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
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
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
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
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."
Leopold is the former Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires.
He is currently finishing a book on the California energy crisis.