Global Policy Forum

Did White House pressure CIA on Iraq?


By Tom Regan

Christian Science Monitor
July 12, 2004

Lawmakers spar over accusations of Bush team 'barrage of horror' statements.

While all members of the Senate Intelligence Committee signed Friday's report on the way the Central Intelligence Agency presented key information to the Bush administration in the buildup to the Iraq war, a fiercely partisan debate has begun over whether or not the White House pressured the CIA to issue reports in a way that would justify its position.

The Los Angeles Times notes that the issue split the otherwise bipartisan unanimity about the report, with Democrats saying that they have a "major disagreement" with Republicans over the issue. The committee's report fails to fully explain the environment of intense pressure in which the intelligence community officials were asked to render judgments on matters relating to Iraq when the most senior officials in the Bush administration had already forcefully and repeatedly stated their conclusions publicly," said Sen. John "Jay" Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., the committee's ranking minority member. Standing nearby, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the committee's chairman, shot back: "I do not think there is any evidence of undue pressure on any analyst."

On Friday the committee released the hard-hitting report. Most commentators in the US, and overseas, now say the report proves that almost all the evidence used by the Bush administration to justify going to war turned out to be false. The Christian Science Monitor quotes "Anonymous," the CIA source and author of the new book "Imperial Hubris," a critique of the US-led war in Iraq, as saying the Senate's report was "to use the British phrase, ...'sexed up.'"

Sen. Rockefeller and two other Democrats issued a separate document along with the Senate's report, which alleged there was "intense pressure" on the CIA analysts. He continued this argument when he appeared along with Sen. Roberts on Fox News Sunday.

I think there was pressure primarily because of the non-stop barrage of statements that were coming out of the administration saying that, you know, "the horror, mushroom clouds, grave and growing danger," all that kind of thing. And I think there was also that pressure was felt very much within the community. And there was even an e-mail on the most important part of Colin Powell's UN speech, in which somebody [the CIA analyst who investigated if Iraq had mobile weapons labs] said, "You know, the guy that got us this information is probably nothing more than just a drunkard." That was on the mobile weapons labs – biological weapons labs. And he [a senior CIA analyst] said, you know, "What's the point? The powers to be have already made up their mind that we're going to go to war. So ahead and send it if you want, but it's not going to make much difference."

Julian Borger of the Guardian writes of the Senate report it notes the CIA ombudsman talked to 24 CIA officers about pressure from the White House. About half that number mentioned "pressure" from the administration to issue favorable reports. Mr. Borger said the argument boiled down to the meaning of the word "pressure."

The dissenting Democrats argued that the questioning from the White House was almost exclusively in one direction. Analyst assessments that were generally sceptical were much more likely to be sent back with queries scrawled in the margins than assessments that found that there were indeed weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and links between Baghdad and Al Qaeda. According to Mr. Rockefeller, [ex-CIA chief] George Tenet had told the inquiry that analysts had come to him complaining about pressure. Another intelligence veteran had testified that "the hammering of analysts was greater than any he had seen in 32 years at the CIA".

But Vice President Dick Cheney refuted the charges over the weekend, saying that the Democrats were showing signs of "selective memory." "...The committee interviewed over 200 individuals from the intelligence community. They could find no one out of that entire group that indicated they felt pressure directed by the administration with respect to the kind of intelligence they should produce."

Time magazine notes that whether or not the administration directly pressured the CIA to report its evidence in a particular way, the CIA analysts were aware that the White House had expectations about what it wanted to see in the report. The report quotes the CIA's highest-ranking analyst as saying she instructed her underlings to write a "speculative piece" that would "lean far forward" and "stretch to the maximum the evidence" in response to senior policymakers' interest in links between Al Qaeda and Saddam [Hussein].

The Washington Post reported Saturday the Senate report definitely shows that the administration "held preconceived notions that appear to have affected how they viewed the intelligence information they received." And the Post quotes Anthony Cordesman, a national security specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, on the overall effect of political pressure on intelligence officials.

"I know of Defense Intelligence Agency [DIA] senior officers pressured out of the Pentagon, and younger analysts who left the community over political pressure," he said in an e-mailed assessment, noting that the committee also failed "to examine the fact that the intelligence community almost always responds to the user's demands and perceptions."

CNN reported Sunday that Rockefeller and Roberts agreed, however, on concerns about the role played by the Defense Department, and especially by the DIA and Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy. Rockefeller said there are serious questions about whether or not Mr. Feith and the special unit he developed to look for intelligence on Iraq – the Office of Special Planning – withheld key information from the CIA about the single source used to justify the charge that Iraq had biological weapons.

Despite the Senate Intelligence Committee's report many on the Bush team who backed the war in Iraq continue to defend actions taken by the administration. Agence-France Press reports that Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, one of the leading architects of the invasion of Iraq, "insisted the war was justified" in a speech Friday in Nebraska.

Saddam Hussein's refusal to comply with United Nations resolutions demanding weapons inspections, the brutality of his regime, and his history for developing and using chemical weapons more than justified the war, Wolfowitz said in a speech on Friday to Omaha business leaders. Sunday's departure of Mr. Tenet has many senators calling for President Bush to appoint a new head of the CIA immediately. One of the names mentioned most often in this connection is former Navy secretary, and member of the 9/11 commission, John Lehman. But some left-wing commentators say that Mr. Lehman is too connected to the neoconservatives in Washington.

Regardless of who is appointed, an editorial in USA Today Sunday notes that it "won't matter if that person can't stand up to political pressure to engage in domestic espionage, as occurred in the 1970s, or provide flimsy evidence to justify a war."

Finally, in a new round of allegations about the pressure applied by the Bush administration to achieve the outcomes it desires, The New Republic reports that "This spring, the administration significantly increased its pressure on Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman Al Zawahiri, or the Taliban's Mullah Mohammed Omar, all of whom are believed to be hiding in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan." The report alleges the administration hopes a "high value target" could be captured during the first three days of the Democratic National Convention the last week of July in Boston, but definitely before the US presidential election in November.

In the article, the administration denied the charges. "Our attitude and actions have been the same since September 11 in terms of getting high-value targets off the street, and that doesn't change because of an election," says National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack.

The New Republic quotes Pakistani security officials as saying there is a lot of pressure on them right now to produce Mr. Bin Laden before November. But a senior CIA figure cited in the report says he has not heard that. And he says the applying of pressure may not make a difference anyway. "We may be at the point where [Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf] has done almost as much as he can."

More Information on Iraq
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