Proof That Bush Lied
Key Bush Intelligence Briefing Kept From Hill Panel
By Murray Waas, special to National Journal
Journal" -- - Ten days after the September 11,
2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,
President Bush was told in a highly classified briefing that the
U.S. intelligence community had
no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks and that there was scant credible
evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al
Qaeda, according to government records and current and former
officials with firsthand knowledge of the matter.
The information was provided to Bush on September 21, 2001 during
the "President's Daily Brief," a 30- to 45-minute early-morning
national security briefing. Information for PDBs has routinely been
derived from electronic intercepts, human agents, and reports from
foreign intelligence services, as well as more mundane sources such
as news reports and public statements by foreign leaders.
One of the more intriguing things that Bush was told during the
briefing was that the few credible reports of contacts between Iraq
and Al Qaeda involved attempts by Saddam Hussein to monitor the
terrorist group. Saddam viewed Al Qaeda as well as other theocratic
radical Islamist organizations as a potential threat to his secular
regime. At one point, analysts believed, Saddam considered
infiltrating the ranks of Al Qaeda with Iraqi nationals or even
Iraqi intelligence operatives to learn more about its inner
workings, according to records and sources.
The September 21, 2001, briefing was prepared at the request of the
president, who was eager in the days following the terrorist attacks
to learn all that he could about any possible connection between
Iraq and Al Qaeda.
Much of the contents of the September 21 PDB were later
incorporated, albeit in a slightly different form, into a lengthier
CIA analysis examining not only Al Qaeda's contacts with Iraq, but
also Iraq's support for international terrorism. Although the CIA
found scant evidence of collaboration between Iraq and Al Qaeda, the
agency reported that it had long since established that Iraq had
previously supported the notorious Abu Nidal terrorist organization,
and had provided tens of millions of dollars and logistical support
to Palestinian groups, including payments to the families of
Palestinian suicide bombers.
The highly classified CIA assessment was distributed to President
Bush, Vice President Cheney, the president's national security
adviser and deputy national security adviser, the secretaries and
undersecretaries of State and Defense, and various other senior Bush
administration policy makers, according to government records.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked the White House for the
CIA assessment, the PDB of September 21, 2001, and dozens of other
PDBs as part of the committee's ongoing investigation into whether
the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence information in
the run-up to war with Iraq. The Bush administration has refused to
turn over these documents.
Indeed, the existence of the September 21 PDB was not disclosed to
the Intelligence Committee until the summer of 2004, according to
congressional sources. Both Republicans and Democrats requested then
that it be turned over. The administration has refused to provide
it, even on a classified basis, and won't say anything more about it
other than to acknowledge that it exists.
On November 18, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said he planned to
attach an amendment to the fiscal 2006 intelligence authorization
bill that would require the Bush administration to give the Senate
and House intelligence committees copies of PDBs for a three-year
period. After Democrats and Republicans were unable to agree on
language for the amendment, Kennedy said he would delay final action
on the matter until Congress returns in December.
The conclusions drawn in the lengthier CIA assessment-which has also
been denied to the committee-were strikingly similar to those
provided to President Bush in the September 21 PDB, according to
records and sources. In the four years since Bush received the
briefing, according to highly placed government officials, little
evidence has come to light to contradict the CIA's original
conclusion that no collaborative relationship existed between Iraq
and Al Qaeda.
"What the President was told on September 21," said one former
high-level official, "was consistent with everything he has been
told since-that the evidence was just not there."
In arguing their case for war with Iraq, the president and vice
president said after the September 11 attacks that Al Qaeda and Iraq
had significant ties, and they cited the possibility that Iraq might
share chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons with Al Qaeda for a
terrorist attack against the United States.
Democrats in Congress, as well as other critics of the Bush
administration, charge that Bush and Cheney misrepresented and
distorted intelligence information to bolster their case for war
with Iraq. The president and vice president have insisted that they
unknowingly relied on faulty and erroneous intelligence, provided
mostly by the CIA.
The new information on the September 21 PDB and the subsequent CIA
analysis bears on the question of what the CIA told the president
and how the administration used that information as it made its case
for war with Iraq.
The central rationale for going to war against Iraq, of course, was
that Saddam Hussein had biological and chemical weapons, and that he
was pursuing an aggressive program to build nuclear weapons. Despite
those claims, no weapons were ever discovered after the war, either
by United Nations inspectors or by U.S. military authorities.
Much of the blame for the incorrect information in statements made
by the president and other senior administration officials regarding
the weapons-of-mass-destruction issue has fallen on the CIA and
other U.S. intelligence agencies.
In April 2004, the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded in a
bipartisan report that the CIA's prewar assertion that Saddam's
regime was "reconstituting its nuclear weapons program" and "has
chemical and biological weapons" were "overstated, or were not
supported by the underlying intelligence provided to the Committee."
The Bush administration has cited that report and similar findings
by a presidential commission as evidence of massive CIA intelligence
failures in assessing Iraq's unconventional-weapons capability.
Bush and Cheney have also recently answered their critics by
ascribing partisan motivations to them and saying their criticism
has the effect of undermining the war effort. In a speech on
November 11, the president made his strongest comments to date on
the subject: "Baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops
and to an enemy that is questioning America's will." Since then, he
has adopted a different tone, and he said on his way home from Asia
on November 21, "This is not an issue of who is a patriot or not."
In his own speech to the American Enterprise Institute yesterday,
Cheney also changed tone, saying that "disagreement, argument, and
debate are the essence of democracy" and the "sign of a healthy
political system." He then added: "Any suggestion that prewar
information was distorted, hyped, or fabricated by the leader of the
nation is utterly false."
Although the Senate Intelligence Committee and the National
Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, commonly
known as the 9/11 commission, pointed to incorrect CIA assessments
on the WMD issue, they both also said that, for the most part, the
CIA and other agencies did indeed provide policy makers with
accurate information regarding the lack of evidence of ties between
Al Qaeda and Iraq.
But a comparison of public statements by the president, the vice
president, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld show that in the
days just before a congressional vote authorizing war, they
professed to have been given information from U.S. intelligence
assessments showing evidence of an Iraq-Al Qaeda link.
"You can't distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk
about the war on terror," President Bush said on September 25, 2002.
The next day, Rumsfeld said, "We have what we consider to be
credible evidence that Al Qaeda leaders have sought contacts with
Iraq who could help them acquire … weapons-of-mass-destruction
The most explosive of allegations came from Cheney, who said that
September 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta, the pilot of the first plane to
crash into the World Trade Center, had met in Prague, in the Czech
Republic, with a senior Iraqi intelligence agent, Ahmed Khalil
Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, five months before the attacks. On December 9,
2001, Cheney said on NBC's Meet the Press: "[I]t's pretty well
confirmed that [Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior
official of the Iraqi intelligence service in [the Czech Republic]
last April, several months before the attack."
Cheney continued to make the charge, even after he was briefed,
according to government records and officials, that both the CIA and
the FBI discounted the possibility of such a meeting.
Credit card and phone records appear to demonstrate that Atta was in
Virginia Beach, Va., at the time of the alleged meeting, according
to law enforcement and intelligence officials. Al-Ani, the Iraqi
intelligence official with whom Atta was said to have met in Prague,
was later taken into custody by U.S. authorities. He not only denied
the report of the meeting with Atta, but said that he was not in
Prague at the time of the supposed meeting, according to published
In June 2004, the 9/11 commission concluded: "There have been
reports that contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda also occurred after
bin Laden had returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to
have resulted in a collaborative relationship. Two senior bin Laden
associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between Al
Qaeda and Iraq. We have no credible evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda
cooperated on attacks against the United States."
Regarding the alleged meeting in Prague, the commission concluded:
"We do not believe that such a meeting occurred."
Still, Cheney did not concede the point. "We have never been able to
prove that there was a connection to 9/11," Cheney said after the
commission announced it could not find significant links between Al
Qaeda and Iraq. But the vice president again pointed out the
existence of a Czech intelligence service report that Atta and the
Iraqi agent had met in Prague. "That's never been proved. But it's
never been disproved," Cheney said.
The following month, July 2004, the Senate Intelligence Committee
concluded in its review of the CIA's prewar intelligence: "Despite
four decades of intelligence reporting on Iraq, there was little
useful intelligence collected that helped analysts determine the
Iraqi regime's possible links to al-Qaeda."
One reason that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld made statements that
contradicted what they were told in CIA briefings might have been
that they were receiving information from another source that
purported to have evidence of Al Qaeda-Iraq ties. The information
came from a covert intelligence unit set up shortly after the
September 11 attacks by then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy
Douglas J. Feith.
Feith was a protégé of, and intensely loyal to, Cheney, Rumsfeld,
then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, and Cheney's
then-chief of staff and national security adviser, I. Lewis
(Scooter) Libby. The secretive unit was set up because Cheney,
Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Libby did not believe the CIA would be able
to get to the bottom of the matter of Iraq-Al Qaeda ties. The four
men shared a long-standing distrust of the CIA from their earlier
positions in government, and felt that the agency had failed
massively by not predicting the September 11 attacks.
At first, the Feith-directed unit primarily consisted of two men,
former journalist Michael Maloof and David Wurmser, a veteran of
neoconservative think tanks. They liked to refer to themselves as
the "Iraqi intelligence cell" of the Pentagon. And they took pride
in the fact that their office was in an out-of-the-way cipher-locked
room, with "charts that rung the room from one end to the other"
showing the "interconnections of various terrorist groups" with one
another and, most important, with Iraq, Maloof recalled in an
They also had the heady experience of briefing Rumsfeld twice, and
Feith more frequently, Maloof said. The vice president's office also
showed great interest in their work. On at least three occasions,
Maloof said, Samantha Ravich, then-national security adviser for
terrorism to Cheney, visited their windowless offices for a
But neither Maloof nor Wurmser had any experience or formal training
in intelligence analysis. Maloof later lost his security clearance,
for allegedly failing to disclose a relationship with a woman who is
a foreigner, and after allegations that he leaked classified
information to the press. Maloof said in the interview that he has
done nothing wrong and was simply being punished for his
controversial theories. Wurmser has since been named as Cheney's
Middle East adviser.
In January 2002, Maloof and Wurmser were succeeded at the
intelligence unit by two Naval Reserve officers. Intelligence
analysis from the covert unit later served as the basis for many of
the erroneous public statements made by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and
others regarding the alleged ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda,
according to former and current government officials. Intense
debates still rage among longtime intelligence and foreign policy
professionals as to whether those who cited the information believed
it, or used it as propaganda. The unit has since been disbanded.
Earlier this month, on November 14, the Pentagon's inspector general
announced an investigation into whether Feith and others associated
with the covert intelligence unit engaged in "unauthorized,
unlawful, or inappropriate intelligence activities." In a statement,
Feith said he is "confident" that investigators will conclude that
his "office worked properly and in fact improved the intelligence
product by asking good questions."
The Senate Intelligence Committee has also been conducting its own
probe of the Pentagon unit. But as was first disclosed by The
American Prospect in an article by reporter Laura Rozen, that probe
had been hampered by a lack of cooperation from Feith and the
Internal Pentagon records show not only that the small Pentagon unit
had the ear of the highest officials in the government, but also
that Rumsfeld and others considered the unit as a virtual
alternative to intelligence analyses provided by the CIA.
On July 22, 2002, as the run-up to war with Iraq was underway, one
of the Naval Reserve officers detailed to the unit sent Feith an
e-mail saying that he had just heard that then-Deputy Defense
Secretary Wolfowitz wanted "the Iraqi intelligence cell … to prepare
an intel briefing on Iraq and links to al-Qaida for the SecDef" and
that he was not to tell anyone about it.
After that briefing was delivered, Wolfowitz sent Feith and other
officials a note saying: "This was an excellent briefing. The
Secretary was very impressed. He asked us to think about possible
next steps to see if we can illuminate the differences between us
and CIA. The goal was not to produce a consensus product, but rather
to scrub one another's arguments."
On September 16, 2002, two days before the CIA produced a major
assessment of Iraq's ties to terrorism, the Naval Reserve officers
conducted a briefing for Libby and Stephen J. Hadley, then the
deputy national security adviser to President Bush.
In a memorandum to Wolfowitz, Feith wrote: "The briefing went very
well and generated further interest from Mr. Hadley and Mr. Libby."
Both men, the memo went on, requested follow-up material, most
notably a "chronology of Atta's travels," a reference to the
discredited allegation of an Atta-Iraqi meeting in Prague.
In their presentation, the naval reserve briefers excluded the fact
that the FBI and CIA had developed evidence that the alleged meeting
had never taken place, and that even the Czechs had disavowed it.
The Pentagon unit also routinely second-guessed the CIA's highly
classified assessments. Regarding one report titled "Iraq and
al-Qaeda: Interpreting a Murky Relationship," one of the Naval
Reserve officers wrote: "The report provides evidence from numerous
intelligence sources over the course of a decade on interactions
between Iraq and al-Qaida. In this regard, the report is excellent.
Then in its interpretation of this information, CIA attempts to
discredit, dismiss, or downgrade much of this reporting, resulting
in inconsistent conclusions in many instances. Therefore, the CIA
report should be read for content only-and CIA's interpretation
ought to be ignored."
This same antipathy toward the CIA led to the events that are the
basis of Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation of
the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity, according to
several former and current senior officials.
Ironically, the Plame affair's origins had its roots in Cheney and
Libby's interest in reports that Saddam Hussein had tried to
purchase uranium yellowcake from Niger to build a nuclear weapon.
After reading a Pentagon report on the matter in early February
2002, Cheney asked the CIA officer who provided him with a national
security briefing each morning if he could find out about it.
Without Cheney's knowledge, his query led to the CIA-sanctioned trip
to Niger by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, Plame's husband, to
investigate the allegations. Wilson reported back to the CIA that
the allegations were most likely not true.
Despite that conclusion, President Bush, in his State of the Union
address in 2003, included the Niger allegation in making the case to
go to war with Iraq. In July 2003, after the war had begun, Wilson
publicly charged that the Bush administration had "twisted" the
intelligence information to make the case to go to war.
Libby and Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove told reporters
that Wilson's had been sent to Niger on the recommendation of his
wife, Plame. In the process, the leaks led to the unmasking of Plame,
the appointment of Fitzgerald, the jailing of a New York Times
reporter for 85 days, and a federal grand jury indictment of Libby
for perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly attempting to
conceal his role in leaking Plame's name to the press.
The Plame affair was not so much a reflection of any personal animus
toward Wilson or Plame, says one former senior administration
official who knows most of the principals involved, but rather the
direct result of long-standing antipathy toward the CIA by Cheney,
Libby, and others involved. They viewed Wilson's outspoken criticism
of the Bush administration as an indirect attack by the spy agency.
Those grievances were also perhaps illustrated by comments that Vice
President Cheney himself wrote on one of Feith's reports detailing
purported evidence of links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. In
barely legible handwriting, Cheney wrote in the margin of the
"This is very good indeed … Encouraging … Not like the crap we are
all so used to getting out of CIA."
-- Murray Waas is a Washington-based writer and frequent contributor
to National Journal. Several
© National Journal Group Inc.
(In accordance with Title 17
U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the
included information for research and educational purposes.
Information Clearing House has no affiliation whatsoever with the
originator of this article nor is Information Clearing House
endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)