Memo to Central Intelligence Agency
by William Rivers Pitt
October 25, 2003
First Published in Truthout
From: William Rivers Pitt
To: Central Intelligence Agency
Date: Friday 24 October 2003, 10:30 a.m.
Re: The scapegoating process
This morning’s front page of the Washington Post carried a story entitled, “Inquiry Faults Intelligence on Iraq.” The story described statements by the Republican-dominated Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The first two paragraphs read as follows:
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is preparing a blistering report on prewar intelligence on Iraq that is critical of CIA Director George J. Tenet and other intelligence officials for overstating the weapons and terrorism case against Saddam Hussein, according to congressional officials.
The committee staff was surprised by the amount of circumstantial evidence and single-source or disputed information used to write key intelligence documents -- in particular the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate -- summarizing Iraq's capabilities and intentions.
The committee is chaired by Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas. Some background on Senator Roberts is noteworthy. On June 26, I did an interview with 27-year CIA senior analyst Ray McGovern on a wide array of issues. That interview can be found here. The discussion turned, at one point, to Senator Roberts. From the interview:
Take Pat Roberts, the Republican Senator from Kansas, who is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. When the Niger forgery was unearthed and when Colin Powell admitted, well shucks, it was a forgery, Senator Jay Rockefeller, the ranking Democrat on that committee, went to Pat Roberts and said they really needed the FBI to take a look at this. After all, this was known to be a forgery and was still used on Congressmen and Senators. We’d better get the Bureau in on this. Pat Roberts said no, that would be inappropriate. So Rockefeller drafted his own letter, and went back to Roberts and said he was going to send the letter to FBI Director Mueller, and asked if Roberts would sign on to it. Roberts said no, that would be inappropriate.
What the FBI Director eventually got was a letter from one Minority member saying pretty please, would you maybe take a look at what happened here, because we think there may have been some skullduggery. The answer he got from the Bureau was a brush-off. Why do I mention all that? This is the same Pat Roberts who is going to lead the investigation into what happened with this issue.
There is a lot that could be said about Pat Roberts. I remember way back last fall when people were being briefed, CIA and others were briefing Congressmen and Senators about the weapons of mass destruction. These press folks were hanging around outside the briefing room, and when the Senators came out, one of the press asked Senator Roberts how the evidence on weapons of mass destruction was. Roberts said, oh, it was very persuasive, very persuasive.
The press guy asked Roberts to tell him more about that. Roberts said, “Truck A was observed to be going under Shed B, where Process C is believed to be taking place.” The press guy asked him if he found that persuasive, and Pat Roberts said, “Oh, these intelligence folks, they have these techniques down so well, so yeah, this is very persuasive.” And the correspondent said thank you very much, Senator.
So, if you’ve got a Senator who is that inclined to believe that kind of intelligence, you’ve got someone who will do the administration’s bidding. On the House side, of course, you’ve got Porter Goss, who is a CIA alumnus. Porter Goss’ main contribution last year to the joint committee investigating 9/11 was to sic the FBI on members of that committee, at the direction of who? Dick Cheney. Goss admits this. He got a call from Dick Cheney, and he was “chagrined” in Goss’ word that he was upbraided by Dick Cheney for leaks coming out of the committee. He then persuaded the innocent Bob Graham to go with him to the FBI and ask the Bureau to investigate the members of that committee. Polygraphs and everything were involved. That’s the first time something like that has ever happened.
Be aware, of course, that Congress has its own investigative agencies, its own ways of investigating things like that. So without any regard for the separation of powers, here Goss says Cheney is bearing down on me, so let’s get the FBI in here. In this case, ironically enough, the FBI jumped right in with Ashcroft whipping it along. They didn’t come up with much, but the precedent was just terrible.
All I’m saying is that you’ve got Porter Goss on the House side, you’ve got Pat Roberts on the Senate side, you’ve got John Warner who’s a piece with Pat Roberts. I’m very reluctant to be so unequivocal, but in this case I can say nothing is going to come out of those hearings but a lot of smoke.
Ray McGovern is one of your people, and has been since the Kennedy administration. He knows that Senator Roberts is nothing more or less than a shill for the White House. The Washington Post article referenced above comes to essentially the same conclusion in the first sentence of the third paragraph: “Like a similar but less exhaustive inquiry being completed by the House intelligence committee, the Senate report shifts attention toward the intelligence community and away from White House officials, who have been criticized for exaggerating the Iraqi threat.”
This memo is being written not to tell you about Senator Roberts, for it is sure you know all about him. This memo is being written because of your poor response to these accusations. At 9:43 a.m. on Friday, a story hit the Associated Press wires entitled, “CIA Rebuffs Senate Criticism of its Prewar Intelligence.” According to the AP story, your “rebuff” consisted of the following:
The CIA on Friday rejected Senate criticism of its prewar reports on the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, saying it's too soon to conclude the intelligence was unfounded while the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq continues. "It is hard to understand how the committee could come to any conclusions at this point, particularly while the efforts of (weapons search leader) Dr. David Kay in Iraq are at an early stage," said CIA spokesman Bill Harlow.
The rest of the AP story goes on to describe the argument from the Senate committee’s perspective. This, simply, is unacceptable, for three reasons.
1. The National Intelligence Estimate, or NIE: This was referenced in the above-captioned Washington Post article as follows: “The committee staff was surprised by the amount of circumstantial evidence and single-source or disputed information used to write key intelligence documents -- in particular the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate -- summarizing Iraq's capabilities and intentions.”
This description of the NIE does not wed to reality. A conservative columnist and avowed Bush-voter named Paul Sperry wrote an article entitled, “Yes, Bush Lied” on October 6 2003. He writes:
Page 4 of the report, called the National Intelligence Estimate, deals with terrorism, and draws conclusions that would come as a shock to most Americans, judging from recent polls on Iraq. The CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency and the other U.S. spy agencies unanimously agreed that Baghdad: 1) Had not sponsored past terrorist attacks against America, 2) Was not operating in concert with al-Qaida, and 3) Was not a terrorist threat to America. "We have no specific intelligence information that Saddam's regime has directed attacks against U.S. territory," the report stated.
Sperry goes on to state:
Now turn to the next page of the same NIE report, which is considered the gold standard of intelligence reports. Page 5 ranks the key judgments by confidence level – high, moderate or low. According to the consensus of Bush's intelligence services, there was "low confidence" before the war in the views that "Saddam would engage in clandestine attacks against the U.S. Homeland" or "share chemical or biological weapons with al-Qaida." Their message to the president was clear: Saddam wouldn't help al-Qaida unless we put his back against the wall, and even then it was a big maybe. If anything, the report was a flashing yellow light against attacking Iraq.
Bush saw the warning, yet completely ignored it and barreled ahead with the war plans he'd approved a month earlier (Aug. 29), telling a completely different version of the intelligence consensus to the American people. Less than a week after the NIE was published, he warned that "on any given day" – provoked by attack or not, sufficiently desperate or not – Saddam could team up with Osama and conduct a joint terrorist operation against America using weapons of mass destruction.
Again, you at CIA know this about the NIE. Your response to the characterization of this report by White House defenders, a characterization that has been ongoing for months now, allows the ones truly responsible for the shoddy Iraq data to continue to avoid responsibility. In short, given the facts, your response was unacceptable.
2. The Office of Special Plans: Paragraphs seven and eight of the Washington Post article described above reads as follows: “Sen. John ‘Jay’ Rockefeller IV (D-W. Va.) said yesterday he had secured a promise from Roberts to ask one executive agency, the Defense Department and, in particular, its Office of Special Plans, for information about the intelligence it collected or analyzed on Iraq. The office has been accused by some congressional Democrats and administration critics of gathering unreliable intelligence on Iraq that bolstered the administration's case for war. Those allegations have not been substantiated, and the director of the office, William Luti, has denied them.”
Luti’s denials do not wed with reality. Reporter Julian Borger of the UK Guardian did an extensive report on the Office of Special Plans in an article dated July 17 entitled “The Spies Who Pushed For War.” Portions of this article are below:
According to former Bush officials, all defence and intelligence sources, senior administration figures created a shadow agency of Pentagon analysts staffed mainly by ideological amateurs to compete with the CIA and its military counterpart, the Defence Intelligence Agency. The agency, called the Office of Special Plans (OSP), was set up by the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, to second-guess CIA information and operated under the patronage of hardline conservatives in the top rungs of the administration, the Pentagon and at the White House, including Vice-President Dick Cheney.
The ideologically driven network functioned like a shadow government, much of it off the official payroll and beyond congressional oversight. But it proved powerful enough to prevail in a struggle with the State Department and the CIA by establishing a justification for war. Mr Tenet has officially taken responsibility for the president's unsubstantiated claim in January that Saddam Hussein's regime had been trying to buy uranium in Africa, but he also said his agency was under pressure to justify a war that the administration had already decided on.
The president's most trusted adviser, Mr Cheney, was at the shadow network's sharp end. He made several trips to the CIA in Langley, Virginia, to demand a more "forward-leaning" interpretation of the threat posed by Saddam. When he was not there to make his influence felt, his chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was. Such hands-on involvement in the processing of intelligence data was unprecedented for a vice-president in recent times, and it put pressure on CIA officials to come up with the appropriate results. Another frequent visitor was Newt Gingrich, the former Republican party leader who resurfaced after September 11 as a Pentagon "consultant" and a member of its unpaid defence advisory board, with influence far beyond his official title.
Democratic congressman David Obey, who is investigating the OSP, said: "That office was charged with collecting, vetting and disseminating intelligence completely outside of the normal intelligence apparatus. In fact, it appears that information collected by this office was in some instances not even shared with established intelligence agencies and in numerous instances was passed on to the national security council and the president without having been vetted with anyone other than political appointees."
Far more damning than Borger’s article are the words of Air Force Lt. Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, a career Pentagon officer who worked with Luti’s office until her retirement last April. In an article from August 5 entitled, “War Critics Zero In on Pentagon Office,” Lt. Colonel Kwiatkowski makes her feelings clearly known:
On most days, the Pentagon's 'Early Bird', a daily compilation of news articles on defence-related issues mostly from the U.S. and British press, does not shy from reprinting hard-hitting stories and columns critical of the Defence Department's top leadership. But few could help notice last week that the 'Bird' omitted an opinion piece distributed by the Knight-Ridder news agency by a senior Pentagon Middle East specialist, Air Force Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, who worked in the office of Under Secretary of Defence for Policy Douglas Feith until her retirement in April. "What I saw was aberrant, pervasive and contrary to good order and discipline," Kwiatkowski wrote. "If one is seeking the answers to why peculiar bits of 'intelligence' found sanctity in a presidential speech, or why the post-Saddam (Hussein) occupation (in Iraq) has been distinguished by confusion and false steps, one need look no further than the process inside the Office of the Secretary of Defence" (OSD).
Kwiatkowski went on to charge that the operations she witnessed during her tenure in Feith's office, and particularly those of an ad hoc group known as the Office of Special Plans (OSP), constituted "a subversion of constitutional limits on executive power and a co-optation through deceit of a large segment of the Congress". Headed by a gung-ho former Navy officer, William Luti, and a scholarly national-security analyst, Abram Shulsky, OSP was given complete access to reams of raw intelligence produced by the U.S. intelligence community and became the preferred stop, when in town, for defectors handled by the Iraqi National Congress (INC), led by Ahmed Chalabi. It also maintained close relations with the Defence Policy Board (DPB), which was then chaired by neo-conservative Richard Perle of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Feith's mentor in the Reagan administration.
"I personally witnessed several cases of staff officers being told not to contact their counterparts at State or the National Security Council because that particular decision would be processed through a different channel," Kwiatkowski wrote.
Again, you at CIA are well aware of the OSP. It was their data that was used to justify this war, and not yours. CIA and the intelligence community as a whole was completely usurped by the OSP, and by its sponsors Rumsfeld and Cheney, whose ideological motivations caused the creation of this outsider agency to manufacture evidence for a decision to go to war that had already been made. Yet your defense of Friday 24 October did not mention the Office of Special Plans. Senator Rockefeller said the words. Now, you must.
3. The White House: The Valerie Plame incident should tell you all you need to know about the people you are dealing with. The White House destroyed one of your NOC agents to silence a critic of the war, a NOC agent who was running a network that worked to make sure weapons of mass destruction did not fall into the hands of terrorists. Senator Roberts and the rest of that Senate committee are doing the bidding of this White House with the accusations leveled today.
Do not let this stand. Say the words “Office of Special Plans.” A Washington Post staff writer named Walter Pincus has been providing an excellent perspective on these matters since the summer scandal over the Niger uranium claims about Iraq, another incident in which the White House tried to pin the blame on you. Provide Mr. Pincus with the data he needs. Waiting for vindication from Dr. David Kay is a dangerous and foolhardy exercise in futility.
William Rivers Pitt is the Managing Editor of Truthout.org, where this article first appeared (www.truthout.org). He is a New York Times and international best-selling author of three books War On Iraq, available from Context Books, The Greatest Sedition is Silence, available from Pluto Press, and Our Flag, Too: The Paradox of Patriotism, available in August from Context Books. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org