Senators Debate Significance of Pentagon Report On Intelligence

By Walter Pincus and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 10, 2007

Senate Democrats and Republicans disagreed yesterday over the meaning and importance of a Defense Department inspector general's conclusion that a Pentagon policy office produced and gave senior policymakers "alternative intelligence assessments on Iraq and Al Qaida relations" that were "inconsistent" with the intelligence community's consensus view in the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Acting Defense Department Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he had no evidence that the Pentagon activities were illegal and said they were authorized by then-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz.

But, he said, "the actions, in our opinion, were inappropriate."

The office's assessments, according to an unclassified summary of Gimble's report released yesterday, "evolved from policy to intelligence products, which were then disseminated." The summary said the intelligence community's consensus view and "available intelligence" at the time, late in the summer of 2002, did not support the policy office's conclusion that a "mature symbiotic relationship" existed between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

An article in yesterday's Washington Post misattributed to the inspector general's report critical comments about the Pentagon operation made by committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.). In a statement he released Thursday, Levin, not the inspector general, said the Pentagon effort used intelligence reporting of "dubious quality or reliability." [See correction, A2.]

Douglas J. Feith, the former undersecretary of defense for policy, sharply disputed the inspector general's conclusions in a series of interviews yesterday. "My office was trying to prevent an intelligence failure," Feith told National Public Radio. "We had people in the Pentagon who thought that the CIA's speculative assessments were not of top quality; they were not raising all the questions they should raise and considering all the information they should consider."

His office "did not present an alternative intelligence analysis," Feith said, it "presented a criticism."

After weeks of discussion over President Bush's strategy for the ongoing U.S. involvement in Iraq, yesterday's hearing once again plunged the Senate into discord over how the United States got there in the first place.

Levin, who has long questioned Feith's prewar intelligence operation, was harshly critical. "Senior administration officials used the twisted intelligence produced by the Feith office in making the case for the Iraq war," Levin said. Calling the inspector general's report a "devastating condemnation of inappropriate activities," he said he would hold further hearings on the subject.

"I don't think in any way that his report could be interpreted as a devastating condemnation," Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) quickly countered. Feith's office, he said, "actually provided a service" by bringing intelligence community failures to the attention of policymakers.

Inhofe described the disagreements outlined in the inspector general's report as a simple "turf battle" between government departments.

Democratic senators used Gimble's report and testimony to bolster their contention that the administration misused intelligence to promote the urgency of invading Iraq. Republicans implied that the intelligence community had soft-pedaled crucial reports of a close al-Qaeda relationship with Saddam Hussein and that Feith's office had put them in the proper perspective.

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