Prewar Views of Iraq Threat Are Under Review by C.I.A.
By James Risen
The New York Times
Thursday 22 May 2003
The Central Intelligence Agency has begun a review to try to determine whether the American intelligence community erred in its prewar assessments of Saddam Hussein's government and Iraq's weapons programs, several officials say.
The director of central intelligence, George J. Tenet, has named a team of retired C.I.A. officers to scour the classified intelligence reports that were circulated inside the government before the war on a range of issues related to Iraq, including those concerning Bagdhad's links to terrorism and unconventional weapons, officials said. The team plans to compare those reports with what has actually been discovered in Iraq since the war ended.
The previously undisclosed C.I.A. review was initially prompted by a request last October from Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld to Mr. Tenet, a senior intelligence official said Monday.
The review will encompass reports produced by the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Intelligence Council, the Defense Intelligence Agency and other agencies, and is the first internal review of Iraq-related intelligence since the war ended in April, officials said.
Mr. Rumsfeld's initial proposal came at a time when questions were being raised both inside and out the government over the quality of the intelligence concerning links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. One intelligence official said Mr. Rumsfeld had become irritated by disagreements within the intelligence community over the possible links between Iraq and the Qaeda network. Before the war, some Pentagon officials expressed frustration over what they perceived to be excessive caution on the part of C.I.A. analysts who found scant Qaeda-Iraqi connections, according to several intelligence officials.
Now that the war is over and the review is underway, the climate within the intelligence community has changed sharply. The failure so far of American forces to find conclusive evidence either of Iraqi ties to Al Qaeda or unconventional weapons has added urgency to the study's outcome.
The review, which has the support of some analysts and officials who have said the intelligence on Iraq was politicized, will not examine all Iraqi-related intelligence, but will focus instead on a few sensitive issues, including whether the United States overstated the threat that Iraq was trying to develop biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, according to officials familiar with the study.
The review team will scrutinize reports produced throughout the intelligence community, including those by C.I.A. analysts and reports prepared by other agencies such as the Pentagon, officials said.
Mr. Rumsfeld's original concept for the review grew out of his belief that if the United States went to war in Iraq, the intelligence community should study the intelligence reports it produced before the war and see how they compared with the reality discovered on the ground after the war. Mr. Tenet agreed, and senior intelligence officials began assembling a team.
"Rumsfeld and Tenet regularly have lunch," one senior administration official said. "And last fall, they were having a conversation, and Rumsfeld said: `If we go to war with Iraq, what are the things we should look at?' "
"They agreed that we would have an opportunity to learn a lot about our intelligence, and how it stacks up against reality," he continued.
But the review comes at a time of increasing tension between the Pentagon and C.I.A. over the handling of intelligence. Intelligence officials said that several C.I.A. analysts had quietly complained that senior Defense Department officials and other Bush administration officials sought to press them to produce reports that supported the administration's positions on Iraq. In addition, several current and former C.I.A. officers who have been upset about what they believe has been the politicization of intelligence concerning Iraq were the first to disclose the existence of the new C.I.A. review.
A senior intelligence official cautioned that the review was not designed as a formal investigation or a "witch hunt," but rather as an intellectual exercise to find ways to improve the way the intelligence community works.
"This is not a report card," on Iraqi intelligence, the official said. "We really want to find ways to make the intelligence community work better."
Despite the friction over Iraq-related intelligence, officials said Monday that a special ombudsman inside the C.I.A.'s Directorate of Intelligence had received only one complaint from a C.I.A. analyst about the way in which specific intelligence on Iraq was handled. The ombudsman determined that the analyst's complaint that the problem stemmed from the politicization of the intelligence on Iraq was unfounded.
"I really think that the press reports of friction between the C.I.A. and Pentagon are overdrawn," said one senior intelligence official. "I can tell you that Tenet and Rumsfeld have a very good relationship."
But other intelligence officials have said they believe that one source of the feuding between the C.I.A. and Pentagon was the creation last year of a special Pentagon unit that reviewed intelligence reports concerning Iraq. That team was created in part as a result of the frustration some senior aides to Mr. Rumsfeld had felt over the way in which the C.I.A. was handling the issue.
In some cases, Pentagon officials came to believe that the C.I.A. was too dismissive of information provided by Iraqi exiles and other sources warning of the threat posed by reported Iraqi ties to Al Qaeda and by suspected efforts to develop illegalweapons.
Pentagon officials say the intelligence team did not produce its own reports, and instead reviewed the intelligence developed by other agencies, looking for links between Iraq and Al Qaeda that they did not believe had been sufficiently highlighted by other agencies. But the creation of the special unit created a furor within the intelligence community, after C.I.A. analysts began to complain that the Pentagon's special unit was staffed by conservative ideologues eager to offer the Bush administration an alternative view of intelligence than that provided by the C.I.A.
Even though Mr. Rumsfeld asked for the review, it appears that Mr. Tenet and his staff will control it. It is possible the review may lead to the first internal scrutiny of the role the new Pentagon team played in developing intelligence on Iraq in the months leading up to the war.
Several senior officials stressed that the fact that the review has started does not mean that the administration has given up hope of discovering more evidence of Iraq's unconventional weapons. At the Pentagon and C.I.A., officials believe that the Hussein government had so many years to hide its weapons that it will almost certainly take time to find them.
"They had 12 years of being real good deceivers," said one senior administration official. "This is going to be a long hard process.."
Senior American intelligence officials say they believe that the only plausible use for mobile laboratories that have recently been found in Iraq was for development of biological weapons, although they say they have not yet found any evidence that such weapons were recently produced. Some senior officials also say they still believe that they will eventually find chemical weapons.
But those same officials say that they have not yet found any new and conclusive evidence inside Iraq of connections between Mr. Hussein's government and Al Qaeda.
While the United States may still find such evidence, some current and former intelligence officials say it is becoming increasingly clear that the C.I.A., Pentagon and other agencies did not know as much about the status of Iraq's weapons programs and its ties to terrorists before the war as was previously believed.