Questions Remain About the Arguments for War

By Terry M. Neal Staff Writer
Thursday, November 3, 2005; 11:59 AM

Did administration officials willfully ignore and circumvent the established intelligence apparatus and embrace only what they wanted to hear to make the case for war in Iraq? And, if so, how far up the chain does responsibility go? And did those officials seek to punish--not just refute--those who challenged them, as Joe Wilson, the husband of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame, has suggested?

New reporting and the recent condemnation of the vice president's and defense secretary's handling of the pre-war intelligence raise questions about how the administration may have manipulated information to convince the American public of the need to go to war. While it remains unclear whether the administration deliberately misled the nation, the slow drip of reports demands a congressional inquiry.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has blamed the U.S. intelligence community for assembling "deeply flawed" evidence about Hussein's weapons capabilities and threat. Democrats allege the committee has done nothing to pursue the second phase of the report, which was to be an examination of the administration's role in making the case for war.

Invoking a rare parliamentary procedure this week, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) forced the Senate into a closed session to pressure Senate Republicans to follow through on that promise. Republicans agreed to form a six-senator, bipartisan task force that will report by Nov. 14 on "the intelligence committee's progress of the phase two review of the prewar intelligence and its schedule for completion."

Much of the media coverage in Washington this week centered on whether Senate Democrats are motivated by a search for the truth or are just grandstanding. The opposition certainly sees an opportunity to exploit a weakening of the majority. But whatever the case, the need to fully understand how the case for war came to be made on a legion of inaccurate claims is the main issue -- not who makes the most long-term political gains.

In this month's edition of Pat Buchanan's "American Conservative" magazine , Philip Giraldi , a former CIA officer, suggests that the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame's name is part of a much larger scandal involving how the administration pitched the war and punished its critics.

"From the beginning, there has been little doubt in the intelligence community that the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame was part of a bigger story," Giraldi wrote. "That she was exposed in an attempt to discredit her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, is clear, but the drive to demonize Wilson cannot reasonably be attributed only to revenge. Rather, her identification likely grew out of an attempt to cover up the forging of documents alleging that Iraq attempted to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger."

Giraldi's article follows a startling series of reports from the left-leaning Italian newspaper La Repubblica. The newspaper has asserted that Italian intelligence officials loyal to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi conspired to take advantage of the White House's eagerness to make the case of for war in Iraq.

According to La Repubblica, Italian intelligence chief Nicolo Pollari met with then deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley on Sept. 9, 2002, and passed along documents--that turned out to have been forged--about Iraq's attempt to purchase uranium in Niger.

In their eagerness to make the case for war, administration critics say that top White House officials circumvented the normal intelligence checks and balances and funneled the information through the Defense Department's Office of Special Plans, which had been set up by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and then-deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to develop alternative sources of intelligence.

In his Jan. 28, 2003, State of the Union speech, Bush referenced the British government as the source of the Niger uranium claim. The reference was included in the speech, despite the fact that U.S. intelligence had warned administration officials that the information was unreliable. It turns out the British received the same flawed documents that the Italian had peddled to the White House.

The United Nations's International Atomic Energy Agency later declared the Niger documents to be crude and obvious fakes.

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