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July 25, 2003

CIA Probe Finds Secret Pentagon Group Manipulated Intelligence on Iraqi Threat


by Jason Leopold

A half-dozen former CIA agents investigating prewar intelligence have found that a secret Pentagon committee, set up by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in October 2001, manipulated reams of intelligence information prepared by the spy agency on the so-called Iraqi threat and then delivered it to top White House officials who used it to win support for a war in Iraq.

More than a dozen calls to the White House, the CIA, the National Security Council and the Pentagon for comment were not returned.

The ad-hoc committee, called the Office of Special Plans, headed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith and other Pentagon hawks, described the worst-case scenarios in terms of Iraq's alleged stockpile of chemical and biological weapons and claimed the country was close to acquiring nuclear weapons, according to four of the CIA agents, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the information is still classified, who conducted a preliminary view of the intelligence.

The agents said the Office of Special Plans is responsible for providing the National Security Council and Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice and Rumsfeld with the bulk of the intelligence information on Iraq's weapons program that turned out to be wrong. But White House officials used the information it received from the Office of Special Plans to win support from the public and Congress to start a war in Iraq even though the White House knew much of the information was dubious, the CIA agents said.

For example, the agents said the Office of Special Plans told the National Security Council last year that Iraq's attempt to purchase aluminum tubes were part of a clandestine program to build an atomic bomb. The Office of Special Plans leaked the information to the New York Times last September. Shortly after the story appeared in the paper, Bush and Rice both pointed to the story as evidence that Iraq posed a grave threat to the United States and to its neighbors in the Middle East, even though experts in the field of nuclear science, the CIA and the State Department advised the White House that the aluminum tubes were not designed for an atomic bomb.

Furthermore, the CIA had been unable to develop any links between Iraq and the terrorist group al-Qaeda. But under Feith's direction, the Office of Special Plans came up with information of such links by looking at existing intelligence reports that they felt might have been overlooked or undervalued. The Special Plans office provided the information to the Pentagon and to the White House. During a Pentagon briefing last year, Rumsfeld said he had "bulletproof" evidence that Iraq was harboring al-Qaeda terrorists.

At a Pentagon news conference last year, Rumsfeld said of the intelligence gathered by Special Plans: "Gee, why don't you go over and brief George Tenet? So they did. They went over and briefed the CIA. So there's no there's no mystery about all this."

CIA analysts listened to the Pentagon team, nodded politely, and said, "Thank you very much," said one government official, according to a July 20 report in the New York Times. That official said the briefing did not change the agency's reporting or analysis in any substantial way.

Several current and former intelligence officials told the Times that they felt pressure to tailor reports to conform to the administration's views, "particularly the theories Feith's group developed."

Moreover, the agents said the Office of Special Plans routinely rewrote the CIA's intelligence estimates on Iraq's weapons programs, removing caveats such as "likely," "probably" and "may" as a way of depicting the country as an imminent threat. The agents would not identify the names of the individuals at the Office of Special Plans who were responsible for providing the White House with the wrong intelligence. But, the agents said, the intelligence gathered by the committee sometimes went directly to the White House, Cheney's office and to Rice without first being vetted by the CIA.

In cases where the CIA's intelligence wasn't rewritten the Office of Special Plans provided the White House with questionable intelligence it gathered from Iraqi exiles from the Iraqi National Congress, a group headed by Ahmad Chalabi, a person whom the CIA has publicly said is unreliable, the CIA agents said.

More than a dozen CIA agents responsible for writing intelligence reports for the agency told the former CIA agents investigating the accuracy of the intelligence reports said they were pressured by the Pentagon and the Office of Special Plans to hype and exaggerate intelligence to show Iraq as being an imminent threat to the security of the U.S.

The White House has been dogged by questions for nearly a month on whether the intelligence information it had relied upon was accurate and whether top White House officials knowingly used unreliable information to build a case for war. The furor started when President Bush said in his January State of the Union address that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium ore from Africa. Bush credited British intelligence for the claims, but the intelligence was based on forged documents. The Office of Special Plans is responsible for advising the White House to allow Bush to use the uranium claims in his speech, according to Democratic Senators and a CIA agent who are privy to classified information surrounding the issue.

CIA Director George Tenet took responsibility last week for allowing Bush to cite the information, despite the fact that he had warned the Rice's office that the claims were likely wrong. Earlier this week, Stephen Hadley, an aide to Rice, said he received two memos from the CIA last year and before Bush's State of the Union address alerting him to the fact that the uranium information should not be included in the State of the Union address. Hadley, who also took responsibility for failing to remove the uranium reference from Bush's speech, said he forgot to advise the President about the CIA's warnings.

Hawks in the White House and the Pentagon seized upon the uranium claims before and after Bush's State of the Union address, telling reporters, lawmakers and leaders of other nations that the only thing that can be done to disarm Saddam Hussein is a preemptive strike against his country.

The only White House official who didn't cite the uranium claim is Secretary of State Colin Powell. According to Greg Thielmann, who resigned last year from the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research whose duties included tracking Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs he personally told Powell that the allegations were "implausible" and the intelligence it was based upon was a "stupid piece of garbage."

Patrick Lang, the former head of worldwide human intelligence gathering for the Defense Intelligence Agency, which coordinates military intelligence, said the Office of Special Plans "cherry-picked the intelligence stream" in a bid to portray Iraq as an imminent threat. Lang said in interviews with several media outlets that the CIA had "no guts at all" to resist the allegedly deliberate skewing of intelligence by a Pentagon that he said was now dominating U.S. foreign policy.

Vince Cannistraro, a former chief of CIA counter-terrorist operations, said he has spoken to a number of working intelligence officers who blame the Pentagon for playing up "fraudulent" intelligence, "a lot of it sourced from the Iraqi National Congress of Ahmad Chalabi."

In an October 11, 2002 report in the Los Angeles Times, several CIA agents "who brief Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz on Iraq routinely return to the agency with a long list of complaints and demands for new analysis or shifts in emphasis."

"There is a lot of unhappiness with the analysis," usually because it is seen as not hard-line enough, one intelligence official said, according to the paper.

Another government official said CIA agents "are constantly sent back by the senior people at Defense and other places to get more, get more, get more to make their case," the paper reported.

Now, as U.S. military casualties have surpassed that of the first Gulf War, Democrats in Congress and the Senate are starting to question whether other information about the Iraqi threat cited by Bush and his staff was reliable or part of a coordinated effort by the White House to politicize the intelligence to win support for a war.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is investigating the issue but so far neither the Senate intelligence committee nor any Congressional committee has launched an investigation into the Office of Special Plans. But that may soon change.

Based on several news reports into the activities of the Office of Special Plans, a number of lawmakers have called for an investigation into the group. Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, D-California, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, wrote a letter July 9 to Congressman Duncan Hunter, R-California, chairman of the Armed Services committee, calling for an investigation into the Office of Special Plans.

The Office of Special Plans should be examined to determine whether it "complemented, competed with, or detracted from the role of other United States intelligence agencies respecting the collection and use of intelligence relating to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and war planning. I also think it is important to understand how having two intelligence agencies within the Pentagon impacted the Department of Defense's ability to focus the necessary resources and manpower on pre-war planning and post-war operations," Tauscher's letter said.

Congressman David Obey, D-Wisconsin, also called for a widespread investigation of the Office of Special Plans to find out whether there is any truth to the claims that it willfully manipulated intelligence on the Iraqi threat. During a Congressional briefing July 8, Obey described what he knew about Special Plans and why an investigation into the group is crucial.

"A group of civilian employees in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, all of whom are political employees have long been dissatisfied with the information produced by the established intelligence agencies both inside and outside the Department. That was particularly true, apparently, with respect to the situation in Iraq," Obey said. "As a result, it is reported that they established a special operation within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, which was named the Office of Special Plans. That office was charged with collecting, vetting, and disseminating intelligence completely outside the normal intelligence apparatus. In fact, it appears that the information collected by this office was in some instances not even shared with the established intelligence agencies and in numerous instances was passed on to the National Security Council and the President without having been vetted with anyone other than (the Secretary of Defense)."

"It is further alleged that the purpose of this operation was not only to produce intelligence more in keeping with the pre-held views of those individuals, but to intimidate analysts in the established intelligence organizations to produce information that was more supportive of policy decisions which they had already decided to propose."


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  • Jason Leopold is the former Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires. He spent two years covering the Enron bankruptcy and the California energy crisis. He just finished writing a book on the energy crisis, due out in December through Rowman & Littlefield.

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