Before War, CIA Warned of Negative Outcomes

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 3, 2007

On Aug. 13, 2002, the CIA completed a classified, six-page intelligence analysis that described the worst scenarios that could arise after a U.S.-led removal of Saddam Hussein: anarchy and territorial breakup in Iraq, a surge of global terrorism, and a deepening of Islamic antipathy toward the United States.

Titled "The Perfect Storm: Planning for Negative Consequences of Invading Iraq," the paper, written seven months before the war began, also speculated about al-Qaeda operatives taking "advantage of a destabilized Iraq to establish secure safe havens from which they can continue their operations," according to a report about prewar intelligence recently released by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

The report said the CIA paper also cautioned about outcomes such as declining European confidence in U.S. leadership, Hussein's survival and retreat with regime loyalists, Iran working to install a friendly regime "tolerant of Iranian policies," Afghanistan tipping into civil strife because U.S. forces were not replaced by United Nations peacekeepers and troops from other countries, and violent demonstrations in Pakistan because of its support of Washington.

Before the war, while the Bush administration was putting a spotlight on the CIA's intelligence on Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, which turned out to be wrong, it either buried or ignored the agency's more accurate assessments of the problems that could emerge in the aftermath of regime change in Iraq, the Senate report said.

At the time the "Perfect Storm" report was finished, the administration was already heading toward the decision to invade. A CIA assessment completed on Aug. 8, 2002, and also sent to the White House, found that while "on the surface, Iraq currently appears to lack both the socio-economic and politico-cultural prerequisites that political scientists generally regard as necessary to nurture democracy . . . we believe that Iraq has several advantages that, if buttressed by the West, could foster democracy in post-Saddam Iraq."

It warned, however, that chances of even partial success would require "long-term, active U.S./Western military, political and economic involvement."

On Aug. 14, 2002, a day after the "Perfect Storm" paper was sent to the White House, then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice held a meeting of the national security team to draft a presidential directive titled "Iraq: Goals, Objectives and Strategy," according to the book "Plan of Attack" by The Washington Post's Bob Woodward. It talked of freeing Iraq and preventing it from "breaking out of containment and becoming a more dangerous threat to the region and beyond."

The directive also spoke of cutting "Iraq's links to and sponsorship of international terrorism," liberating the Iraqi people and assisting them "in creating a society based on moderation, pluralism and democracy."

The CIA "Perfect Storm" paper, carrying a series of warnings about how such goals might go seriously awry, had been requested in the summer of 2002, along with others on Iraq, by then-deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley. But, according to then-CIA director George J. Tenet, it was relegated to the back of a thick briefing book handed out to President Bush's national security team for a meeting on Sept. 7, 2002, at Camp David, where the Iraq war was Topic A.

One paper in the front part of the briefing book "listed things that would be achieved by removing Saddam -- freeing the Iraqi people, eliminating WMD, ending threats to Iraq's neighbors, and the like," Tenet writes in his book, "At the Center of the Storm." Another paper in the middle of the briefing materials, Tenet writes, talked generally about how the United States would deal with post-Hussein Iraq, including a plan to retain but reform of much of the government bureaucracy.

In the "Perfect Storm" paper, CIA analysts offered what they described as "near-term tactical moves" that the administration could make to minimize the worst-case scenarios that the report presented. Among them were taking "concrete diplomatic steps toward Arab-Israeli peace" and providing "back-channel assurances to Tehran on the duration and extent of U.S. force deployments" -- actions that were not taken.

Tenet concedes that he did not press the "Perfect Storm" worst-case analyses at meetings. "There was, in fact, no screaming, no table-pounding," he writes. "We had no way of knowing then how the situation on the ground in Iraq would evolve."

Nor, he adds, was the CIA privy to subsequent administration actions in Iraq "that would help make many of these worst-case scenarios almost inevitable."

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