White House cherry-picked intelligence

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Did the administration’s hand-picked intelligence massager cherry pick and spin the facts in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq?


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.

This is the office that turned into Cheney’s favorite intelligence factory, and whose assessments were — for obvious reasons — preferred to the CIA’s own.

Feith and his defenders are focusing on the finding that his activities were found to be legal. An irrelevancy, since the question has always been whether the administration cherry-picked intelligence, not whether such cherry-picking was legal. It’s like Bush leaking classified material — it’s by definition legal, since he has the power to declassify anything he wants. That has nothing to do with whether it is right or proper.

More excerpts:

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.

Notably, Feith’s office produced the isolated and discredited intelligence behind the administration’s claim that Mohammad Atta met with Iraqi intelligence in Prague in 2001. That’s not only an example of Feith’s failings; it’s proof that the administration relied on Feith’s reports to make their public case — describing them as “classified intelligence” — even though the inspector general’s report contains denials that they viewed Feith’s work as intelligence assessments.

Busted. I’ll post a link to the actual report once the committee makes it available.

You gotta love it when the opposition takes over Congress. Suddenly we’re getting hearings into things we should have had hearings on years ago, and answers are starting to pop out. This goes a long way toward filling the gap left by the Republican Congressional leadership, which never got around to conducting Part II of its analysis of intelligence failures — the part that was supposed to investigate whether the White House misused intelligence to justify the war.

The initial answer appears to be “yes.”