Iraq War Intelligence Started in Bad Feith

The White House could soon be drawn into the fallout from a Pentagon report presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday, which concluded that pre-war intelligence assessments used by the Bush administration contained false claims of a “mature symbiotic relationship” between Iraq and al Qaeda.

Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who chairs the committee, said he would ask current and former White House aides to testify about the intelligence assessments prepared by Douglas Feith, the former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy who served under former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Those who will be called to testify include National Security Advisor Stephen Hadly and former Chief of Staff for Vice President Dick Cheney Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby.

The report of the Pentagon’s acting Inspector General, Thomas Gimble, concludes that Mr Feith developed “intelligence products” in 2002 which drew a link between al Qaeda and Iraq that was “not fully supported by the available intelligence” and “more in accord with the policy views of senior officials in the administration”.

Senator Levin, who requested the report, said, “Senior administration officials used the twisted intelligence produced by the Feith office in making the case for the Iraq war. That was the argument that was used to make the sale to the American people about the need to go to war.”

Mr Gimble found that while Mr Feith’s activities were not illegal or unauthorized, he had nonetheless acted inappropriately by presenting spurious claims to Bush administration officials without acknowledging that the claims had been discounted or discredited by US intelligence agencies.

Mr Feith had therefore not provided “the most accurate analysis of intelligence” to senior decision-makers. Mr Gimble’s report notes that Intelligence Community Directive Number 1, entitled “Policy Directive for Intelligence Community Leadership” clearly states that the purpose of Intelligence Analysis is “to ensure the most accurate analysis of intelligence is derived from all sources to support national security needs.”

Instead, Mr Feith’s intelligence assessments had “evolved from policy to intelligence products, which were then disseminated”, and this was clearly “inappropriate”.

On hearing this, the committee erupted into a heated debate divided sharply along party lines. Senator Levin called the report “a devastating condemnation of inappropriate activities”. Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) shot back, “I don’t think in any way that his report can be interpreted as a devastating condemnation.” He argued that the disagreements boiled down to a simple “turf battle” between government departments.

The committee also asked Mr Gimble if he could explain the variance between Pentagon and CIA assessments, to which he responded, “I don’t know whether it was intentional or whether it was a good-faith judgment. That’s not my position, and I wouldn’t have a thought on that. All I can tell you is, at the end of the day, when those things went forward, there was two sets of facts out there; one of them got passed over, and it would happen to be the one that’s in the very community that we look to have this kind of information.”

Mr Feith, who now teaches at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, has fiercely defended his actions since the report’s release. “My office was trying to prevent an intelligence failure,” he told National Public Radio. “We had people in the Pentagon who thought that the CIA’s speculative assessments were not of top quality; they were not raising all the questions they should raise and considering all the information they should consider.”

In an interview with the Washington Post, Mr Feith further denied compiling an “alternative intelligence analysis”. He said his assessment was “from the start a criticism of the consensus of the intelligence community, and in presenting it I was not endorsing its substance.”

At the hearing, Mr Gimble provided a chronology of events in which the alternative intelligence assessments were developed and then presented to Bush administration officials, as reported by the Washington Post: 

In January 2002, former Under Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz asked Mr Feith to “assess the links between al Qaeda and Iraq”. By July, a group of Pentagon employees assigned to Mr Feith’s office had “compiled a position paper that was later translated into a briefing.”

In August, a group of analysts from the US intelligence community critiqued the briefing and “essentially disagreed with more than 50 percent of it, and either agreed or partially agreed with the remainder”. They described as “contradictory at best” evidence used to support the claim of a “known contact” in Prague in April 2001 between a senior Iraqi intelligence agent and Mohamed Atta, the lead 9/11 hijacker.

The briefing was presented to former CIA director George Tenet, who arranged for a further meeting to document the disagreements between Mr Feith’s assessment and that of the CIA, in order to warn Bush administration officials of the discrepancies.

However, Mr Feith briefed Mr Hadley and Mr Libbey with no mention that the intelligence community disputed more than half of his conclusions. Mr Tenet did not learn of this White House briefing until two years later.

Mr Gimble’s report concluded that Mr Feith’s office had thus been “inappropriately performing Intelligence Activities … that should be performed by the Intelligence Community”.

Despite confirming inappropriate activities, Mr Gimble recommended that no further action be taken. “The circumstances prevalent in 2002 are no longer present today,” states his report’s executive summary. “We believe that the continuing collaboration between the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence will significantly reduce the opportunity for the inappropriate conduct of intelligence activities outside of intelligence channels.”

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