Writing in the March/April 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs, Paul R. Pillar launched a furious assault on the Bush administration for its manipulation of prewar intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and links to al Qaeda. Mr. Pillar should know, because he was the CIA's National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia (NESA) from 2000 to 2005.
Most damaging is his assertion: "The administration used intelligence not to inform decision-making, but to justify a decision already made." That decision, of course, was to invade Iraq. And, as we know, plenty of evidence exists -- especially as provided by Bush administration insider, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill -- to prove that the Bush administration plotted, from its very first day in office, to effect regime change in Iraq.
Pillar's firsthand proof of
intelligence manipulation appears to be unassailable: The Bush
administration "went to war without requesting -- and evidently without
being influenced by -- any strategic-level intelligence assessments on
any aspect of Iraq … As the national intelligence officer for the Middle
East, I was in charge of coordinating all of the intelligence
community's assessments regarding Iraq; the first request I received
from any administration policymaker for any such assessment was not
until a year into the war."
As Pillar correctly notes, it was the Senate -- not the Bush administration -- that requested such a strategic-level assessment, the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Yet, what precipitated that
request was the "cherry-picking" from intelligence about aluminum tubes,
by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Cheney,
which exaggerated how close Iraq was to acquiring nuclear weapons.
Presumably, such manipulation is what Pillar has in mind when he
complains about how "the administration selected pieces of raw
intelligence to use in the public case for war, leaving the intelligence
community to register varying degrees of private protest when such use
started to go beyond what analysts deemed credible or reasonable."
But, much worse than mere
cherry-picking for exaggeration from legitimate, if partial,
intelligence was the Bush administration's attempt to frighten Congress
-- just a few weeks before it was scheduled to vote on a resolution to
support war -- by falsely proclaiming the existence of links connecting
Iraq with al Qaeda. Why? Because the intelligence community already had
expressed its doubts about such links in four classified reports. Thus,
there existed no legitimate intelligence to cherry-pick from.
Nevertheless, from pure
fabrication, President Bush falsely warned against allowing al Qaeda to
become "an extension of Saddam's madness." Not to be outdone, Defense
Secretary Rumsfeld falsely claimed, "that American intelligence had
'bulletproof' evidence of links between al Qaeda and the government of
President Saddam Hussein of Iraq."
Anyone who had read the four classified reports would have known that Bush and Rumsfeld were making false statements. Which means that virtually every senior official in the Bush administration was an accomplice.
individuals outside the Bush administration knew about those four
classified intelligence reports. And Pillar doesn't mention them in his
article. But our British allies in the war against Iraq knew what was
going on. And, now, so do we, thanks to the individual who leaked the
highly classified "Downing Street Memo" of July 2002.
According to that memo, the
Chief of British Intelligence reported to Prime Minister Tony Blair and
his Cabinet the following information about his recent talks in
Washington: "There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action
was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam through
military action justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But
the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
Moreover, as Pillar confirms, "the greatest discrepancy between the administration's public statements and the intelligence community's judgments [precisely] concerned … the relationship between Saddam and al Qaeda." In fact, it required only the first of those four classified reports -- co-authored by Pillar's NESA and issued to the President's Daily Brief principals on September 21, 2001 -- to provoke neoconservatives in the Pentagon to establish a small office tasked with cultivating that very discrepancy.
That office, staffed by
untrained but appropriately biased political hacks, was set up by
Douglas Feith and called the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group (PCEG).
According to Pillar, with the formation of that group, "The
administration's rejection of the intelligence community's judgments
became especially clear." Not only did the PCEG deliberately resurrect
and disseminate damning, but erroneous, raw intelligence about Iraq's
links to al Qaeda (raw intelligence that the intelligence community
already had dismissed), it also solicited raw intelligence from now
discredited anti-Saddamist defectors programmed by Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi
Thus, was it an accident that the PCEG's "intelligence" affirming Iraq's links to al Qaeda found its way into the pre-invasion public utterances of the Defense Secretary, National Security Adviser, Vice President and President? Didn't Cheney speak for them all when he wrote the following note on one of Feith's briefings: "This is very good … Encouraging … Not like the crap we are all so used to getting out of the CIA."
evidence to go to war is "encouraging?" Perhaps that entire exercise
best explains why the least enthusiastic member of Bush's war party,
Colin Powell, called Feith's group a "Gestapo office."
A recent poll indicated that 53 percent of Americans supported the impeachment of President Bush, "if it was in fact proven that Bush had lied about the basis for invading Iraq." Thus, it's up to that 53 percent to determine whether the very establishment of a "Gestapo office" dedicated to supplanting legitimate classified reports with discredited and ultimately false intelligence that, in turn, was used eagerly and uncritically by senior Bush administration officials, constitutes anything other than the "BIG LIE" that so-called totalitarian regimes had perfected in the past.
Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. He also is President of the Russian-American International Studies Association (RAISA). His own comprehensive examination of Feith's PCEG can be found here. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.