in the intelligence community knew that the White
House couldn't care less about any information
suggesting that there were no WMDs or that the
UN inspectors were very effective."
he departed on his quest for Saddam Hussein's
fabled weapons of mass destruction last June,
David Kay, chief of the Iraq Survey Group, told
friends that he expected promptly to locate the
cause of the pre-emptive war. On January 28, Kay
appeared before the Senate to testify that there
were no WMDs. "It turns out that we were
all wrong," he said. President Bush, he added
helpfully, was misinformed by the whole intelligence
community which, like Kay, made assumptions that
turned out to be false.
days, Bush declared that he would, after all,
appoint a commission to investigate; significantly,
it would report its findings only after the presidential
testimony was the catalyst for this u-turn, but
only one of his claims is correct: that he was
wrong. The truth is that much of the intelligence
community did not fail, but presented correct
assessments and warnings, that were overridden
and suppressed. On virtually every single important
claim made by the Bush administration in its case
for war, there was serious dissension. Discordant
views - not from individual analysts but from
several intelligence agencies as a whole - were
kept from the public as momentum was built for
a congressional vote on the war resolution.
because of the qualms the administration encountered,
it created a rogue intelligence operation, the
Office of Special Plans, located within the Pentagon
and under the control of neo-conservatives. The
OSP roamed outside the ordinary inter-agency process,
stamping its approval on stories from Iraqi exiles
that the other agencies dismissed as lacking credibility,
and feeding them to the president.
the same time, constant pressure was applied to
the intelligence agencies to force their compliance.
In one case, a senior intelligence officer who
refused to buckle under was removed.
Hardcastle was a senior officer for the Middle
East for the Defence Intelligence Agency. When
Bush insisted that Saddam was actively and urgently
engaged in a nuclear weapons programme and had
renewed production of chemical weapons, the DIA
reported otherwise. According to Patrick Lang,
the former head of human intelligence at the CIA,
Hardcastle "told [the Bush administration]
that the way they were handling evidence was wrong."
The response was not simply to remove Hardcastle
from his post: "They did away with his job,"
Lang says. "They wanted only liaison officers
... not a senior intelligence person who argued
the state department's bureau of intelligence
and research (INR) submitted reports which did
not support the administration's case - saying,
for example, that the aluminum tubes Saddam possessed
were for conventional rocketry, not nuclear weapons
(a report corroborated by department of energy
analysts), or that mobile laboratories were not
for WMDs, or that the story about Saddam seeking
uranium in Niger was bogus, or that there was
no link between Saddam and al-Qaida (a report
backed by the CIA) - its analyses were shunted
aside. Greg Thielman, chief of the INR at the
time, told me: "Everyone in the intelligence
community knew that the White House couldn't care
less about any information suggesting that there
were no WMDs or that the UN inspectors were very
the CIA debunked the tales about Niger uranium
and the Saddam/al-Qaida connection, its reports
were ignored and direct pressure applied. In October
2002, the White House inserted mention of the
uranium into a speech Bush was to deliver, but
the CIA objected and it was excised. Three months
later, it reappeared in his state of the union
address. National security adviser Condoleezza
Rice claimed never to have seen the original CIA
memo and deputy national security adviser Stephen
Hadley said he had forgotten about it.
before had any senior White House official physically
intruded into CIA's Langley headquarters to argue
with mid-level managers and analysts about unfinished
work. But twice vice president Cheney and Lewis
Libby, his chief of staff, came to offer their
opinions. According to Patrick Lang: "They
looked disapproving, questioned the reports and
left an impression of what you're supposed to
do. They would say: 'you haven't looked at the
evidence'. The answer would be, those reports
[from Iraqi exiles] aren't valid. The analysts
would be told, you should look at this again'.
Finally, people gave up. You learn not to contradict
CIA had visitors too, according to Ray McGovern,
former CIA chief for the Middle East. Newt Gingrich
came, and Condi Rice, and as for Cheney, "he
likes the soup in the CIA cafeteria," McGovern
senior intelligence officers were kept in the
dark about the OSP. "I didn't know about
its existence," said Thielman. "They
were cherry picking intelligence and packaging
it for Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld to take to the
president. That's the kind of rogue operation
that peer review is intended to prevent."
director George Tenet, for his part, opted to
become a political advocate for Bush's brief rather
than a protector of the intelligence community.
On the eve of the congressional debate, in a crammed
three-week period, the agency wrote a 90-page
national intelligence estimate justifying the
administration's position on WMDs and scrubbed
of all dissent. Once the document was declassifed
after the war it became known that it contained
40 caveats - including 15 uses of "probably",
all of which had been removed from the previously
published version. Tenet further ingratiated himself
by remaining silent about the OSP. "That's
totally unacceptable for a CIA director,"
February 5 2003, Colin Powell presented evidence
of WMDs before the UN. Cheney and Libby had tried
to inject material from Iraqi exiles and the OSP
into his presentation, but Powell rejected most
of it. Yet, for the most important speech of his
career, he refused to allow the presence of any
analysts from his own intelligence agency. "He
didn't have anyone from INR near him," said
Thielman. "Powell wanted to sell a rotten
fish. He had decided there was no way to avoid
war. His job was to go to war with as much legitimacy
as we could scrape up."
ignored INR analysts' comments on his speech.
Almost every piece of evidence he unveiled turned
out later to be false.
week, when Bush announced he would appoint an
investigative commission, Powell offered a limited
mea culpa at a meeting at the Washington Post.
He said that if only he had known the intelligence,
he might not have supported an invasion. Thus
he began to show carefully calibrated remorse,
to distance himself from other members of the
administration and especially Cheney. Powell also
defended his UN speech, claiming "it reflected
the best judgments of all of the intelligence
is sensitive to the slightest political winds,
especially if they might affect his reputation.
If he is a bellwether, will it soon be that every
man must save himself?
Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004
Posted: February 6, 2004