By Walter Pincus and R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 9, 2007
Intelligence provided by former undersecretary of defense Douglas J. Feith to buttress the White House case for invading Iraq included "reporting of dubious quality or reliability" that supported the political views of senior administration officials rather than the conclusions of the intelligence community, according to a report by the Pentagon's inspector general.
Feith's office "was predisposed to finding a significant relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda," according to portions of the report, released yesterday by Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.). The inspector general described Feith's activities as "an alternative intelligence assessment process."
An unclassified summary of the full document is scheduled for release today in a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which Levin chairs. In that summary, a copy of which was obtained from another source by The Washington Post, the inspector general concluded that Feith's assessment in 2002 that Iraq and al-Qaeda had a "mature symbiotic relationship" was not fully supported by available intelligence but was nonetheless used by policymakers.
At the time of Feith's reporting, the CIA had concluded only that there was an "evolving" association, "based on sources of varying reliability."
In a telephone interview yesterday, Feith emphasized the inspector general's conclusion that his actions, described in the report as "inappropriate," were not unlawful. "This was not 'alternative intelligence assessment,' " he said. "It was from the start a criticism of the consensus of the intelligence community, and in presenting it I was not endorsing its substance.
Feith, who was defense policy chief before leaving the government in 2005, was one of the key contributors to the administration's rationale for war. His intelligence activities, authorized by then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, and coordinated with Vice President Cheney's office, stemmed from an administration belief that the CIA was underplaying evidence of then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's ties with al-Qaeda.
In interviews with Pentagon investigators, the summary document said, Feith insisted that his activities did not constitute intelligence and that "even if they were, [they] would be appropriate given that they were responding to direction from the Deputy Secretary of Defense."
The report was requested in fall 2005 by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), then chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Although the committee and a number of official inquiries had criticized the administration's prewar intelligence, Democratic senators, led by Levin, demanded further investigation of Feith's operation.
"The bottom line is that intelligence relating to the Iraq-al-Qaeda relationship was manipulated by high-ranking officials in the Department of Defense to support the administration's decision to invade Iraq," Levin said yesterday. "The inspector general's report is a devastating condemnation of inappropriate activities in the DOD policy office that helped take this nation to war."
The summary document confirmed a range of accusations that Levin had leveled against Feith's office, alleging inaccurate work.
Feith's office, it said, drew on "both reliable and unreliable" intelligence reports in 2002 to produce a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq "that was much stronger than that assessed by the IC [Intelligence Community] and more in accord with the policy views of senior officials in the Administration."
It stated that the office produced intelligence assessments "inconsistent" with the U.S. intelligence community consensus, calling those actions "inappropriate" because the assessments purported to be "intelligence products" but were far more conclusive than the consensus view.
In particular, the summary cited the defense policy office's preparation of slides describing as a "known contact" an alleged 2001 meeting in Prague between Mohamed Atta, the leader of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, and an Iraqi intelligence officer.
That claim figured heavily in statements by Cheney and other senior administration officials alleging a link between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi regime, but it has since been discredited.
Three versions of the briefing prepared by Feith's office were presented in August and September 2002 -- months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq -- to I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, then Cheney's chief of staff; Rumsfeld; and then-deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, the summary states.
But only "some of the information" in those briefings was "supported by available intelligence," the summary said. The version of the briefing presented to senior Bush officials, it said, contained different information than a presentation to the CIA. Left out of the version for the CIA, the inspector general said, was "a slide that said there were 'fundamental problems' " with the way the intelligence community was presenting the evidence.
While Pentagon officials said in responses cited in the summary that no senior policymakers mistook these briefings as "intelligence assessments," the inspector general said that administration officials had indeed cited classified intelligence that allegedly documented a close al-Qaeda-Iraq relationship.
The policy office, the summary stated, "was inappropriately performing Intelligence Activities . . . that should be performed by the Intelligence Community."
The summary recommended no action within the Defense Department because, it said, the current collaboration under new leadership at the Pentagon and the intelligence community "will significantly reduce the opportunity for the inappropriate conduct of intelligence activities outside intelligence channels."
Staff writer Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.