More Proof of Prewar Intelligence Manipulation by the Bush
By Walter C. Uhler
-- -- Writing in the March/April 2006 issue of
Foreign Affairs, Paul R. Pillar has launched a furious assault
on the Bush administration for its manipulation of prewar
intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and
links to al Qaeda. Mr. Pillar should know, because he was the
CIA's National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South
Asia (NESA) from 2000 to 2005.
Most damaging is his assertion: "The administration used
intelligence not to inform decision-making, but to justify a
decision already made." That decision, of course, was to invade
Iraq. And, as we know, plenty of evidence exists -- especially
as provided by Bush administration insider, former Treasury
Secretary Paul O'Neill -- to prove that the Bush administration
plotted, from its very first day in office, to effect regime
change in Iraq.
Pillar's firsthand proof of intelligence manipulation appears to
be unassailable: The Bush administration "went to war without
requesting - and evidently without being influenced by - any
strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of
Iraq…As the national intelligence officer for the Middle East, I
was in charge of coordinating all of the intelligence
community's assessments regarding Iraq; the first request I
received from any administration policymaker for any such
assessment was not until a year into the war."
As Pillar correctly notes, it was the Senate -- not the Bush
administration -- that requested such a strategic-level
assessment, the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)
on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Yet, what precipitated that request was the "cherry-picking"
from intelligence about aluminum tubes, by National Security
Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Cheney, which
exaggerated how close Iraq was to acquiring nuclear weapons.
Presumably, such manipulation is what Pillar has in mind when he
complains about how "the administration selected pieces of raw
intelligence to use in the public case for war, leaving the
intelligence community to register varying degrees of private
protest when such use started to go beyond what analysts deemed
credible or reasonable."
But, much worse than mere cherry-picking for exaggeration from
legitimate, if partial, intelligence was the Bush
administration's attempt to frighten Congress -- just a few
weeks before it was scheduled to vote on a resolution to support
war -- by falsely proclaiming the existence of links connecting
Iraq with al Qaeda. Why? Because the intelligence community
already had expressed its doubts about such links in four
classified reports. Thus, there existed no legitimate
intelligence to cherry-pick from.
Nevertheless, but from pure fabrication, President Bush falsely
warned against allowing al Qaeda to become "an extension of
Saddam's madness." Not to be outdone, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld
falsely claimed, "that American intelligence had 'bulletproof'
evidence of links between al Qaeda and the government of
President Saddam Hussein of Iraq."
Anyone who had read the four classified reports would have known
that Bush and Rumsfeld were making false statements. Which means
that virtually every senior official in the Bush administration
was an accomplice.
Unfortunately, few individuals outside the Bush administration
knew about those four classified intelligence reports. And
Pillar doesn't mention them in his article. But our British
allies in the war against Iraq knew what was going on. And, now,
so do we, thanks to the individual who leaked the highly
classified "Downing Street Memo" of July 2002.
According to that memo, the Chief of British Intelligence
reported to Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Cabinet the
following information about his recent talks in Washington:
"There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was
now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam through
military action justified by the conjunction of terrorism and
WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the
Moreover, as Pillar confirms, "the greatest discrepancy between
the administration's public statements and the intelligence
community's judgments [precisely] concerned …the relationship
between Saddam and al Qaeda." In fact, it required only the
first of those four classified reports -- co-authored by
Pillar's NESA and issued to the President's Daily Brief
principals on September 21, 2001 -- to provoke neoconservatives
in the Pentagon to establish a small office tasked with
cultivating that very discrepancy.
That office, staffed by untrained but appropriately biased
political hacks, was set up by Douglas Feith and called the
Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group (PCEG). According to
Pillar, with the formation of that group, "The administration's
rejection of the intelligence community's judgments became
especially clear." Not only did the PCEG deliberately resurrect
and disseminate damning, but erroneous, raw intelligence about
Iraq's links to al Qaeda (raw intelligence that the intelligence
community already had dismissed), it also solicited raw
intelligence from now discredited anti-Saddamist defectors
programmed by Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress.
Thus, was it an accident that the PCEG's "intelligence"
affirming Iraq's links to al Qaeda found its way into the
pre-invasion public utterances of the Defense Secretary,
National Security Adviser, Vice President and President? Didn't
Cheney speak for them all when he wrote the following note on
one of Feith's briefings: "This is very good…Encouraging…Not
like the crap we are all so used to getting out of the CIA."
"Encouraging?" Manipulating evidence to go to war is
"encouraging?" Perhaps that entire exercise best explains why
the least enthusiastic member of Bush's war party, Colin Powell,
called Feith's group a "Gestapo office."
A recent poll indicated that 53 percent of Americans supported
the impeachment of President Bush, "if it was in fact proven
that Bush had lied about the basis for invading Iraq." Thus,
it's up to that 53 percent to determine whether the very
establishment of a "Gestapo office" dedicated to supplanting
legitimate classified reports with discredited and ultimately
false intelligence that, in turn, was used eagerly and
uncritically by senior Bush administration officials,
constitutes anything other than the "BIG LIE" that so-called
totalitarian regimes had perfected in the past.
Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance
writer whose work has been published in numerous publications,
including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the
Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San
Francisco Chronicle. He also is President of the
Russian-American International Studies Association (RAISA). His
own comprehensive examination of Feith's PCEG can be found at
Visit his website.
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