration hawks from starting a war with Iran. Because of the uproar over the article, he resigned shortly after.
As for the big-decks conspiracy scenario presented by Todd and others, Fallon called it “B.S.” in an e-mail, but declined to answer further questions.
Todd was relieved. The big-decks surprise had been defused, and Cosgriff didn’t seem to suspect her of leaking the plan.
Then came a stunning revelation: Todd said she learned from a friend that her access had been suspended the same day Cosgriff had dispatched her into the night to verify the threat report.
What? Todd said she felt the room spin. Cosgriff had given her a sensitive assignment — to meet a suspect Shiite — after her clearances had been suspended? It didn’t make sense.
On Feb. 27, 2008, a letter from Cosgriff’s chief of staff, Capt. Joe Sensi, arrived via “unregistered snail mail.” It was dated Dec. 13, 2007, the day of her strange intelligence mission. For the first time, she read that her contract had been terminated because of “unreported foreign contacts ... financial irresponsibility ... [and] the disclosure of classified information to unauthorized persons.”
After a Freedom of Information Act request, the Navy Central Command said it has no records of Cosgriff and Fallon discussing a plan to move the big decks, no records of the intelligence report on Shia unrest, no warning report by Todd and Inman on Dec. 14, and no “records related to the revocation of Ms. Todd’s security clearance.”
The Defense Security Service indicated that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service had a classified file on her; NCIS says it is working on a FOIA response.