Monday, May 31, 2004

Given that the current Republican defense of Bush on the Iraq WMD question is that he was misled by bad intelligence, I thought I would link to a series of pieces The New Republic has run in the last year documenting how the Administration put pressure on CIA analysts to produce assesements that fell in line with their policies.

The Radical, ostensibly a piece on Dick Cheney, chronicles the ways Cheney and stuff have harassed intelligence analysts in the runup to the Iraq war (and before). Spooked documents the turf battles between the administration and the CIA. The Operator is a long piece on George Tenet's acquisence in telling the Bushies what they want to hear. An excerpt:

During the summer of 2002, Democratic Florida Senator Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, asked Tenet in a private meeting to provide him with everything the CIA knew about Iraq's WMD, its ties to Al Qaeda, and the consequences of a war. Tenet had gotten along with Graham far better than he had with Shelby, and, before the end of the August recess, Tenet delivered to Graham a classified 25-page paper, with no cover or letterhead, answering Graham's questions on every item of concern. According to an official who read Tenet's classified responses, "It was a reasonable document," candid and balanced, summarizing what the CIA believed to be the threat from Iraq and the repercussions of using force to redress it. Since this report and a DIA assessment on chemical weapons that the committee received in early September 2002 were completely at variance with what Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and other administration officials were saying publicly, Graham and Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin called on Tenet to provide more information, including an NIE [National Intelligence Estimate].

But Tenet didn't deliver another balanced assessment. Instead, in mid-September 2002, he and the CIA produced a classified document described by several officials who have read it as written, one recalls, "to take the most aggressive view of all available information." According to a source who saw the document, the assessment was indeed aggressive--it highlighted "extensive Iraqi chem-bio programs and nuclear programs and links to terrorism" and detailed every known or faintly rumored contact between Saddam's regime and bin Laden. What Intelligence Committee members found particularly objectionable was the document's treatment of the link between Saddam and Al Qaeda. According to a former CIA official who read the document, "They put everything that they found for the last twelve years and put it all into one document. It was a joke. It had eight hundred disclaimers in it. It basically said nothing, [but] they put it together anyway."

Stunned by what they read, Graham, Durbin, and others on the committee intensified their demand for Tenet to produce an NIE on the Iraq threat. It was not a request that Tenet could easily fulfill. "The White House didn't want it," says a source with direct knowledge of the effort. "They wanted to draw their own analytical conclusions." Faced with escalating and conflicting demands from the Bush administration and the committee, Tenet turned to the national intelligence officer who fended off the dogs the last time: Walpole.

Walpole produced an NIE by the end of September 2002, taking less than three weeks to complete what is usually a painstaking process--less time, jokes a longtime intelligence official, than it takes to coordinate "an interagency bathroom pass." Just as he had done in 1999, Walpole constructed an artificial consensus within a community that was sharply divided over the threat from Iraq. There were dissents, but they were relegated to footnotes and appendices. On some issues, the intelligence community indeed had reached a rough consensus. Practically all analysts agreed that Saddam had produced unaccounted-for chemical and biological weapons; the disagreement was over whether the programs were ongoing and whether they had yielded recent stocks. On the question of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program, however, Walpole's NIE far outpaced what the analysts were concluding. The NIE claimed that Iraq was "reconstituting its nuclear weapons programs"--a determination that earlier CIA statements had elided and that INR, along with most DOE analysts, continued to reject. It further claimed that Iraq was trying to acquire aluminum tubes to use for enriching uranium suitable for a nuclear bomb. INR and DOE analysts, who knew the most about nuclear weapons production, adamantly rejected the charge. And the classified version of the NIE reported that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger and other African countries--a contention that CIA and INR analysts alike had found laughable and that would later generate so much controversy. On the basis of these highly unreliable claims, the NIE concluded, "Iraq could make a nuclear weapon in months to a year once it acquires sufficient weapons-grade fissile material."

Notwithstanding these distortions, the Walpole paper was still less overheated than administration rhetoric...

Finally, The Selling of the Iraq War documents how administration officials used talking points to sell the war which were expressly noted by the CIA to be false.


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