"Weapons of Mass Deception"


War came first, the evidence second

The Virginian-Pilot
March 14, 2004

As more tidbits emerge about the workings of pre-war intelligence, it increasingly appears that the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq was a policy in search of a rationale. In the wake of CIA Director George Tenet’s Senate testimony last week, more clues have come to light that the president’s team made up its mind before the facts were in.

Instead of pre-war intelligence assessments being “so wildly off the mark,” as Democratic Michigan Sen. Carl Levin recently put it, it’s looking ever more as if hawkish administration officials, intent on invading Iraq, went around Tenet and grasped at any shard of intelligence they could find to bolster their case.

Perhaps the most egregious end run around Tenet was performed by Rumsfeld’s personal intelligence team at the Pentagon. Despite having hundreds of intelligence analysts under his command at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Rumsfeld’s deputy pulled together a small body, officially known as the Policy Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, for the express purpose of uncovering possible links between al-Qaida and Iraq.

In a letter released Tuesday, the Pentagon admitted that Rumsfeld’s personal team had briefed the National Security Council and Vice President Dick Cheney’s staff, channeling information to the top, without Tenet’s knowledge. The CIA did not agree with the group’s findings. Tenet only learned his agency had been sidestepped on Feb. 24.

Other cases of the administration twisting intelligence have recently surfaced.

Wording in classified intelligence documents on Iraq’s weapons program was “hardened,” and cautionary language was removed to strengthen the case for war in the declassified versions.

In one example, cited in the Senate hearing, the declassified version of an intelligence estimate said Iraq’s weapons could be used “against the U.S. homeland,” language that was missing from the classified version.

And absent from the declassified account of a CIA report was analysis that Iraq would only give weapons to al-Qaida under “desperate” or “extreme” conditions.

The White House also willfully ignored readily available, verifiable data on the destruction of Iraq’s weapons under the supervision of United Nations inspectors and the success of economic sanctions from 1991 to 1998. Such selective oversight culminated in the embarrassing spectacle of Bush’s handpicked inspector, David Kay, concluding after months of searching in Iraq that “we got it almost all wrong.”

Tenet, a holdover from the Clinton administration, has become a fall guy for Bush administration hawks, eager to blame anyone but themselves for racing to war on grounds that appear increasingly dubious.

The CIA chief has been criticized for not doing more to challenge Bush officials’ pre-war casting of Saddam Hussein as a looming threat. But it would be difficult indeed for Tenet to have challenged findings released without his knowledge.

Tenet’s role is adviser, not policy maker.

That buck stops with Bush and his inner circle.

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Milton Frihetsson, 03:35


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