Insider reignites Iraqi intelligence war
By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - The US intelligence community's top Middle East analyst from 2000
to 2005 has accused the George W Bush administration of distorting and
politicizing intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war.
In an article published on Friday in Foreign Affairs magazine, analyst Paul
Pillar, who resigned from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) last year, also
charges that the Bush administration ignored much of the analysis that had been
prepared by the intelligence community, including its predictions of the chaos
and conflict that followed the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. He argues that
the administration not only ignored the traditional model for separating the
functions of policymakers - who are to make decisions based on facts and
analyses developed by independent intelligence specialists - from those of the
intelligence analysts themselves, but "turned the entire model upside down".
"The administration used intelligence not to inform decision-making, but to
justify a decision already made," he wrote. "It went to war without requesting
- and evidently without being influenced by - any strategic-level intelligence
assessments on any aspect of Iraq."
Indeed, said Pillar, as the national intelligence officer for the Near East and
South Asia, the first request he received from the administration for such an
assessment was not until a year after the March 2003 invasion.
Pillar's charges that the administration "cherry-picked" and otherwise
manipulated the intelligence process in order to take the country to war are
the most serious since the leak of the so-called "Downing Street Memo" to the
London Sunday Times last May.
The memo, the minutes of a meeting of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's war
cabinet in July 2002, quotes intelligence chief Alastair Campbell, who had just
returned from a trip to Washington, as reporting that Bush "wanted to remove
Saddam, through military action ..." and, to that end, "... the intelligence
and facts were being fixed around the policy".
The memo's contents - which bolstered charges by a number of retired US
intelligence officers who had spoken out against the war - put the
administration and its Republican backers on the Senate Intelligence Committee,
on the defensive. The Republicans on the committee have stalled Democratic
demands for an investigation of the administration's use of the prewar
That Pillar, a witness - and a high-ranking one at that - has now publicly
joined the chorus of critics with his own bill of particulars, marks a serious
setback to Bush's Republican administration and one the Democrats are certain
to seize on.
Senate minority leader Harry Reid called for investigation. "Evidence that the
Bush White House manipulated and selectively declassified intelligence to wage
a public relations campaign before, during and after the invasion of Iraq grows
every day," he said.
Pillar's charges are also likely to be more difficult for the administration to
refute in light of new disclosures on Thursday that I Lewis "Scooter" Libby -
the former chief of staff of Vice President Dick Cheney who is now under
indictment for lying to federal authorities about his role in "outing" a CIA
operative - has since testified that he had been "authorized" by Cheney and
other White House officials to leak classified information to reporters in the
run-up to the war.
The purpose of those leaks, which continued after the war, according to The
National Journal, which broke the story, was to "build public support" for
going to war.
According to previously published reports, Libby acted as the liaison between
the White House and special units in the Pentagon's policy office of former
under secretary of defense, Douglas Feith. Those units reviewed "raw
intelligence", particularly related to alleged links between then Iraqi
president Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, and sent it directly to Cheney's office
and the White House without submitting it for vetting by professional
In his article, which generally avoids naming specific individuals responsible
for politicizing the intelligence process, Pillar explicitly identifies Feith's
Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group as responsible for distorting the
normal intelligence process in a number of ways - by supposedly discovering
links between al-Qaeda and Saddam reported in the raw intelligence and by
presenting "briefings [that] accused the intelligence community of faulty
analysis for failing to see the supposed alliance" between the two.
While Pillar admits the intelligence community made serious mistakes in gauging
the status of Saddam's alleged weapons programs, he charges that the Bush
administration deliberately ignored the larger strategic judgments by the
intelligence community - that "deterrence of Iraq was working, that Saddam was
being kept 'in his box", and that the best way to deal with the weapons problem
was through an aggressive inspections program to supplement the sanctions
already in place".
"That the administration arrived at so different a policy solution indicates
that its decision to topple Saddam was driven by other factors - namely, the
desire to shake up the sclerotic power structures of the Middle East and hasten
the spread of more liberal politics and economics in the region.
"If the entire body of official intelligence analysis on Iraq had a policy
implication, it was to avoid war - or if war was going to be launched, to
prepare for a messy aftermath. What is most remarkable about prewar US
intelligence on Iraq is not that it got things wrong and thereby misled
policymakers; it is that it played so small a role in one of the most important
US policy decisions in recent decades."
Before the war, according to Pillar, the intelligence community also considered
the main challenges that would be faced by any post-invasion authority in Iraq,
and forecast "a deeply divided Iraqi society" that could erupt into "violent
conflict" unless the occupying power "established security and put Iraq on the
road to prosperity in the first few weeks or months after the fall of Saddam".
It also predicted that war and occupation would "boost political Islam and
increase sympathy for terrorists' objectives - and Iraq would become a magnet
for extremists from elsewhere in the Middle East".
But this assessment was undertaken only on the intelligence community's own
initiative. The administration never requested such an analysis, according to
As the administration marched to war in 2002 and 2003, according to Pillar,
intelligence officers registered "varying degrees of private protest",
particularly when the administration's public statements went "beyond what
analysts deemed credible or reasonable", especially regarding the alleged
existence of an al-Qaeda-Saddam alliance and Bush's assertion in his 2003 State
of the Union address that Iraq had tried to buy uranium ore in Africa.
The intelligence community never backed up the al-Qaeda-Saddam connection,
according to Pillar. "The enormous attention devoted to this subject did not
reflect any judgment by intelligence officials that there was or was likely to
be anything like the 'alliance' the administration said existed," he wrote.
"The reason the connection got so much attention was that the administration
wanted to hitch the Iraq expedition to the 'war on terror' and the threat the
American public fear most, thereby capitalizing on the country's militant
"Feeding the administration's voracious appetite for material on the
Saddam-al-Qaeda link consumed an enormous amount of time and attention at
multiple levels, from rank-and-file counterterrorism analysts to the most
senior intelligence officials. It is fair to ask how much other
counterterrorism work was left undone as a result."
Pressure exerted by administration officials on intelligence analysts was
seldom crude or direct, according to Pillar, who said they made their
preferences known more subtly. "It was clear that the Bush administration would
frown on or ignore analysis that called into question a decision to go to war
and welcome analysis that supported such a decision. Intelligence analysts -
for whom attention, especially favorable attention, from policymakers is a
measure of success - felt a strong wind consistently blowing in one direction.
The desire to bend with such a wind is natural and strong, even if
The fact that Pillar published his article in Foreign Affairs, whose publisher,
the Council on Foreign Relations, is headed by Richard Haass, a top adviser to
former secretary of state Colin Powell, is also likely to bolster the critics
who have charged the administration with politicizing intelligence.
Not only is the magazine the most influential foreign policy publication of its
kind, but Haass, who resigned as head of Powell's policy office shortly after
the war began, has repeatedly expressed bewilderment as to when the
administration decided to go to war and why it did so.
Powell's chief of staff at the time, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, has also
publicly charged that Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Feith's
superior, formed a "cabal" that deliberately circumvented or manipulated the
normal policymaking process, including the intelligence community, in order to
take the country to war.