CIA leak illustrates selective use of intelligence on Iraq
By Jonathan S. Landay
Ridder" -- -- WASHINGTON - The grand jury probe
into the leak of a covert CIA officer's name has opened a new window
into how the Bush administration used intelligence from dubious
sources to make a case for a pre-emptive war and discarded
information that undercut its rationale for attacking Iraq.
CIA officer Valerie Plame was outed in an apparent attempt to
discredit her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, after he
challenged President Bush's allegation in his 2003 State of the
Union speech that Iraq had tried to buy uranium for nuclear weapons
from the African nation of Niger.
A Knight Ridder review of the administration's arguments, its own
reporting at the time and the Senate Intelligence Committee's 2004
report shows that the White House followed a pattern of using
questionable intelligence, even documents that turned out to be
forgeries, to support its case - often leaking classified
information to receptive journalists - and dismissing information
that undermined the case for war.
The State of the Union speech was one of a number of instances in
which Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their aides ignored the
qualms of intelligence professionals and instead relied on the
claims of Iraqi defectors and other suspect sources or, in the case
of Niger, the crudely forged documents.
Like the Niger allegation, almost all of the administration's claims
that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had to be ousted before he could
develop nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, use them against
America or give them to al-Qaida terrorists have turned out to be
false. No such weapons or programs have been found, and several
official inquiries have concluded that there was no cooperation
between Iraq and al-Qaida.
The indictments that may come in the CIA leak case this week aren't
expected to delve into the administration's use of intelligence. The
Senate Intelligence Committee agreed to examine the issue in 2004,
when it reported on the spy agencies' errors, but it hasn't done so.
THE EARLY CASE FOR WAR
The White House launched its public campaign to build support for a
U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in August 2002.
Top aides led by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and known as
the White House Iraq Group directed the effort, according to current
and former U.S. officials who requested anonymity because of the
The group included I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of
staff, and Karl Rove, Bush's chief political adviser, who are at the
center of the Plame probe.
Other members were then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice
and her deputy and now successor, Stephen J. Hadley, White House
communications strategists Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin and James R.
Wilkerson and legislative liaison Nicholas E. Calio.
The Iraqi National Congress, an exile opposition group whose leader,
Ahmad Chalabi, was close to Cheney and others, had begun feeding
Western reporters Iraqi defectors' tales that Saddam was training
Islamic extremists to hit U.S. targets and hiding banned weapons
shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The INC, which was deeply distrusted by the State Department, the
Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA, piped the same information
into Cheney's office and the Pentagon, according to a June 2002
letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee from the group's
In an Aug. 26, 2002, speech, Cheney highlighted the main themes of
the administration's case for war.
Iraq, he charged, was "amassing" chemical and biological weapons,
and "many of us are convinced that Saddam Hussein will acquire
nuclear weapons fairly soon" and could give them to terrorists.
There was no solid U.S. intelligence to support his assertions, and
no such finding by the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency,
which oversaw the destruction of Saddam's pre-1991 Gulf War nuclear
U.S. intelligence had no evidence of any alliance between Iraq and
al-Qaida, and many analysts doubted that Saddam would give such
weapons to Islamic extremists.
Those views were set out in intelligence analyses, according to a
report on Iraq intelligence by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The White House, however, based its case on an analysis by a
secretive Pentagon unit formed by then Undersecretary of Defense
Douglas Feith, a proponent of attacking Iraq. The Pentagon analysis
concluded that Saddam and al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden were
working together. The Pentagon and the CIA later disowned the
THE ALUMINUM TUBES
On Sept. 8, 2002, The New York Times quoted unnamed U.S. officials
as saying that Iraq had tried "to buy thousands of specially
designed aluminum tubes" believed to be intended for centrifuges,
devices that enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.
The story quoted an unnamed senior administration official as saying
that "nuclear weapons are his (Saddam's) hole card" and that
delaying his overthrow would make him "harder ... to deal with."
The story reinforced the Bush administration's charge that the
United States couldn't wait for proof that Iraq was developing
Its appearance in the nation's most influential paper also gave
Cheney and Rice an opportunity to discuss the matter the same day on
the Sunday television talk shows. They could discuss the article,
but otherwise they wouldn't have been able to talk about classified
intelligence in public.
"Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes
used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon," Bush said to the U.N.
General Assembly five days later.
But U.S. intelligence experts disagreed over the tubes' purpose.
A majority of U.S. agencies, including several with no expertise on
the subject, agreed that the tubes could be used for centrifuges.
But after consulting U.S. nuclear laboratories, the Department of
Energy and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and
Research concluded that the tubes were most likely for
ground-to-ground rockets, not for centrifuges.
The International Atomic Energy Agency later reached the same
THE BACKGROUND PAPER
In conjunction with Bush's U.N. speech, the White House released a
report, "A Decade of Deception and Defiance," which purported to lay
out evidence that Iraq was violating a U.N. ban on possessing
chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
There's no evidence that the CIA or the DIA cleared the paper.
A number of the assertions it made were based on exaggerated and
fabricated information from Iraqi defectors provided by the INC. One
of them, Adnan Ihsan al Haideri, whose statements were also the
basis of a Dec. 20, 2001, New York Times article, showed "deception"
in a CIA-administered polygraph three days before the article
appeared. When U.S. weapons inspectors took him back to Iraq, he
couldn't identify a single illicit weapons facility.
©2005 Knight Ridder
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