Ex-CIA Official Faults Use of Data on Iraq
Ex-CIA Official Faults Use of Data on Iraq (Washington Post)
The former CIA official who coordinated U.S. intelligence on the Middle East until last year has accused the Bush administration of “cherry-picking” intelligence on Iraq to justify a decision it had already reached to go to war, and of ignoring warnings that the country could easily fall into violence and chaos after an invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
Paul R. Pillar, who was the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, acknowledges the U.S. intelligence agencies’ mistakes in concluding that Hussein’s government possessed weapons of mass destruction. But he said those misjudgments did not drive the administration’s decision to invade.
“Official intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs was flawed, but even with its flaws, it was not what led to the war,” Pillar wrote in the upcoming issue of the journal Foreign Affairs. Instead, he asserted, the administration “went to war without requesting — and evidently without being influenced by — any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq.”
“It has become clear that official intelligence was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made, that damaging ill will developed between [Bush] policymakers and intelligence officers, and that the intelligence community’s own work was politicized,” Pillar wrote.
Aside from his CIA career, Pillar is a Princeton Ph.D. and author of Terrorism and US Foreign Policy, so his credentials are unimpeachable. However, his argument here is not.
Like it or not, the intelligence community is a giant bureaucracy, so any President must rely on the highest-level advice he receives — in this case that was CIA Director George Tenet stating emphatically that the case for WMDs in Iraq was a “slam dunk.” Tenet was a Clinton administration holdover, so certainly no neocon lackey. When the director of the CIA says slam dunk, why would a President refuse to believe him? Furthermore, Clinton’s first CIA director, James Woolsey, had been making the argument that while no intel was perfect, there was a pattern of facts that pointed to Saddam Hussein either possessing or seeking to obtain WMDs (the latter has been clearly proven, in both the Duelfer Report as well as in Joe Wilson’s testimony to the Senate Select Committe on Intelligence).
But what Pillar suggests, as have countless others, is that there was ample evidence refuting the WMD intel but the Bush administration “cherry picked” that which pointed in the direction to war. There seems to be some truth to the notion that the administration listened more closely to intel that suggested a threat, but we can’t ignore that this occurred in the aftermath of September 11 — when the intelligence community (Pillar included) had ample information but failed to “connect the dots.”
In this light, the “rush” to go to war in Iraq was less a case of selectively using unreliable intel as it was the result of erring on the side of national security. Pillar may see that differently because he was a CIA insider, but his analysis here fails to recognize this broader national security lens through which the administration would have based its decisions.