An April 6 article about briefings given to senior U.S. officials before the Iraq war by intelligence analysts in the office of then-Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith misstated the date that the Weekly Standard printed an article derived from those materials. It appeared in November 2003, not before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
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Hussein's Prewar Ties To Al-Qaeda Discounted
Cheney's public statements before and after the war about the risks posed by Iraq have closely tracked the briefing Feith's office presented to the vice president's then-chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. That includes the briefing's depiction of an alleged 2001 meeting in Prague between an Iraqi intelligence official and one of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers as one of eight "Known Iraq-Al Qaida Contacts."
The defense report states that at the time, "the intelligence community disagreed with the briefing's assessment that the alleged meeting constituted a 'known contact' " -- a circumstance that the report said was known to Feith's office. But his office had bluntly concluded in a July 2002 critique of a CIA report on Iraq's relationship with al-Qaeda that the CIA's interpretation of the facts it cited "ought to be ignored."
The briefing to Libby was also presented with slight variations to then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, then-CIA Director George J. Tenet and then-deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley. It was prepared in part by someone whom the defense report described as a "junior Naval Reservist" intelligence analyst detailed to Feith's office from the DIA. The person is not named in the report, but Edelman wrote that she was requested by Feith's office.
The briefing, a copy of which was declassified and released yesterday by Levin, goes so far as to state that "Fragmentary reporting points to possible Iraqi involvement not only in 9/11 but also in previous al Qaida attacks." That idea was dismissed in 2004 by a presidential commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, noting that "no credible evidence" existed to support it.
When a senior intelligence analyst working for the government's counterterrorism task force obtained an early account of the conclusions by Feith's office -- titled "Iraq and al-Qaida: Making the Case" -- the analyst prepared a detailed rebuttal calling it of "no intelligence value" and taking issue with 15 of 26 key conclusions, the report states. The analyst's rebuttal was shared with intelligence officers on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but evidently not with others.
Edelman complained in his own account of the incident that a senior Joint Chiefs analyst -- in responding to a suggestion by the DIA analyst that the "Making the Case" account be widely circulated -- told its author that "putting it out there would be playing into the hands of people" such as then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, and belittled the author for trying to support "some agenda of people in the building."
But the inspector general's report, in a footnote, commented that it is "noteworthy . . . that post-war debriefs of Sadaam Hussein, [former Iraqi foreign minister] Tariq Aziz, [former Iraqi intelligence minister Mani al-Rashid] al Tikriti, and [senior al-Qaeda operative Ibn al-Shaykh] al-Libi, as well as document exploitation by DIA all confirmed that the Intelligence Community was correct: Iraq and al-Qaida did not cooperate in all categories" alleged by Feith's office.
From these sources, the report added, "the terms the Intelligence Community used to describe the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida were validated, [namely] 'no conclusive signs,' and 'direct cooperation . . . has not been established.' "
Zarqawi, whom Cheney depicted yesterday as an agent of al-Qaeda in Iraq before the war, was not then an al-Qaeda member but was the leader of an unaffiliated terrorist group who occasionally associated with al-Qaeda adherents, according to several intelligence analysts. He publicly allied himself with al-Qaeda in early 2004, after the U.S. invasion.
Staff writer Dafna Linzer and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.