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.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Middle East, National Security, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , ,
Leopold Stotch
About Leopold Stotch
“Dr. Leopold Stotch” was the pseudonym of political science professor then at a major research university inside the beltway. He has a PhD in International Relations. He contributed 165 pieces to OTB between November 2004 and February 2006.


  1. Olrnf says:

    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.

    Give me a break! His credentials are far from “unimpeachable.” Princeton, is one of the most elite liberal schools in the country. He probably did his dissertation under Cornel West, Toni Morrison, and Paul Krugman–all liberal bed-wetter professors there.

    He is clearly a Democratic stooge who is trying to parlay his “criticism” into sales of his book. Next thing you know, he is going to show up on the cover of Vanity Fair with his stripper wife.

  2. 3moreyears says:

    I wonder how many more “unimpeachable” sources have to tell you the same thing before you will listen?

    Pillar has done a pretty good job of showing what Bush, and Cheney in particular, wanted and how they got it. You should spend some more time thinking about the section where he says that they weren’t looking for information as to whether or not we should go to war but rather looking for info to justify a foregone conclusion that we were GOING to war.

    You seem to be accepting this as ok! Didn’t the POTUS stand up in front of all America and state that war would be the LAST option, that we would work hard for a diplomatic solution? Well if he knew then that were we going to attack anyway, then he was just flat out lying to us, the congress and the world. I’m glad you’re ok with that. I for one am not!

    Bring HONOR back to the White House my ass!

  3. 3moreyears says:


    You may choose the tried and true method of attacking anyone who presents an opposing view to the WH(hmmm, isn’t there another case investigating that very thing?), but I think you may find yourself standing alone in due time.

  4. Lokki says:

    Well, uhm –

    Anyone who has ever worked high enough in a company to touch the executive decision making process will tell you that you’ll always be able to find many, many lower level executives who warned against (decision x), and who generated reports, and statistics, and memos explaining why (decision x) was a terrible idea.

    I’ve sat at many a meeting where weeks of staff work were left unread on the table while the big 3 or 4 worked off their memories of discussions with other executives.

    The world, continues to turn somehow, and in our case, continues to make money.

    So, the fact that this guys memos didn’t go forward means…. nothing

  5. Herb says:

    Well, what do you know, another political appointee “Bureaucrat” who is an “Expert” on everything within the CIA.

    I wonder when his “Book” will be published.

    These wannabe heros just make you sick with their “true faith and allegence” to America.

    They would sell their own mothers if it would make a headline.

  6. 3moreyears says:

    Hmmm, let’s see, 28 years at the CIA, just another political appointee? Get a grip Herb! Quit apologizing for these jerks and start asking WHAT and WHY? Oh, I get it, it’s the CIA’s fault now. Cool.

  7. Bithead says:

    The battles between the CIA and the bush administration, and the bush family and general for that matter, have become something of a legend. on that basis alone any data with regards to arise from an ex- CIA official is automatically suspect.

  8. 3More:

    I like Leopold’s analysis better than yours. After 9/11, and given the at best suspicious behavior of Saddam and his thugs, even a 20% chance that he had WMD’s and was prepared to use them was enough to make the move. We simply could have not taken the chance.

    I trust that the next President, be he Republican or Democrat, will make the same kind of calculation were s/he presented with the same options.

  9. Randall says:

    Bush, like a lot of other peopele, believed Hussein had WMD and decided that taking him out, after 12 years, was the right thing to do.

    I think he believed that resolution 1441 (?) would call Hussein’s bluff, and was caught off guard when Hussein acquiesced. Therefore, the lie was not the claim Hussein had WMD. The lie was the claim that Hussein could have saved his regime by cooperating with the U.N.

  10. Herb says:


    Thats all the time left until you get beat again 3more. Don’t take it so hard. I am pleased that you don’t recognize a disgruntled employee when you see one, but then again maybe he’s just trying to promote his book, I understand that he has written one. 28 years as a bureaucrat, and just think, you helped pay his salary while he sat around thinking he knew more than anyone else. It is the fault of the CIA for having such a jerk working for them for so long, you are the one that had better “get a grip” and have joy in the fact that another Republican Presdent is only 3 years away.

  11. 3moreyears says:

    Wow, I guess I was just soooo wrong. Bush IS perfect in every way! You guys have been right all along.


  12. Sven says:

    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 supposedly made this remark in response to doubts by Bush in December 2002, after three months of unequivocal statements from the administration about the existence of WMD and after it pushed Congress and the UN for war resolutions.


    BTW, I have a lead on some prime beachfront property in Hoboken. Interested?

  13. Jem says:

    As the NIO for NESA, Dr. Pillar was in charge of a small staff of folks who manage the development of National Intelligence Estimates in that area. He was not the guy running the CIA’s Iraq analysis efforts on a day-to-day basis. He was also not the NIO most centrally concerned with weapons of mass destruction (that would be the NIO for WMD and Proliferation). I don’t know off-hand when there were NIEs or similar analyses written on Iraq, but it was a fairly common topic in the daily reports the Director and President’s Daily Brief team would have provided to the President. So, it was not just Tenent’s opinions that reached the President, but those of a large number of analysts who worked the Iraq proliferation account full-time.

    There was a variance of opinion within the Intelligence Community regarding the likelihood that the Hussein government possessed chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. There was a pretty strong consensus, though, that Hussein wanted them and would develop/acquire them if he could.

  14. Herb Ely says:

    When the President is decciding to go to war there is a big difference between possessing and seeking to obtain WMD. A careful reading of the October 2002 demonstrates a community consensus for the latter. Even Bush questioned the strength of the case – provoking Tenet’s assurance that it was a “slam dunk”. There were many reasons to believe that Saddam was on his way – again – to possessing WMD. Even if possession had been shown there should have been another question asked. Possessing them, however, is one thing. Having a military organized and trained to use them is another. The NIE, at least the unclassified version, never even addressed the question of Iraqi readiness to use WMD.

  15. Jem says:

    Oh, one more thing. It is simply a lie for Dr. Pillar to claim the Administration

    “went to war without requesting — and evidently without being influenced by — any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq.”

    There was an NIE (the famous one that was declassified and whose excerpts can be read at this location) written in October 2002 that directly pertains to at least one of the key issues at hand.

    Clearly, this article was not the finest analysis of Dr. Pillar’s distinguished career.

  16. G A PHILLIPS says:

    Dudes a libreal is a walking , talking lie. You know nothing, and unless you change you never will. Once again, 17 of your useless resolusions, (threats without action is useless)how many Iraqis had to die because of the lack of backbone the liberals from around the world that you have assembeled at that great turd pile that you call the UNSC. how naive, or better yet how proud you are to be naive, if you think your hero Saddam had no WMD’s your just mindless. We should have crushed his ass after the first warning,(resolution)or better yet the fist time one of your hero’s little missle punks shot at one of our jets, but no we had another jackass in office that was too busy having sex and and taking credit for doing nothing. Dude grow up and stop the hate.