Documents reveal PR push for Iraq war preceded intel findings
Published: Friday August 22, 2008
New documents from within the Bush administration and US intelligence community during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq reveal that the White House began assembling a case for war before it had compiled the intel that ostensibly formed the basis of that case.
A new report on the documents from George Washington University's National Security Archive also presents compelling evidence that the Bush administration pressured the CIA and other intelligence agencies to tailor their reports to back-up Bush's desire to invade. The report suggests the bulk of this effort was run out of Vice President Dick Cheney's office, backing up numerous other post-war examinations of the path to invasion that saw Cheney as the mastermind of the plan to oust Saddam Hussein.
The Archive published a July 2002 draft of a CIA "White Paper" on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction. The draft was prepared months before a National Intelligence Estimate on Saddam's regime, which Congress did not demand until September, although the final "White Paper" released in October purportedly summarized that very NIE.
In addition to the Archive's newly obtained documents, Dr. John Prados, who compiled the report, examined previous investigations of pre-war intelligence manipulation such as the recently completed Senate Intelligence Committee "Phase II" report on administration officials' pre-war rhetoric and books on the subject such as former White House spokesman Scott McClellan's memoir.
He concluded, in essence, that the Bush administration cherry picked intelligence to justify an invasion, that Tony Blair's British government was complicit in producing shaky intelligence on Saddam's WMDs, that administration figures -- especially Cheney -- pressured the CIA to give them what they wanted, and that intelligence undercutting the case for war was ignored in favor of less reliable sources who backed administration beliefs.
• The Phase II report on Bush administration public statements, in conjunction with the SSCI’s original July 2004 report on Iraq’s alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction, indicates that political manipulation extended beyond the intelligence itself to affect investigation of the intelligence failures on Iraq as well as the Bush administration’s use of that information.
• In conjunction with other recently declassified materials, the Phase II report shows that the Bush administration solicited intelligence then used to “substantiate” its public claims.
• A recently declassified draft of the CIA’s October 2002 white paper on Iraqi WMD programs demonstrates that that paper long pre-dated the compilation of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi capabilities.
• The timing of the CIA’s draft white paper coincides with a previously available draft of the British Government’s white paper on Iraqi WMD, demonstrating that the Bush administration and the Tony Blair government began acting in concert to build support for an invasion of Iraq two to three months earlier than previously understood.
• A comparison of the CIA draft white paper with its publicly released edition shows that all the changes made were in the nature of strengthening its charges against Iraq by inserting additional alarming claims, in the manner of an advocacy, or public relations document. The draft and final papers show no evidence of intelligence analysis applied to the information contained. Similar comparison of the British white paper shows the same phenomenon at work.
• Declassified Pentagon documents demonstrate that the CIA white paper was modified in ways that conformed to the desires of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and his office, in much the same way that British documents indicate that country’s white paper was changed to conform to the desires of the Blair government.
The CIA was under enormous pressure, which resulted in its production of a White Paper that did not conform to the facts, according to the report.
"Under the circumstances, it is difficult to avoid the impression that the CIA and other intelligence agencies defended themselves against the dangers of attack from the Bush administration through a process of self-censorship," Prados writes. "That is the very essence of politicization in intelligence."
He goes on to report that CIA reports had "the character of rhetoric" and did not reflect "the kind of approach characteristic of intelligence analysis."
The Archive's report backs up similar contentions that first came to light with release of the Downing Street memo in 2005 and have been reinforced in scores of books and investigative articles. Most recently, investigative journalist Ron Suskind reported in his new book The Way of the World that the British government was secretly in contact before the invasion with the chief of Iraq's intelligence services who told them unequivocally that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons stockpiles. That revelation -- received in plenty of time to delay the invasion -- was ignored, Suskind wrote.
Prados reports on other sources the CIA had developed among scientists in Iraq and within Saddam's foreign minister. Information they provided was ignored in favor of what was later revealed to be untrue exaggerations passed along by Iraqi exiles.
The White Paper went through several drafts, Prados writes, and it is clear to see the administration's influence in its preparation.
"The net impression is that the CIA white paper was rewritten to conform to administration preferences. If so, U.S. intelligence a priori made itself a tool of a political effort, vitiating the intelligence function and confirming the presence of a politicized process," he writes. "The specific analytic failures on Iraq intelligence become much less significant in such a climate, especially in that they all yielded intelligence predictions of exactly the kind the Bush administration wanted to hear."