A declassified report by the Pentagon's acting Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble provides new insight into the circumstances behind former Pentagon official Douglas Feith's pre-Iraq war assessment of an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection — an assessment that was contrary to US intelligence agency findings, and helped bolster the Bush administration's case for the Iraq war.
The report, which was made public in summary form in February, was released in full on Thursday by Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In a statement accompanying the 121-page report, Senator Levin said: "It is important for the public to see why the Pentagon's Inspector General concluded that Secretary Feith's office 'developed, produced and then disseminated alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and al-Qaeda relationship,' which included 'conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus of the Intelligence Community.' "
The Feith office alternative intelligence assessments concluded that Iraq and al Qaeda were cooperating and had a "mature, symbiotic" relationship, a view that was not supported by the available intelligence, and was contrary to the consensus view of the Intelligence Community. These alternative assessments were used by the Administration to support its public arguments in its case for war. As the DOD IG report confirms, the Intelligence Community never found an operational relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda; the report specifically states that," the CIA and DIA disavowed any 'mature, symbiotic' relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida."
The Los Angeles Times reports that in excerpts of the report released in February, Mr. Gimble called Feith's alternative intelligence "improper," but that it wasn't illegal or unauthorized because then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz assigned the work. The Times also reports that a prewar memo from Mr. Wolfowitz to Feith requesting that an Al Qaeda-Iraq connection be identified was among the newly released documents.
"We don't seem to be making much progress pulling together intelligence on links between Iraq and Al Qaeda," Wolfowitz wrote in the Jan. 22, 2002, memo to Douglas J. Feith, the department's No. 3 official.
Using Pentagon jargon for the secretary of Defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld, he added: "We owe SecDef some analysis of this subject. Please give me a recommendation on how best to proceed. Appreciate the short turn-around."
The Times reports that the memo "marked the beginnings of what would become a controversial yearlong Pentagon project" to convince White House officials of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda, a connection "that was hotly disputed by U.S. intelligence agencies at the time and has been discredited in the years since."
The New York Times reports that presentation slides used during a Pentagon briefing at the White House were also released Thursday. The slides showed how Feith criticised US intelligence agencies that had found little or no Al Qaeda-Iraq link.
The slide used by the Pentagon analysts to brief the White House officials states the intelligence agencies assumed "that secularists and Islamists will not cooperate, even when they have common interests," and there was "consistent underestimation of importance that would be attached by Iraq and Al Qaeda to hiding a relationship."
The Pentagon, in written comments included in the report, strongly disputed that the White House briefing and the slide citing "Fundamental Problems" undercut the intelligence community.
"The intelligence community was fully aware of the work under review and commented on it several times," the Pentagon said, adding that [former CIA Diector George] Tenet, at the suggestion of the defense secretary then, Donald H. Rumsfeld, "was personally briefed."
The Times notes that the Pentagon analysts' appraisal of the CIA's approach was "in contrast" to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in its 2004 report on prewar intelligence, which praised the CIA's approach as methodical, reasonable, and objective.
On a website set up to challenge Gimble's assessment in his report, Feith argues that the key issue at hand is "whether the CIA should be protected against criticism by policy officials." Feith also challenged Gimble's characterization of his intelligence assessment as "inappropriate."
The IG got this point wrong and it would be dangerous to follow his badly reasoned opinion on the issue. It would damage the quality of the government's intelligence and policy. The CIA has made important errors over the years - think of the Iraqi WMD assessments. To guard against such errors, policy officials should be praised, not slapped, for challenging CIA products.
Despite the release of Gimble's report, the Associated Press reports that Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday appeared on a conservative radio show and reiterated his stance that Al Qaeda had links to Iraq before the US invasion in 2003.
"[Abu Musab al-Zarqawi] took up residence there before we ever launched into Iraq, organized the al-Qaeda operations inside Iraq before we even arrived on the scene and then, of course, led the charge for Iraq until we killed him last June," Cheney told radio host Rush Limbaugh during an interview. "As I say, they were present before we invaded Iraq."
The Washington Post, however, reports that Mr. Zarqawi only publicly allied himself with Al Qaeda after the US invasion, and until then "was not then an al-Qaeda member but was the leader of an unaffiliated terrorist group who occasionally associated with al-Qaeda adherents, according to several intelligence analysts.