WASHINGTON - Claims by United States President George W Bush and other top
administration officials before the 2003 invasion of Iraq regarding Baghdad's
ties to al-Qaeda and its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs were
generally not supported by the evidence that the US intelligence community had
at the time, according to a major new report by the US Senate Intelligence
Committee released on Thursday.
The long-awaited report, the last in a series published over the past several
years by the committee, found that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, in
particular, frequently made assertions in the run-up to the war that key
intelligence agencies could not
substantiate or about which there was substantial disagreement within the
"In making the case for war, the administration repeatedly presented
intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or
even non-existent," the committee chairman, Senator Jay Rockefeller, said on
releasing the 172-page report. "As a result, the American people were led to
believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed."
"There is no question we all relied on flawed intelligence," he added. "But,
there is a fundamental difference between relying on incorrect intelligence and
deliberately painting a picture to the American people that you know is not
The committee also released a second report on Thursday on a series of
initially secret meetings in Rome and Paris between neo-conservative Pentagon
officials and alleged Iranian dissidents, including Iranian arms dealer
Manucher Ghobanifar, who played a key role in the so-called Iran-Contra affair
of the mid-1980s.
The report found that the meetings, which also included another Iran-Contra
player, Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute, were authorized by
then-deputy National Security Advisor (currently National Security Adviser)
Stephen Hadley and deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz who, it concluded,
failed to keep relevant intelligence agencies and the State Department
"The report found that the clandestine meetings ... were inappropriate and
mishandled from beginning to end" and that "senior Defense Department officials
cut short internal investigations of the meetings ... " after they became
known, a press release issued by the committee stated.
Both reports were signed by 10 members of the committee, including two
Republicans, senators Olympia Snowe and Chuck Hagel. Five members - all
Republicans - issued a strong dissent, arguing that the minority had been
"entirely cut out of the process" and charging that the Democrats had "twisted
policy makers' statements and cherry-picked the intelligence in order to reach
their misleading conclusions". The ranking Republican on the committee, Senator
Christopher "Kit" Bond, called the report "political theater".
The timing of the report's release, as well as its conclusions, however, are
likely to fuel the ongoing political debate over the Iraq war at a critical
moment in the presidential election campaign. This is particularly so with this
week's securing of the Democratic nomination by Senator Barack Obama, whose
outspoken opposition to invading Iraq before the war is seen as a major reason
for his victory over Senator Hillary Clinton, who voted in favor of the
congressional authorization to go to war in the autumn of 2002.
Obama now faces Republican Senator John McCain, who, as honorary chairman of
the Committee to Liberate Iraq in the run-up to the invasion, not only endorsed
the claims that were being made by Bush and Cheney at the time, but also helped
to propagate them.
The new reports also tend to bolster the charges made in a new book by former
White House spokesman Scott McClellan, a long-time Bush aide who was considered
part of the president's inner circle during the same period.
"Bush and his advisers knew that the American people would almost certainly not
support a war launched primarily for the ambitious purpose of transforming the
Middle East," according to McClellan's memoir, What Happened: Inside the Bush
White House and Washington's Culture of Deception.
"Over that summer of 2002, top Bush aides had outlined a strategy for carefully
orchestrating the coming campaign to aggressively sell the war" in part through
"innuendo and implication" and "intentional ignoring of intelligence" that
contradicted or cast doubt on their justifications for going to war, McClellan
The book, which skyrocketed to the top of the best-seller list even before it
was officially released, has drawn considerable media attention over the past
The two new reports are the last to be issued by the committee on the use of
intelligence by the administration before the war. Last year, the same
committee issued a report on the administration's failure to heed warnings by
the intelligence community, including two major reports by the National
Intelligence Council, that an invasion of Iraq and its subsequent occupation
would likely benefit al-Qaeda, boost political Islam throughout the region and
give rise to possibly violent conflict between various sectarian and ethnic
groups within Iraq - all conclusions that were downplayed or ignored by senior
administration officials at the time.
The latest report was focused on comparing statements made by top
administration officials, particularly Bush and Cheney, between August 2002 and
the actual invasion in March 2003 with intelligence reports that were available
to them at the time.
It found that the White House consistently exaggerated ties between al-Qaeda
and Iraq by repeatedly suggesting or outright asserting that the two forged an
operational relationship that included the provision of weapons training and
possibly WMD expertise. The report found that these allegations "were not
substantiated by the intelligence" at the time they were made.
The report also found that the intelligence also contradicted the White House's
assertions that Saddam Hussein "was prepared to give weapons of mass
destruction to terrorist groups for attack against the United States".
And it said that the intelligence community never confirmed the allegation,
made repeatedly by Cheney in particular, that one of the September 11, 2001,
organizers, Mohammed Atta, met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official in
Prague several months before the attack.
"The president and his advisors undertook a relentless public campaign in the
aftermath of the [9/11] attacks to use the war against al-Qaeda as a
justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein," Rockefeller said. "Representing
to the American people that the two had an operational partnership and posed a
single, indistinguishable threat was fundamentally misleading and led the
nation to war on false premises."
The intelligence community, according to the report, was also considerably more
skeptical about the state of Iraq's chemical weapons program and especially its
alleged nuclear weapons program than was indicated by top administration
officials at the time. Testimony by then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld that
the Iraqi government hid WMD in facilities buried deep underground did not
reflect any of the intelligence held by the intelligence community at the time.
Jim Lobe's blog on US foreign policy, and particularly the
neo-conservative influence in the George W Bush administration, can be read at