Pentagon unit said to skew data on Iraq, al-Qaida link

Prewar intelligence was shaded to support Bush claims, senators say

The Nation

October 22, 2004|By Greg Miller | Greg Miller,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - A controversial intelligence unit set up in the Pentagon provided skewed prewar analysis to support Bush administration claims that Saddam Hussein was an ally of al-Qaida, an investigation by Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee has found.

The intelligence unit, run by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith, shaded analytic judgments, ignored contrary evidence and sidestepped the CIA to present dubious findings to senior officials at the White House, the investigation concluded.

The report was released yesterday by Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan after a 16-month investigation conducted by Democratic staff members on the committee. Levin has been a persistent critic of Feith and the Bush administration on Iraq.

The report concluded that "intelligence relating to the Iraq-al-Qaida relationship was manipulated by high-ranking officials in the [Department of Defense] to support the administration's decision to invade Iraq."

Republicans criticized the report as politically motivated. "Senator Levin's report is clearly a partisan effort to influence the upcoming election rather than an attempt to correct the flaws in our intelligence community," said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Defense Department issued a statement saying that other investigations had found no evidence of wrongdoing by Feith's office and that Levin's report "appears to depart from the bipartisan, consultative relationship" between the Pentagon and Congress.

Feith, a lightning rod for critics of the Bush administration, was a leading proponent of the war in Iraq and was in charge of postwar planning. He has previously said that his office created the intelligence unit - the Counterterrorism Evaluation Group - shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to conduct a broad examination of state sponsors of terrorism.

The unit focused much of its energy on finding a link between Hussein and al-Qaida. Subsequent investigations, including that of the independent bipartisan Sept. 11 commission, have concluded that while there were contacts between Iraq and al-Qaida, there was no evidence of a collaborative relationship or Iraqi involvement in the Sept. 11 plot.

Much of the material in Levin's report has been previously disclosed. But the 46-page document includes some new details that, according to Levin, show how Feith's analysts repeatedly sought to outflank the CIA, which was much more skeptical of Iraq-al-Qaida ties.

The report found that the Defense analysts tailored presentations to different audiences - making a more aggressive case when briefing senior officials at the Pentagon and the White House than when showing their findings to senior officers at the CIA.

At the White House, for instance, Pentagon briefers included a slide describing "known al-Qaida contacts" and listing an alleged meeting in Prague, Czech Republic, between Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent.

Levin said that far from being a known example of contacts between Iraq and al-Qaida, there was widespread doubt in the intelligence community that the meeting ever occurred. Nevertheless, he said, the claim was included in a Sept. 16, 2002, White House briefing though it was not part of a previous presentation made to then-CIA Director George J. Tenet and other senior officials at agency headquarters.

The report also cites instances when the Pentagon analysts failed to fully comply with CIA requests that exaggerated claims be deleted or corrected.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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