By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report
Friday 09 February 2007
A long-awaited report on the veracity of pre-war Iraq intelligence has found that a secretive policy shop exaggerated the Iraqi threat, providing the White House with cherry-picked information about links between Iraq and al Qaeda. The shop, operating out of the Pentagon, was set up by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Its goal was to lay the groundwork for a pre-emptive military strike against Iraq.
The report would appear to confirm British intelligence assertions that surfaced in a document widely referred to as the Downing Street Memo that the facts against the threat posed by Iraq were being fixed around the Bush administration's policy leading up to the invasion of Iraq.
Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said the report is a "a devastating condemnation of the activities of the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy. Those activities supported the Bush administration's misleading case for war against Iraq."
The Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General produced the report, which focuses largely on the work of former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith. Feith's Office of Special Plans sent the Bush administration bogus intelligence on Iraq's weapons program and ties to terrorist organizations that supported the administration's policy.
An executive summary of the report was released late Thursday by Senator Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Levin has spent the past two years battling the former Senate Republican leadership to conclude its so-called Phase II investigation into pre-war Iraq intelligence.
Last month, in an interview with McClatchy Newspapers, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said he was told by Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kans.), who was formerly in charge of the second phase of the Senate's investigation, that Vice President Dick Cheney applied "constant" pressure on Roberts to drag out the probe on pre-war intelligence. A spokeswoman for Cheney denied the allegation.
Levin will chair an armed services committee hearing Friday, at which acting Pentagon Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble will discuss the findings of the report. On Thursday, Levin released an unclassified executive summary of the inspector general's findings: specifically, the role Feith's Office of Special Plans played in helping the White House to mislead the public about Iraq. Levin said he is trying to get the entire report declassified.
The inspector general's unclassified executive summary of the report, as characterized by Levin, states:
The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy developed, produced and disseminated to senior decision-makers alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and al Qaeda relationship. These assessments included some conclusions inconsistent with the consensus of the intelligence community,
The inspector general also stated that the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy "was inappropriately performing intelligence activities of developing, producing, and disseminating that should be performed by the intelligence community."
The inspector general concluded that these "inappropriate" activities were authorized by Donald Rumsfeld, former secretary of defense, or Paul Wolfowitz, former deputy secretary of defense.
Senior administration officials, including Vice President Cheney, made numerous public statements that reflected the views of the Feith alternative analysis, which were inconsistent with the analysis and judgments of the intelligence community. Indeed, Vice President Cheney said the principal Feith office assessment was the "best source of information" on the alleged relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.
Rockefeller said the conclusions of the report are damning. Moreover, he said, his committee was kept in the dark about the Office of Special Plans and the fact that it was engaged in intelligence-gathering activities.
"The IG has concluded that this office was engaged in intelligence activities," Rockefeller said. "The Senate intelligence committee was never informed of these activities. Whether these actions were authorized or not, it appears that they were not in compliance with the law. In the coming days, I will carefully review all aspects of the report and will consult with [Senate intelligence committee] Vice Chairman [Kit] Bond to determine whether any additional action by the Senate intelligence committee is warranted."
The White House and the Pentagon have been dogged by questions about Feith and OSP's activities dating back to the beginning of the Iraq War. It was during that time that a number of CIA analysts spoke privately with Democratic lawmakers and complained that Feith's unit had been cherry-picking intelligence information that provided worst-case scenarios about Iraq's weapons programs. Levin and Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), called for an immediate investigation.
Republicans successfully thwarted a probe into the policy shop back then, but the issue resurfaced in November 2005, when the Iraq War took a turn for the worse. Levin and other lawmakers began to demand documents and the authority to conduct interviews with Feith and his staff. But Senator Roberts, who headed the Senate intelligence committee, sidestepped the Democratic lawmakers' requests and instead asked the inspector general in the Department of Defense to look into OSP's activities. That all but guaranteed that it would become bogged down in bureaucratic red tape and that tough questions would take years to answer.
In the months leading up to the war in Iraq, Rumsfeld became increasingly frustrated that the CIA could not find any evidence of Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons program - evidence that would have helped the White House to build a solid case for war in Iraq. Rumsfeld helped set up the Office of Special Plans in 2001 and tapped Feith to head the office.
The OSP, according to published reports, was to gather intelligence information on the Iraqi threat that the CIA and FBI could not uncover, and present it to the White House to build a case for war in Iraq. The committee relied heavily on information provided by Iraqi defector Ahmed Chalabi, who has provided the White House with reams of disputed intelligence on Saddam Hussein's weapons programs. Chalabi heads the Iraqi National Congress, a group of Iraqi exiles who have pushed for regime change in Iraq.
The Office of Special Plans routinely provided President Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, who headed the National Security Council at the time, with questionable intelligence information on the Iraqi threat. Much of that information was included in various speeches by Bush and Cheney, and some was never vetted for accuracy by career CIA analysts.
In an article in the New York Times in October 2002, the paper reported that Rumsfeld had ordered the OSP to "to search for information on Iraq's hostile intentions or links to terrorists" that might have been overlooked by the CIA.
Patrick Lang, a former director of Middle East analysis at the Defense Intelligence Agency, said in an interview with the New Yorker in May 2003 that the Office of Special Plans "started picking out things that supported their thesis and stringing them into arguments that they could use with the president. It's not intelligence. It's political propaganda."
Lang said the CIA and the OSP often clashed on the accuracy of intelligence information provided to the White House by Paul Wolfowitz.
By the fall of 2002, the White House had virtually dismissed all of the intelligence on Iraq provided by the CIA, in favor of the more critical information provided to the Bush administration by the Office of Special Plans. The CIA had failed to find any evidence of Iraq's weapons programs.
In a rare Pentagon briefing four years ago, Douglas Feith said the Office of Special Plans was not an "intelligence project," but rather a group of eighteen people who looked at intelligence information from a different point of view. Feith now teaches a seminar on Iraq War planning at Georgetown University.
Jason Leopold is a former Los Angeles bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswire. He has written over 2,000 stories on the California energy crisis and received the Dow Jones Journalist of the Year Award in 2001 for his coverage on the issue as well as a Project Censored award in 2004. Leopold also reported extensively on Enron's downfall and was the first journalist to land an interview with former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling following Enron's bankruptcy filing in December 2001. Leopold has appeared on CNBC and National Public Radio as an expert on energy policy and has also been the keynote speaker at more than two dozen energy industry conferences around the country.