Woolsey and Pre-War Intelligence

Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel have an interesting piece on the Knight-Ridder wire about former Clinton administration DCI James Woolsey’s role in making the case for the Iraq War.

Former CIA director used Pentagon ties to introduce Iraqi defector

A former CIA director who advocated war against Saddam Hussein helped arrange the debriefing of an Iraqi defector who falsely claimed that Iraq had biological-warfare laboratories disguised as yogurt and milk trucks. R. James Woolsey’s role as a go-between was detailed in a classified Defense Department report chronicling how the defector’s assertion came to be included in the Bush administration’s case for war even after the defector was determined to be a fabricator. A senior U.S. official summarized portions of the report for Knight Ridder on condition of anonymity because it’s top secret. The report said that on Feb. 11, 2002, Woolsey telephoned Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Linton Wells about the defector and told him how to contact the man, who’d been produced by an Iraqi exile group eager to oust Saddam. Wells said he passed the information to the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Woolsey’s previously undisclosed role in the case of Maj. Mohammad Harith casts new light on how prominent invasion advocates outside the government used their ties to senior officials in the Bush administration to help make the case for war. There’s no indication that Woolsey was aware that Harith’s information was unreliable. By using his Pentagon contacts, Woolsey provided a direct pipeline to the government for Harith’s information that bypassed the CIA, which for years had been highly distrustful of the exile group that produced Harith.

The Senate Intelligence Committee didn’t address that issue last week in its 511-page report on Iraq intelligence. The report largely blamed the CIA for hyping and misreading intelligence that buttressed President Bush’s charges that Saddam had devastating weapons that he could use against the United States or give to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist network. Francis Brooke, Washington representative of the Iraqi National Congress, the exile group that produced Harith and other defectors, said intermediaries such as Woolsey and former Pentagon official Richard Perle, another leading war advocate, contacted the Bush administration multiple times on the INC’s behalf. Such referrals were an efficient way to get potentially crucial intelligence to the government, Brooke said. He stressed that the INC made no claims about the defectors’ veracity and it was up to U.S. officials to decide whether to use their information.

The Senate Intelligence Committee assessed the Harith case and found that intelligence analysts thought his claim was crucial in appearing to corroborate allegations by another defector, code-named Curve Ball, the main source of claims that Iraq had developed mobile biological-weapons facilities to deceive U.N. weapons inspectors. The allegation was one of the most dramatic made by Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell and other senior administration officials. The Senate committee’s report said Harith, whom it identified only as an “INC source,” was brought to the DIA’s attention “by Washington-based representatives of the INC in February 2002.”


Woolsey was among the most outspoken advocates outside of government for invading Iraq. In television appearances and in articles, he suggested that Saddam’s Iraq was behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the subsequent anthrax poisonings. He has also been critical of the CIA’s intelligence-gathering on Iraq. “We can work a lot more closely with Iraqi defectors. The Defense Department has been willing to do that,” he said in a September 2002 television appearance. “The State Department and the CIA have been somewhat reluctant.”


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.