Ex-CIA official rips war caseSays Iraq data distorted to sway public
By Cam Simpson
Published February 11, 2006
WASHINGTON -- The former CIA official charged with managing the U.S. government's secret intelligence assessments on Iraq says the Bush administration chose war first and then misleadingly used raw data to assemble a public case for its decision to invade.
Paul Pillar, who was the CIA's national intelligence officer for the Middle East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, said the Bush administration also played on the nation's fears in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, falsely linking Al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein's regime even though intelligence agencies had not produced a single analysis supporting "the notion of an alliance" between the two.
Instead, Pillar writes in the upcoming issue of the journal Foreign Affairs, connections were drawn between the terrorists and Iraq because "the administration wanted to hitch the Iraq expedition to the `war on terror' and the threat the American public feared most, thereby capitalizing on the country's militant post-9/11 mood."
The specific critiques in Pillar's 4,500-word essay, titled, "Intelligence, Policy and the War in Iraq," are not new. But it apparently is the first time such attacks are being publicly leveled by such a high-ranking intelligence official directly involved behind the scenes--before, during and after the invasion of Iraq nearly three years ago.
Because of his position, Pillar would have had access to, and likely intimate knowledge about, virtually every piece of Iraq-related intelligence maintained across all agencies within the U.S. government.
Pillar also wrote in his essay that the administration went to war without first considering any strategic-level intelligence assessments "on any aspect of Iraq" and that the intelligence community foreshadowed many post-Hussein woes, though the findings were largely ignored before the March 2003 invasion.
Excerpts from Pillar's article were first reported by The Washington Post on Friday. Foreign Affairs released a copy of the essay later in the day.
Pillar, a career intelligence official, retired from the CIA last year and is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University in Washington.
The administration responds
The White House did not respond specifically to Pillar's charges Friday, but Frederick Jones, a spokesman for the National Security Council, did point to previous administration statements defending its use of intelligence.
The administration first went on the offensive last fall in an effort to thwart what President Bush, in a Veteran's Day speech, called a "deeply irresponsible" effort "to rewrite the history of how that war began."
Jones said Friday that the administration's prewar statements "about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein were based on the aggregation of intelligence from a number of sources and represented the collective view of the intelligence community."
But in his essay, the man responsible for coordinating the intelligence community's collective view of Iraq directly challenged the notion that the prevailing wisdom within the nation's spy services supported the decision to invade. In fact, Pillar wrote, "If the entire body of official intelligence analysis on Iraq had a policy implication, it was to avoid war ."
He also wrote that the Bush administration "used intelligence not to inform decision-making but to justify a decision already made"--to topple Hussein's regime.
In making its case, the administration aggressively promoted pieces of "intelligence to win public support for its decision to go to war," Pillar said.
He also said: "This meant selectively adducing data--`cherry-picking'--rather than using the intelligence community's own analytic judgments."
Pillar's allegations about the public use of selective intelligence on Iraq comes in the wake of news that Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, told a grand jury that he was authorized by his bosses to leak classified information about Iraq in summer 2003 to defend the administration's case for war. The statement about Libby's secret testimony was contained in court papers filed in connection with his obstruction-of-justice case.
Although he acknowledged the intelligence community was wrong about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities, Pillar said that intelligence "was not what led to the war." And he saved some of his sharpest criticisms for the administration's repeated public statements in 2002 and 2003 about "links" between Iraq and Al Qaeda--statements that have been repeated despite findings from the independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks that there was no collaborative relationship between the two.
"The issue of possible ties between Saddam and Al Qaeda was especially prone to the selective use of raw intelligence to make a public case for war," Pillar wrote. "In the shadowy world of international terrorism, almost anyone can be `linked' to almost anyone else if enough effort is made . . . . [But] the intelligence community never offered any analysis that supported the notion of an alliance between Saddam and Al Qaeda."
He said the administration constantly pressed for more data to support the purported link, just one way it politically influenced the outcome.
"Feeding the administration's voracious appetite for material on the Saddam-Al Qaeda link consumed an enormous amount of time and attention at multiple levels, from rank-and-file counterterrorism analysts to the most senior intelligence officials," he wrote. "It is fair to ask how much other counterterrorism work was left undone as a result."
Although he acknowledged analysts were not strong-armed by anyone in the administration to bolster the case for war, Pillar said intelligence officials were more subtly influenced.
Analysts, who often measure success by the attention they receive from policymakers, "felt a strong wind consistently blowing in one direction. The desire to bend with such a wind is natural and strong, even if unconscious," he said.
He also said he never received a request from any administration policymaker for any assessments of Iraq "until a year into the war."
Nicholas Cullather, the former official historian for the CIA who now teaches at Indiana University, said the article represents a defense of the longstanding tradition within the CIA of maintaining a strict separation between intelligence analysis and policymaking.
But Cullather said that tradition has long been aggressively opposed by officials who now hold senior positions in the Bush administration.