As if we needed any more proof....
February 15, 2006
More Proof of Prewar Intelligence Manipulation by the Bush Administration
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 policy."
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