A deputy national security adviser to President Bush toured Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison last November to review procedures for intelligence sharing among officials there and elsewhere in Iraq, prompting a senior prison official to conclude the White House wanted more and better information from interrogations, according to government officials and the official's sworn testimony.
Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, an Army Reservist who ran the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib, told Army investigators early this year that the visit by Fran Townsend -- then Bush's top counterterrorism adviser -- was among the pressures he felt to intensify intelligence-gathering efforts in the prison.
Townsend's visit occurred during a period when attacks on U.S. and Western officials in Iraq were rising sharply, and also when prisoners at Abu Ghraib were being questioned aggressively and sometimes humiliated by military police and intelligence officers. That included being deprived of clothing or forced to wear women's underwear, according to testimony by prison officials and an internal Army report on abuses there.
Jordan reported being told many times that the intelligence must be improved because of the widening attacks, according to an account published first in USA Today and confirmed by several government officials. Adding to the pressures to perform was a statement by a superior military officer at the prison that intelligence derived from the prison interrogations was read closely by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and by other senior officials in Washington, Jordan was quoted as saying.
The Washington Post previously reported that in February, Jordan told Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba -- appointed by the Army to investigate prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib -- that "White House staff" had requested better intelligence from the prison about "anti-coalition issues, foreign fighters, and terrorist issues."
But Townsend, a former Justice Department official and a specialist in intelligence issues, said in an interview yesterday that she did not discuss interrogations during her visit to Abu Ghraib, and placed no pressures on anyone there. She said she spent only 15 minutes touring detention cells during a prison visit that lasted two hours and occurred shortly before Thanksgiving.
Her visit was provoked by a concern -- after high-profile bombings at the Jordanian Embassy, the U.N. mission and a police barracks run by Italian soldiers -- that not enough was being done to assess "what was behind the violence," she said. Officials in Washington and Iraq alike were unsure whether it was caused by insurgents, foreign fighters or traditional terrorist groups, and Townsend said she wanted to help ensure that information was being shared properly among the analysts who could help resolve this question.
She said, for example, that the FBI was responsible for collecting fingerprints from debris at bombing sites, but the prints were not then being compared to those of prison detainees. The systems used for recording the prints "were incompatible," Townsend said, explaining that she wanted assurances that "they were not releasing people that we had fingerprint evidence on."
She said she also sought to ensure that the CIA -- which organized her trip to Iraq -- was getting access to information held by others stationed in Iraq so that its analysts could do their work "quicker and more efficiently."
Those were "the kinds of issues I was looking at . . . how to take the best information and pull it all together and make the best use of it," Townsend said.
Townsend, who was accompanied by an official of the CIA's operations directorate and by Brian Parr, a Secret Service official detailed to her personal staff, met with Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, the top military intelligence officer in Iraq, and with members of the CIA station.
But "I was there to understand. I did not have the cause to characterize my assumptions about their work. . . . I just wanted to learn," she said.
Townsend said she saw no abuse and was unaware of complaints made in October and November by the International Committee of the Red Cross about the repeated stripping of clothing from prisoners or other problems. She said she did not recall whether officials there told her about a major riot on Nov. 24 in which nine U.S. soldiers were injured, three detainees were killed by military police, and nine other detainees were wounded.
According to Taguba's report and testimony by many prison officials, some of the worst documented abuses unfolded at Abu Ghraib in the weeks before and after Townsend's visit, including the use of dogs to intimidate prisoners and the piling up of naked detainees. A government official who has been following the scandal said that any pressure for better intelligence "would have moved right down to people conducting the interrogations."
A Defense Department official said that, contrary to Jordan's impression, Rumsfeld did not see intelligence reports that were marked as coming from interrogations at Abu Ghraib. "What the secretary sees is synthesized, not raw reports," the defense official said. "It would be all-source intelligence" without a specified origin.