Pentagon: Prewar intel on Al Qaeda-Hussein link not illegal but 'dubious'

An investigation by the Pentagon's inspector general has found that civilian intelligence analysis meant to support the Bush administration's case for going to war against Iraq was "reporting of dubious quality or reliability." The Washington Post reports that the US Defense Department findings also say that this prewar analysis gathered by former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith supported " the political views of senior administration officials rather than the conclusions of the intelligence community," but also says that these actions were not illegal.

Feith's office "was predisposed to finding a significant relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda," according to portions of the report, released [Thursday] by Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.). The inspector general described Feith's activities as "an alternative intelligence assessment process."

An unclassified summary of the full document is scheduled for release [Friday] in a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which Levin chairs. In that summary, a copy of which was obtained from another source by The Washington Post, the inspector general concluded that Feith's assessment in 2002 that Iraq and Al Qaeda had a "mature symbiotic relationship" was not fully supported by available intelligence but was nonetheless used by policymakers.

In 2004, the 9/11 Commission, also known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, found that there was no evidence "of a collaborative relationship between Saddam [Hussein] and Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terror organization before the US invasion."

The New York Times notes that the " dueling over the conclusions" of acting inspector general, Thomas F. Gimble's report shows that "bitter divisions over the handling of prewar intelligence remain even after many of the substantive questions have been laid to rest and the principal actors have left the government."

In an article in the Washington Times, with the headline "Defense report OKs policy chief's intelligence move" and which did not mention the findings of intelligence of "dubious quality or reliability," Mr. Feith said he " felt vindicated" that the inspector general's report did not support the chargers of Sen. Levin and West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) that the actions of Feith's office were illegal.

"It is good but not surprising that the inspector general found that the Pentagon policy office's activities were all legal and authorized and that policy officials did not mislead Congress," said Mr. Feith, who was questioned by senators.

"The policy office has been smeared for years by allegations that its pre-Iraq War work was somehow 'unlawful' or 'unauthorized' and that some information it gave to congressional committees was deceptive or misleading. The office's accusers always couched the charges in vague language, making them difficult to refute with precision. The charges have been repeated persistently despite the lack of any substantiation. The inspector general's report has now thoroughly repudiated the smears."

But in a statement released Thursday, Sen. Rockefeller stuck by his charges.

"Individuals in that office produced and disseminated intelligence products outside of the regular intelligence channels. These intelligence products were inconsistent with the consensus judgments of the Intelligence Community. This office did this without coordinating with the Intelligence Community and as a result policy-makers received distorted intelligence."

The Associated Press reports that Feith, while glad that his office's actions were found not to be illegal, strongly disagreed that some of them were, however, inappropriate.

"The policy office has been smeared for years by allegations that its pre-Iraq-war work was somehow 'unlawful' or 'unauthorized' and that some information it gave to congressional committees was deceptive or misleading," Feith said.

Feith called "bizarre" the inspector general's conclusion that some intelligence activities by the Office of Special Plans, which was created while Feith served as the undersecretary of defense for policy - the top policy position under then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld - were inappropriate but not unauthorized.

"Clearly, the inspector general's office was willing to challenge the policy office and even stretch some points to be able to criticize it," Feith said, adding that he felt this amounted to subjective "quibbling" by the IG.

McClatchy Newspapers reports that in a response to an earlier draft of Mr. Gimble's report, Eric Edelman, Feith's successor and a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, said Feith had received instructions from then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to ignore the findings of the intelligence community that Mr. Hussein and Al Qaeda were "unlikely allies."

Feith's unit gave three different briefings on its findings, according to Edelman's response. The one for Rumsfeld, in August 2002, cited "one indication of Iraqi coordination with al-Qaeda specifically related to 9/11." One the same month for senior CIA officials cited "one possible indication of Iraqi coordination with Al Qaeda specifically related to 9/11." The third version, given to the White House in September 2002, cited "some indications of possible Iraqi coordination with Al Qaeda specifically related to 9/11."

None of the versions, however, was an "assessment of any sort," as the inspector general concluded, the DOD rebuttal says.

McClatchy also reports that Feith's unit cited as one of its strongest piece of evidence of this relationship "a purported April 2001 meeting in the Czech capital of Prague between a senior Iraqi intelligence officer and Mohammed Atta, who led the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon several months later." The CIA and the FBI later concluded that the meeting never took place, but as late as 2004, Mr. Cheney was still citing this finding as evidence of an Al Qaeda and Iraqi link.

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