Senate Democrats and Republicans disagreed yesterday over the meaning and importance of a Defense Department inspector general's conclusion that a Pentagon policy office produced and gave senior policymakers "alternative intelligence assessments on Iraq and Al Qaida relations" that were "inconsistent" with the intelligence community's consensus view in the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Acting Defense Department Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he had no evidence that the Pentagon activities were illegal and said they were authorized by then-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz.
But, he said, "the actions, in our opinion, were inappropriate."
The office's assessments, according to an unclassified summary of Gimble's report released yesterday, "evolved from policy to intelligence products, which were then disseminated." The summary said the intelligence community's consensus view and "available intelligence" at the time, late in the summer of 2002, did not support the policy office's conclusion that a "mature symbiotic relationship" existed between Iraq and al-Qaeda.
An article in yesterday's Washington Post misattributed to the inspector general's report critical comments about the Pentagon operation made by committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.). In a statement he released Thursday, Levin, not the inspector general, said the Pentagon effort used intelligence reporting of "dubious quality or reliability." [See correction.]
Douglas J. Feith, the former undersecretary of defense for policy, sharply disputed the inspector general's conclusions in a series of interviews yesterday. "My office was trying to prevent an intelligence failure," Feith told National Public Radio. "We had people in the Pentagon who thought that the CIA's speculative assessments were not of top quality; they were not raising all the questions they should raise and considering all the information they should consider."
Feith calls his work a critique, not intel
His office "did not present an alternative intelligence analysis," Feith said, it "presented a criticism."
After weeks of discussion over President Bush's strategy for ongoing involvement in Iraq, yesterday's hearing once again plunged the Senate into discord over how the United States got there in the first place.
Levin, who has long questioned Feith's prewar intelligence operation, was harshly critical. "Senior administration officials used the twisted intelligence produced by the Feith office in making the case for the Iraq war," Levin said. Calling the inspector general's report a "devastating condemnation of inappropriate activities," he said he would hold further hearings on the subject.
GOP senator: Feith’s office ‘provided a service’
"I don't think in any way that his report could be interpreted as a devastating condemnation," Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) quickly countered. Feith's office, he said, "actually provided a service" by bringing intelligence community failures to the attention of policymakers. Inhofe described the disagreements outlined in the inspector general's report as a simple "turf battle" between government departments.
Democratic senators used Gimble's report and testimony to bolster their contention that the administration misused intelligence to promote the urgency of invading Iraq. Republicans implied that the intelligence community had soft-pedaled crucial reports of a close al-Qaeda relationship with Saddam Hussein and that Feith's office had put them in the proper perspective.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is in the process of producing a "Phase II" of its investigation of the lead-up to the war, dealing with allegations that the administration emphasized unproven intelligence that supported its charges against Hussein and played down information that undercut them. The committee has been awaiting the inspector general's report.
One set of facts ‘passed over’
Gimble repeatedly emphasized yesterday that his report "was an investigation of a process" at the Pentagon and not of any individuals. That process was inappropriate, he said, because it purported to produce an "intelligence product" but its conclusions did not acknowledge alternative views within the intelligence community.
"The condition occurred because the role of the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense Policy was expanded from the mission of doing defense policy to analyzing and disseminating alternative intelligence," Gimble said. "As a result, the office did not provide the most accurate analysis of intelligence to the senior decision-makers."
"I don't know whether it was intentional or whether it was a good-faith judgment," Gimble said. "That's not my position, and I wouldn't have a thought on that. All I can tell you is at the end of the day, when those things went forward, there was two sets of facts out there; one of them got passed over, and it would happen to be the one that's in the very community that we look to have this kind of information."
Focused on the question of Iraq ties to al-Qaeda, Gimble's report concentrated on findings that Feith's office presented in three briefings in August and September 2002 -- one to Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, one to the CIA, and one at the White House to then-deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, then Vice President Cheney's chief of staff.
‘The goal ... is to scrub one another’s arguments’
Laying out a chronology of events, Gimble said Wolfowitz asked Feith in January 2002 "to assess the links between al-Qaeda and Iraq." The following July, he told the committee, a group of Pentagon employees assigned to Feith's office "compiled a position paper that was later translated into a briefing."
The briefing, titled "Iraq and al-Qaeda: Making the Case," was given to Rumsfeld on Aug. 8. In a memo to Feith's office that day, Wolfowitz described it as "excellent."
"The secretary was very impressed," Wolfowitz wrote. "He asked us to think about some possible next steps to see if we can illuminate the differences between us and the CIA. The goal is not to produce a consensus product, but rather to scrub one another's arguments."
Rumsfeld then directed that the briefing be presented to then-CIA Director George J. Tenet.
Intelligence communuty at odds with Feith
Before an Aug. 15 briefing for Tenet, however, analysts from the Defense Intelligence Agency, the CIA and other agencies critiqued the briefing. In particular, they questioned Feith's conclusion that a "known contact" had taken place in Prague in April 2001 between a senior Iraqi intelligence agent and Mohamed Atta, the leader of the al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center in September of that year. "Essentially, they disagreed with more than 50 percent of it and either agreed or partially agreed with the remainder," Gimble said yesterday.
The CIA described the intelligence concerning the alleged contact with Atta as "contradictory at best," a Gimble aide testified at yesterday's hearing.
At the subsequent CIA briefing, Tenet called the presentation "useful," Gimble said. But Tenet remarked in an interview with the inspector general's office, Gimble said, that "he only said that it was 'useful' because he didn't agree with it and he was just trying to nicely end the meeting."
Footnotes inserted into briefings
For the CIA briefing, Gimble said, Feith removed a slide concluding that there were "fundamental problems with the way the intelligence community was assessing the information." Gimble said that Feith told the inspector general's office he had taken it out "because it was critical of the intelligence community." The slide was reinserted for the later White House briefing.
After his session with Feith's group, Tenet arranged for a meeting between the group and intelligence community analysts to go over agreements and disagreements. As a result of that Aug. 20 session, Gimble said, the CIA agreed to make "some minor changes" in its analysis and to "footnote" its disagreements with the Pentagon presentation. Such footnotes are normally used in community intelligence documents to warn policymakers that there are other opinions.
Briefing Hadley and Libby, Gimble said, Feith's group did not mention that the intelligence community disagreed with more than half of its conclusions. Tenet, Gimble said, did not learn of the White House briefing until two years later.
Hadley, he said, declined to be interviewed by the inspector general's office, on the advice of the White House counsel. Libby was not asked for an interview, Gimble said. Levin said yesterday that he wants to question both.