By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 6, 2005
In February 2002, the Defense Intelligence Agency questioned the reliability of a captured top al Qaeda operative whose allegations became the basis of Bush administration claims that terrorists had been trained in the use of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq, according to declassified material released by Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.).
Referring to the first interrogation report on al Qaeda senior military trainer Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the DIA took note that the Libyan terrorist could not name any Iraqis involved, any chemical or biological material used or where the training occurred. As a result, "it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers," a DIA report concluded.
In fact, in January 2004 al-Libi recanted his claims, and in February 2004 the CIA withdrew all intelligence reports based on his information. By then, the United States and its coalition partners had invaded Iraq.
Levin, ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he arranged for the material to be declassified by the DIA last month. At the same time that the administration was linking Baghdad to al Qaeda, he said, the DIA and other intelligence agencies were privately raising questions about the sources underlying the claims.
Since then, Levin said in an interview Friday, almost all government intelligence on whether Iraq pursued or possessed weapons of mass destruction has proved faulty. In addition to the allegation of training terrorists loyal to Osama bin Laden, there were government claims that then-Iraq President Saddam Hussein had stocks of chemical and biological weapons, that he had reconstituted his nuclear weapons programs, and that unmanned airborne vehicles posed a threat, Levin said.
He said that he could not be certain that White House officials read the DIA report, but his "presumption" was that someone at the National Security Council saw it because it was sent there.
Administration officials declined to comment for this article.
Levin noted in a prepared statement that, beginning in September 2002, President Bush, Vice President Cheney, then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, then-CIA Director George J. Tenet, and then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell used the alleged chemical and biological training by Baghdad as valid intelligence in speeches and public appearances to gather support for the Iraq war.
In none of the speeches or appearances was reference made to the DIA questioning the reliability of the source of the claims, Levin said. The doubts about al-Libi were contained in the DIA's February 2002 "Defense Intelligence Terrorist Summary,"which was sent to the White House and the National Security Council and circulated among U.S. intelligence agencies.
"The newly declassified information provides additional dramatic evidence that the administration's prewar statements regarding links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda represents an incredible deception," Levin said.
Levin pointed specifically to an Oct. 7, 2002, speech in which the president outlined what he said was the "grave threat" from Iraq days before the House and Senate voted on a resolution giving him the authority to go to war.
"We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases," Bush said, an assertion that was based, according to Levin, primarily on al-Libi's material. Other less important intelligence on the training of al Qaeda members, carried in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs, also came from questionable sources, Levin said.
Bush also said in his October 2002 speech: "We know that Iraq and al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade." Levin said the DIA's declassified February 2002 report points out that "Saddam's regime is intensely secular and wary of Islamic revolutionary movements. Moreover, Baghdad is unlikely to provide assistance to a group it cannot control."
"Just imagine," Levin said, "the public impact of that DIA conclusion if it had been disclosed at the time. It surely could have made a difference in the congressional vote authorizing the war."
Levin also pointed out that before the war, the CIA had its own reservations about al-Libi, although the agency did not note them in its publicly distributed unclassified statements. In those, Levin said, it described the source -- without naming al-Libi -- as "credible." In the classified version, however, the CIA added that the source "was not in a position to know if any training had taken place."
Levin said: "Imagine if the president or the others had added that the source of the information might have been making it up for his questioners or wasn't in a position to know. . . . Would he have delivered that in his speech?"
Levin said he first obtained the DIA document as part of his continuing investigation as an Armed Services panel member into intelligence activities that took place within the office of Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Feith's Office of Special Plans undertook a review and analyses of prewar al Qaeda intelligence.
Levin said Friday that he was not aware whether the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, on which he also serves, has the document. That panel did not have the DIA document in July 2004 when it completed its Phase 1 report on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs.
The committee is now conducting its second-phase investigation of the use of Iraq intelligence, one part of which is to compare prewar public statements by officials and members of Congress with the information known at the time.
Levin took part in a news conference Friday with two other intelligence committee Democrats in which they raised questions about whether the panel had received all the classified material on Iraq, including the February 2002 DIA publication, that Bush administration officials had when they made their public statements.
At that news conference, Levin urged that the process be slowed down to make sure the committee had gathered all the intelligence material.