Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Bush Administration Manipulated Pre-War Intelligence

So says respected former CIA analyst Paul Pillar in the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs. Pillar's conclusions, based on his personal involvement and observations, are devastating. To me, these are the key passages:
The Bush administration's use of intelligence on Iraq did not just blur this distinction [between intelligence gathering and policymaking]; it turned the entire model upside down. The administration used intelligence not to inform decision-making, but to justify a decision already made. It went to war without requesting -- and evidently without being influenced by -- any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq. (The military made extensive use of intelligence in its war planning, although much of it was of a more tactical nature.) Congress, not the administration, asked for the now-infamous October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq's unconventional weapons programs, although few members of Congress actually read it. (According to several congressional aides responsible for safeguarding the classified material, no more than six senators and only a handful of House members got beyond the five-page executive summary.) As the national intelligence officer for the Middle East, I was in charge of coordinating all of the intelligence community's assessments regarding Iraq; the first request I received from any administration policymaker for any such assessment was not until a year into the war.
The Bush administration deviated from the professional standard not only in using policy to drive intelligence, but also in aggressively using intelligence to win public support for its decision to go to war. This meant selectively adducing data -- "cherry-picking" -- rather than using the intelligence community's own analytic judgments. In fact, key portions of the administration's case explicitly rejected those judgments. In an August 2002 speech, for example, Vice President Dick Cheney observed that "intelligence is an uncertain business" and noted how intelligence analysts had underestimated how close Iraq had been to developing a nuclear weapon before the 1991 Persian Gulf War. His conclusion -- at odds with that of the intelligence community -- was that "many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon."
People, the run-up to the war was marked by an astonishing series of lies and manipulations of the facts. This is nothing less than a national scandal, and the Pillar article deserves wide circulation. This is further proof that Bush and his people desired war with Iraq whatever the evidence showed. It is another piece in the picture of the most appalling, malicious, and incompetent administration in American history.

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