Thursday, November 03, 2005

Sisyphus' Toil, Part II

In Part I of this two part series, I laid out the case that, despite much of the rhetoric to the contrary, there actually was a good deal of disagreement regarding Saddam's WMD. Of course, much of the dialogue might have been rendered moot had the inspectors been allowed to continue their mission in Iraq prior to the invasion. Their efforts were turning up evidence that there were no WMD in Iraq, and many foreign governments and intelligence agencies were paying attention - which further undermines the claim of an absence of conflicting views.

Outside of the then ongoing inspections, the starkest disagreement centered around Saddam's phantom nuclear program, which State Department intelligence, the IAEA and other intelligence agencies believed was non-existent. Even the CIA, prior to the 2002 NIE, was skeptical about the state of Saddam's nuclear program. Further, the intelligence on biological and chemical weapons was not as unanimously agreed upon as some war supporters might portray.

Most telling, the CIA's own assessments on all manner of WMD (chemical, biological and nuclear), shifted dramatically in the 2002 NIE from prior positions of skepticism, doubt and uncertainty, to across the board unequivocal assertions. They jettisoned all conflicting evidence and dissenting voices and adopted consistent worst case scenario analyses - much of it faciliatated by notorious fabricators furnished by Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress and other Iraqi defectors. Many, including the authors of the Carnegie Endowment report referenced in Part I, suggest that this change in tone from the CIA was the result of pressure applied by policymakers in and around the White House who wanted to reinforce their chosen casus belli. This theory has been supported by revelations in recent months.

In December of 2004, a high ranking CIA official came forth with a shocking revelation, reported in the Washington Post and elsewhere (flagged by this site at the time).

A senior CIA operative who handled sensitive informants in Iraq asserts that CIA managers asked him to falsify his reporting on weapons of mass destruction and retaliated against him after he refused.

The operative, who remains under cover, asserts in a lawsuit made public yesterday that a co-worker warned him in 2001 "that CIA management planned to 'get him' for his role in reporting intelligence contrary to official CIA dogma." [...]

Those investigations, the lawsuit asserts, were "initiated for the sole purpose of discrediting him and retaliating against him for questioning the integrity of the WMD reporting...and for refusing to falsify his intelligence reporting to support the politically mandated conclusion" of matters that are redacted in the lawsuit. [...]

In 2002, the lawsuit says, the CIA officer "attempted to report routine intelligence" from a human asset "but was thwarted by CIA superiors." It goes on to say that he was subsequently approached by a senior desk officer "who insisted that Plaintiff falsify his reporting," and that when he refused, the "management" of the CIA's Counterproliferation Division ordered that he "remove himself from any further 'handling' " of the unnamed asset, who is referred elsewhere in the document as "a highly respected human asset." [...]

In September 2003, the CIA placed the officer on administrative leave without explanation, the lawsuit says. Eight months later, it says, the inspector general's office advised him that he was under investigation for "diverting to his own use monies provided him for payment to human assets." The document says the allegations were made by the same managers who had asked him to falsify reports. [emphasis added]
A recent, must-read article in the American Prospect advances the story even further. Here are some, but not all, of the relevant excerpts (go read the rest, well worth it):

In fact, analysts were pressured, and heavily so, according to Richard Kerr. A 32-year CIA veteran, Kerr led an internal investigation of the agency's failure to correctly analyze Iraqi weapons-of-mass-destruction capabilities, preparing a series of four reports that have not been released publicly. Kerr joined the CIA in 1960, serving in a series of senior analytic posts, including director of East Asian analysis, the unit that prepared the president's daily intelligence brief, and finally as chief of the Directorate of Intelligence. For several months in 1991, Kerr was the acting CIA director; he retired in 1992. A highly respected analyst, Kerr received four Distinguished Intelligence Medals; in 1992, President George Bush Senior gave him the Citizen's Medal for his work during Operation Desert Storm.

Two years ago, Kerr was summoned out of retirement to lead a four-member task force to conduct the investigation of the weapons-of-mass-destruction fiasco. His team, which included a former Near East Division chief, a former CIA deputy inspector general, and a former CIA chief Soviet analyst, spent months sorting through everything that the CIA produced on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction prior to the invasion, as well as interviewing virtually everyone at the agency who had anything to do with producing the faulty intelligence estimates. The Kerr team's first report was an overview of what the CIA said about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction before the war compared with what Kerr calls the postwar 'ground truth.' The second looked specifically at a classified version of the important October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, which the administration used to build its case for war. The third looked at the overall intelligence process, and the fourth was a think piece that considered how to reorganize the management of intelligence analysis 'if you could start all over again.'

Kerr's four reports, with a fifth now under way, were viewed as the definitive works of self-criticism inside the agency and were shared with the oversight committees in Congress, outside commissions, and the office of the secretary of defense. Unlike the outside reports that looked at the same issues, however, Kerr's concluded that CIA analysts felt squeezed -- and hard -- by the administration. "Everybody felt pressure," Kerr told me. "A lot of analysts believed that they were being pressured to come to certain conclusions". I talked to a lot of people who said, "There was a lot of repetitive questioning. We were being asked to justify what we were saying again and again." There were certainly people who felt they were being pushed beyond the evidence they had."

In particular, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other administration officials hammered at the CIA to go back time and time again to look at intelligence that had already been sifted and resifted. "It was a continuing drumbeat: 'How do you know this? How do you know that? What about this or that report in the newspaper?'" says Kerr. Many of those questions, which began to cascade onto the CIA in 2001, were generated by the Office of Special Plans and by discredited fabricators such as Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress and a secret source code-named 'Curveball.' As a result, says Kerr, the CIA reached back to old data, relied on several sources of questionable veracity, and made assumptions about current data that were unwarranted. In particular, intelligence on Iraq's biological and chemical weapons program, much of which was based on data collected in the 1980s, early '90s, and more spottily until the end of the United Nations inspection regime in 1998, was parsed -- and, some would argue, cherry-picked -- in order to reinforce the administration's case.

On and off the record, other former CIA officials say that despite the pressure, dissent against the White House was rife within the agency. The strongest opposition centered in the CIA's Near East Division, few of whose officials supported the idea of war with Iraq. They clashed often with WINPAC, the CIA division focused on weapons proliferation and the part of the agency most responsible for the heavily skewed conclusions about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. "The Near East Division people didn't buy into what the Bush administration wanted to do in regard to Iraq, but much of WINPAC did," says Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer who left the agency in 1989 and then served four years as deputy director of the State Department's office of counterterrorism. "Bush, and the White House, favored WINPAC over [the Near East Division]. There were people in the agency who tried to speak out or disagree - who got fired, got transferred, got outed, or criticized. Others decided to play ball."

Michael Scheuer -- who gained fame in 2004 as Anonymous, the author of Imperial Hubris, and who exited the CIA as Goss came in -- headed the CIA's Osama bin Laden unit and saw the confrontation up close. "I know a lot of people in the Iraq shop who were dissenting," he says. "There were people who were disciplined or taken off accounts." Opposition flared, particularly when the controversial 2002 National Intelligence Estimate was being cooked. "There was a great deal of dissent about that [estimate]," says Scheuer. "No one thought it was conclusive. One gentleman that I talked to, a senior Iraq analyst, regrets to this day that he did not go public."

According to another former CIA official, as the war loomed, the CIA's Iraq task force ballooned in size, from fewer than 10 analysts to 500. But some of the CIA's best and brightest on Iraq asked to be given other assignments rather than play ball with an administration already set on war. "A lot of people from the Iraq shop asked to be transferred away from Iraq," the former officer said. "You had all these people being transferred in, and the people who didn't like the direction it was going transferred out."
While I don't think anyone could rightly claim that the Bush Administration concocted the WMD rationale out of thin air, I think it is equally implausible to deny that the Bush team engaged in a systematic effort to pressure the intelligence community to reach pre-ordained conclusions regarding the size, breadth and character of Saddam's arsenal - going as far as to create special intelligence gathering outfits like the Office of Special Plans that were used to circumvent a CIA that, despite its repeated capitulations, was still too timid for the Bush team's purposes. It is also nearly impossible to assert that the Bush Administration did not greatly exaggerate, distort and hype what evidence there was regarding Iraqi WMD - especially, though not limited to, the dubious nuclear danger.

Even if the Clinton Administration believed there were WMD in Iraq when it disembarked from the White House in January 2001, this does not change the events that transpired afterward: A concerted effort to build a case for invasion based on an exaggerated and overstated narrative constructed out of shoddy intelligence produced by special "stove-piping" shops and a pressured, intimidated and cajoled CIA. All the while ignoring, and then cutting short, the work done by the actual inspectors who were on the ground in Iraq. It is easy to see why the American people are increasingly coming around to the conclusion that they've been lied to. The cloak of the Clinton Administration and the intelligence assessments of other nations cannot conceal what went on during this ignominious period. Too many people will remember it differently.

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