Pete Yost / Associated Press & Greg Miller and Julian E. Barnes / Los Angeles Times & & Walter Pincus and R. Jeffrey Smith / Washington Post – 2007-02-11 09:39:24
Trial Exposes White House Crisis Machine
Pete Yost / Associated Press
(February 9, 2007) — Dick Cheney, says he was taken aback when the White House started making public pronouncements about the CIA leak investigation.
In the fall of 2003, President Bush’s press secretary was categorically denying that either Karl Rove or I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was involved in exposing the identity of Valerie Plame, a CIA employee married to a critic of the war in Iraq.
“Why are you making these statements?” Addington asked White House communications director Dan Bartlett.
“Your boss is the one who wanted” them, Bartlett replied, referring to Cheney.
With that, “I shut up,” Addington recalled recently for jurors in Libby’s CIA leak trial, which begins its fourth week on Monday with Libby’s lawyers calling their first witnesses.
So far, the testimony of Addington and other administration aides, along with documents and Libby’s audiotaped grand jury testimony, have provided a rare glimpse of how the Bush White House scrambled to respond to a political crisis as it intersected a criminal investigation.
At the intersection was Cheney, along with Rove and Libby, who were working in the summer of 2003 to rebut claims by Plame’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, that Bush had misled the nation about prewar intelligence on Iraq.
The White House denials on behalf of Rove and Libby came just before Rove secretly began acknowledging to the FBI that he had confirmed Plame’s identity for conservative columnist Bob Novak, who first published her name and relationship to Wilson.
About the same time, Libby came under suspicion because NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert had talked to the FBI, contradicting Libby’s version of a conversation between the two men that would become the heart of the perjury and obstruction charges against Libby.
Bush and Cheney made a common mistake in their public handling of the Plame affair, says presidential scholar and University of Texas government professor Bruce Buchanan, who has watched Bush’s career since his days as Texas governor.
“They’re in a high-stakes game of poker, the immediate pressure is political and the people in charge are political people,” Buchanan said. “If there is a legal issue it will dawn, but by then someone is out on a limb.”
Testimony and documents in the trial show Rove joining Cheney in trying to undercut Wilson’s claim that the administration had twisted prewar intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.
“We’re a day late in getting responses to the story,” Rove told a staff meeting, according to Libby’s notes.
“Get the full story out,” Cheney told aides, according to Libby’s grand jury testimony.
There were glitches in the leak campaign against Wilson.
New York Times reporter Judith Miller never wrote a story about it, even after Cheney persuaded Bush to declassify prewar intelligence so it could be shared with Miller. The intelligence report said Iraq was vigorously trying to acquire uranium from the African nation of Niger.
“It was a totally failed effort,” Libby told the grand jury of his meetings with Miller.
But there were successes too.
Libby recalled asking Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to reach out to The Wall Street Journal.
“I don’t have as good a relationship with The Wall Street Journal as Secretary Wolfowitz did,” Libby told the grand jury. “I talked to Secretary Wolfowitz about trying to get that point across, and he undertook to do so.”
The Journal ran an editorial focusing on the theme Libby wanted. The editorial stated that the prewar intelligence the newspaper was describing had not come from the White House, “which to our mind has handled this story in a hamhanded fashion.”
In the Libby trial, Bush comes across mostly as an interested observer.
According to Libby’s notes, some of which surfaced at the trial, Bush expressed interest in a May 6, 2003 New York Times column critical of the administration and referencing an unnamed former ambassador, who turned out to be Wilson.
In questioning Libby before the grand jury, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald juxtaposed Bush’s public statements condemning leakers and Libby’s contacts with reporters, some of whom have testified against him.
“Were you at all concerned that while the president was stating that there’s no White House involvement in any leaks whatsoever, that you were one of the people who may have been referred to” in press reports about possible White House leakers? asked Fitzgerald.
In the grand jury recordings, the prosecutor also asked Libby about his interaction with Rove a few days before Novak exposed Plame’s CIA identity. Libby said Rove “was animated that Novak was animated about this.” Libby added that Rove “thought it was a good thing that somebody was writing about” Wilson and his wife.
Cheney told Libby early in the effort to deal with Wilson that his wife worked at the CIA. And while the Cheney-Libby team worked in lockstep attacking Wilson in July 2003, Libby said he faced a somewhat distant vice president when the affair came under investigation, first by the Justice Department, then by Fitzgerald.
Regarding his discussions with reporters about Wilson’s wife, “I would have been happy to unburden myself” to Cheney, Libby told the grand jury, but “he didn’t want to hear it.”
CIA Doubts Didn’t Deter Feith’s team
Intelligence agencies disagreed with many of its prewar findings
Greg Miller and Julian E. Barnes / Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON (February 10, 2007) — As the Bush administration began assembling its case for war, analysts across the US intelligence community were disturbed by the report of a secretive Pentagon team that concluded Iraq had significant ties to Al Qaeda.
Analysts from the CIA and other agencies “disagreed with more than 50%” of 26 findings the Pentagon team laid out in a controversial paper, according to testimony Friday from Thomas F. Gimble, acting inspector general of the Pentagon.
The dueling groups sat down at CIA headquarters in late August 2002 to try to work out their differences. But while the CIA agreed to minor modifications in some of its own reports, Gimble said, the Pentagon unit was utterly unbowed.
“They didn’t make the changes that were talked about in that August 20th meeting,” Gimble said, and instead went on to present their deeply flawed findings to senior officials at the White House.
The work of that special Pentagon unit — which was run by former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith — is one of the lingering symbols of the intelligence failures leading up to the war in Iraq.
The Bush administration’s primary justification for invading Iraq was always its assertion that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. But Iraq’s supposed ties to Al Qaeda — and therefore its connection to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — were an important secondary argument, and one that resonated with many Americans in the lead-up to the war with Iraq.
The CIA and many other intelligence agencies were wrong in their assessments of Iraq’s weapons programs. But the agency was always deeply skeptical about the ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda.
Most of the evidence that Feith’s Office of Special Plans cited in making its case for significant collaboration between Baghdad and Al Qaeda has crumbled under postwar scrutiny. The Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded that Saddam Hussein was so wary of the terrorist network that he barred anyone in his government from dealing with Al Qaeda.
Although the Pentagon Inspector General’s report released Friday did not address the accuracy of such assessments, it documented the unusual efforts by Defense Department policymakers to bypass regular intelligence channels and influence officials at the highest level of government.
Feith’s work was of critical importance to Vice President Dick Cheney, who once referred to the Pentagon team’s conclusions as the “best source” for understanding the relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda.
The activities of Feith’s group weren’t illegal, Gimble concluded. But they were, “in our opinion, inappropriate, given that the intelligence assessments were [presented as] intelligence products and did not clearly show the variance with the consensus of the intelligence community.”
The Pentagon team touted a series of claims that have not survived postwar review. Among them was the allegation that Mohammed Atta, the presumed ringleader of the Sept. 11 hijackers, had met with an Iraqi agent in Prague before the attacks.
A critical question raised by the inspector general’s report is whether Feith and his office were just critiquing CIA analysis, or were creating their own intelligence assessment, a role that is supposed to be left to the CIA and other intelligence agencies.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) noted Friday that Cheney has referred to Feith’s work as an “assessment,” suggesting it was a formal intelligence document. But Feith maintained in interviews he was not creating an intelligence “product,” but was just checking the work of the CIA.
Laurence H. Silberman, a semiretired U.S. appeals court judge and co-chairman of a presidential commission on Iraq’s weapons, said it is appropriate to question intelligence.
“Policymakers, whether they are in Defense, State, the White House or Congress, are absolutely entitled to question the intelligence community, look over the material and come up with their own views,” he said.
Feith’s work had the blessing of his boss, former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. The operation was set up at the behest of then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz with approval from Rumsfeld, Gimble noted. By most accounts, those three officials had distrust, if not disdain, for the work of the CIA and other intelligence agencies.
But Robert M. Gates, the new secretary of Defense and former CIA director, said that groups outside the CIA and other chartered intelligence agencies should not be involved in freelance analysis.
“Based on my whole career, I believe all intelligence activities need to be carried on by the established institutions, where there is appropriate oversight,” he told reporters traveling with him in Europe for meetings on security.
Gimble provided new details on the chain of events leading from the creation of the Feith team, through a series of briefings it made for senior officials and culminating in a presentation before deputies in the National Security Council at the White House.
The initial instruction to search for links between Iraq and Al Qaeda came from Wolfowitz in January 2002, Gimble said.
By that July, Feith had assembled a group of analysts detailed from other agencies to draft a document outlining evidence that the officials thought other agencies had ignored.
The team presented its findings to Rumsfeld on Aug. 8. Rumsfeld found it so compelling that he urged Feith to arrange a briefing for then-CIA Director George J. Tenet at the CIA. In the meantime, the team’s paper began to circulate among analysts at other agencies who took issue with more than half of its contents.
“There were like 26 points,” in the Feith team’s paper, Gimble said. “And essentially [experts at other agencies] disagreed with more than 50% of it, and either agreed or partially agreed with the remainder.”
When the team briefed Tenet and other senior CIA officials on Aug. 15, the audience was polite but unimpressed. Tenet described the meeting as “useful,” Gimble said, but “in our interviews with him he later said that he only said that it was ‘useful’ because he didn’t agree with it and he was just trying to, you know, nicely end the meeting.”
That encounter led to the “roundtable” meeting at the agency five days later where CIA experts urged the Pentagon unit to at least include footnotes acknowledging the long list of disagreements.
Nevertheless, the Pentagon team pressed on.
P.J. Crowley, a retired Air Force colonel and a senior fellow at the Center of American Progress, said that the intelligence peddled by Feith tainted the public dialogue.
“They weren’t creating intelligence, but they were assembling the pieces to create a rationale for war,” Crowley said. “Their production was discredited, but they had the desired effect. The little pieces ended up infecting the process.”
Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times
Official’s Key Report On Iraq Is Faulted
‘Dubious’ Intelligence Fueled Push for War
Walter Pincus and R. Jeffrey Smith / Washington Post
(February 9, 2007) — Intelligence provided by former undersecretary of defense Douglas J. Feith to buttress the White House case for invading Iraq included “reporting of dubious quality or reliability” that supported the political views of senior administration officials rather than the conclusions of the intelligence community, according to a report by the Pentagon’s inspector general.
Feith’s office “was predisposed to finding a significant relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda,” according to portions of the report, released yesterday by Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.). The inspector general described Feith’s activities as “an alternative intelligence assessment process.”
An unclassified summary of the full document is scheduled for release today in a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which Levin chairs. In that summary, a copy of which was obtained from another source by The Washington Post, the inspector general concluded that Feith’s assessment in 2002 that Iraq and al-Qaeda had a “mature symbiotic relationship” was not fully supported by available intelligence but was nonetheless used by policymakers.
At the time of Feith’s reporting, the CIA had concluded only that there was an “evolving” association, “based on sources of varying reliability.”
In a telephone interview yesterday, Feith emphasized the inspector general’s conclusion that his actions, described in the report as “inappropriate,” were not unlawful. “This was not ‘alternative intelligence assessment,’ ” he said. “It was from the start a criticism of the consensus of the intelligence community, and in presenting it I was not endorsing its substance.”
Feith, who was defense policy chief before leaving the government in 2005, was one of the key contributors to the administration’s rationale for war. His intelligence activities, authorized by then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, and coordinated with Vice President Cheney’s office, stemmed from an administration belief that the CIA was underplaying evidence of then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s ties with al-Qaeda.
In interviews with Pentagon investigators, the summary document said, Feith insisted that his activities did not constitute intelligence and that “even if they were, [they] would be appropriate given that they were responding to direction from the Deputy Secretary of Defense.”
The report was requested in fall 2005 by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), then chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Although the committee and a number of official inquiries had criticized the administration’s prewar intelligence, Democratic senators, led by Levin, demanded further investigation of Feith’s operation.
“The bottom line is that intelligence relating to the Iraq-al-Qaeda relationship was manipulated by high-ranking officials in the Department of Defense to support the administration’s decision to invade Iraq,” Levin said yesterday. “The inspector general’s report is a devastating condemnation of inappropriate activities in the DOD policy office that helped take this nation to war.”
The summary document confirmed a range of accusations that Levin had leveled against Feith’s office, alleging inaccurate work.
Feith’s office, it said, drew on “both reliable and unreliable” intelligence reports in 2002 to produce a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq “that was much stronger than that assessed by the IC [Intelligence Community] and more in accord with the policy views of senior officials in the Administration.”
It stated that the office produced intelligence assessments “inconsistent” with the U.S. intelligence community consensus, calling those actions “inappropriate” because the assessments purported to be “intelligence products” but were far more conclusive than the consensus view.
In particular, the summary cited the defense policy office’s preparation of slides describing as a “known contact” an alleged 2001 meeting in Prague between Mohamed Atta, the leader of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, and an Iraqi intelligence officer.
That claim figured heavily in statements by Cheney and other senior administration officials alleging a link between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi regime, but it has since been discredited.
Three versions of the briefing prepared by Feith’s office were presented in August and September 2002 — months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq — to I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, then Cheney’s chief of staff; Rumsfeld; and then-deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, the summary states.
But only “some of the information” in those briefings was “supported by available intelligence,” the summary said. The version of the briefing presented to senior Bush officials, it said, contained different information than a presentation to the CIA. Left out of the version for the CIA, the inspector general said, was “a slide that said there were ‘fundamental problems’ ” with the way the intelligence community was presenting the evidence.
While Pentagon officials said in responses cited in the summary that no senior policymakers mistook these briefings as “intelligence assessments,” the inspector general said that administration officials had indeed cited classified intelligence that allegedly documented a close al-Qaeda-Iraq relationship.
The policy office, the summary stated, “was inappropriately performing Intelligence Activities . . . that should be performed by the Intelligence Community.”
The summary recommended no action within the Defense Department because, it said, the current collaboration under new leadership at the Pentagon and the intelligence community “will significantly reduce the opportunity for the inappropriate conduct of intelligence activities outside intelligence channels.”
Staff writer Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.
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