TOPICS > Politics

Pentagon Report Finds War Intelligence Flawed But Lawful

February 9, 2007 at 5:10 PM EDT

KWAME HOLMAN: In a small committee room on Capitol Hill, the issue of pre-Iraq war intelligence again was at the center of a partisan debate. This time, it was the contentious matter of the relationship between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, and how strongly a group inside the Pentagon was pushing that idea.

It became a central selling point for the 2003 invasion.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: We know that Iraq and the al-Qaida terrorist network share a common enemy: the United States of America. We know that Iraq and al-Qaida have had high-level contacts that go back a decade.

DONALD RUMSFELD, Former U.S. Secretary of Defense: We do have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al-Qaida members, including some that have been in Baghdad.

KWAME HOLMAN: But more than four years later, with mounting American and Iraqi casualties, a Pentagon report raised new questions about the reliability of that intelligence and how it was collected and distributed to top officials.

The Defense Department’s acting inspector general, Thomas Gimble, was highly critical of the Pentagon’s planning office, led by then-Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith. Gimble testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

THOMAS GIMBLE, Acting Inspector General, Department of Defense: We found that the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy developed, produced and then disseminated alternative intelligence assessments on Iraq and al-Qaida relations, which included conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus of the intelligence community, and these were presented to senior decision-makers.

While such actions are not illegal or unauthorized, the actions, in our opinion, were inappropriate, given that all the products did not clearly show the variance with the consensus of the intel community and, in some cases, were shown as intel products.

A 'devastating' report

KWAME HOLMAN: Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin said the report confirmed his finding of three years ago that Bush administration officials pushed an Iraq-al-Qaida relationship that was not supported by other intelligence data. He called the inspector general's report "devastating."

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), Michigan: Did the intelligence community agree with the following Feith conclusion, that it was known that Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker, and an Iraq intelligence agent met in Prague in April 2001?

THOMAS GIMBLE: There was a difference. The intelligence community thought that that was not a verifiable meeting. And, subsequently, it was proven that it did not occur. But prior to that, there was questions as to whether it did or didn't. It was not as presented.

KWAME HOLMAN: Levin also wanted to know if Feith's analysis agreed with that of other agencies, including the CIA and the FBI.

THOMAS GIMBLE: Did the intelligence community agree? No, they did not.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: You have found -- your report -- that the intelligence community did not agree with the Feith findings and its alternative intelligence assessment presented to the highest policymakers in this country.

And I will stand by the statement that, this is devastating, because, without the knowledge of the intelligence community, we have an alternative intelligence analysis being presented on war-or-no-war issues, whether or not the people who attacked us on 9/11 had a connection to Saddam Hussein.

These issues are as critical as any issues I have ever seen in the intelligence community. What is more devastating than a commentary, that we had the second route of intelligent assessments going to the vice president of the United States and the National Security Council?

Disagreement over findings

KWAME HOLMAN: Previous inquiries, including an investigation by the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, have concluded there was no link between Iraq and the 2001 attacks. Today, however, committee Republicans countered that, in the run-up to the war, there was widespread disagreement about that question and that Feith's office simply compiled existing intelligence from various agencies.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), Georgia: I'm trying to figure out why we're here. We're beating this horse one more time. But let me see if I can, Mr. Gimble, get the record straight. Did the Office of Special Planning at the Department of Defense gather any intelligence?

THOMAS GIMBLE: They had access to intelligence databases and...

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: Did they gather any intelligence?

THOMAS GIMBLE: You mean like in a...

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: Mr. Gimble, did they gather any intelligence? It's a simple question.

THOMAS GIMBLE: No, they did not go out and do first-source gathering.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: So they did not gather intelligence. They analyzed intelligence that had been gathered by the CIA, the DIA, our intelligence community. Is that correct?

THOMAS GIMBLE: That's correct.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), Alabama: Mr. Gimble, isn't it true that this -- some staffers in Mr. Feith's shop found some information in the intelligence gathered by our intelligence-gathering agencies that indicated on the surface that there was a connection between Iraq and al-Qaida?

THOMAS GIMBLE: They did find the information that they concluded that there was.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: I'm just trying to put myself in Mr. Feith's shop. His staffers come to him and say, "We found some references to connections between Iraq and al-Qaida, and it's not in the FBI report." Isn't that basically what they briefed the secretary of defense about and pointed out some other things that hadn't been brought forth in the intelligence community summary of the facts?

My impression is that they found things that showed a connection that was not referred to in the intelligence community summary and that they felt at least should have been referred to. And they shared that with the secretary of defense.

And the secretary of defense said, "Well, why don't you go over, and talk to the CIA, and talk to them about it, and find out what the facts are?" Isn't that basically what happened, in those steps?

THOMAS GIMBLE: They did. They went over and...


THOMAS GIMBLE: ... and the intel agencies disagreed with them.

I think that the information was all out there. It's just how you interpret it. You know, intelligence is not an art, and I think that was said earlier. It's not an art. They did not show the other dissenting side.

And I go back. The only thing we said in our report is this, is that it's legitimate to have disagreements. There is a vetting process in the intelligence community to work those disagreements.

And you may still have disagreements at the end of the day, but it's probably responsible, in my own personal opinion, it's responsible for someone, if you have differences of opinion, that you show both sides of it so the decision-makers know that the disagreements are out there and they can do their own assessment.

KWAME HOLMAN: A long-awaited report by the Senate Intelligence Committee on whether there was political manipulation of pre-war intelligence still has not been scheduled for release.

Shields and Brooks react

JIM LEHRER: Now, reaction to this hearing today now from Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

What's going on here? How do you see this thing, David?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: Well, it's the partisan game show to me. I mean, we are in the most crucial period recently for the Iraq war, where the Senate behind the scenes is having furious discussions on what long-term strategy to proceed, to deliver.

Do we have a debate on the Senate floor about this? No. Instead, the Armed Services Committee spends a day talking about a story about something that happened four or five years ago, about a guy, Doug Feith, who has been out of office for two years, about something that's been covered in the 9/11 Commission report, and about 300 other books that have come out subsequently about whether he represented intelligence fairly, about one thing which is not even the main cause for going to the war, which was the WMDs.

And this is what they choose to have a fight over. It's just -- to me, this is a matter for historians, something that's been covered many times. And I think it's pretty well-established.

And I completely accept the Gimble finding that Feith's office did not represent what was in the intelligence community accurately. But why this is of such importance now, frankly, is beyond me.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, why? How would you answer that?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: It's of urgent importance, because it got us into war, and it's how we got into war. This wasn't cooking the books about appropriations by Congress; this was about war and peace.

This was reinforcing what the vice president of the United States used as a premise, and that was that Iraq had been involved with al-Qaida on 9/11. They fabricated a meeting; there was no meeting; there was never a meeting.

JIM LEHRER: The Mohammed Atta meeting.

MARK SHIELDS: Mohamed Atta in Prague in April 2001. It didn't stop there, Jim. It went to William Safire in the New York Times; it went to Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard; it went to Bill Kristol in the Weekly Standard; it went to Michael Barone.

It went right through the entire right-wing press machine, beating the drums of war. And this became one of the causes.

The argument was that Saddam Hussein had been involved in the attack on the United States. And this was worse than cooking the books. I mean, this was really -- these people have -- I hope they understand their conscience, that they are -- they played an instrumental part in going to war.


DAVID BROOKS: Nobody said that Saddam was involved in planning the attack on 9/11. Some people of significance did say that there had been this meeting in Prague with Atta. That was not a fabrication; that was something they sincerely believed.

And there was some intelligence out there: It turned out probably not to be true.

The third thing was the main cause for going to war was the WMDs. That was a much huger intelligence failure than this failure. This was a tertiary or fourth-level issue. The WMDs was the big issue; that was the primary cause for going to war.

But we're here now. We're at this moment now, where we're trying to figure out what to do with Iraq. Why are we having something about Doug Feith, who's been out of office for two or three years?

MARK SHIELDS: Because this is how we got into the war. The vice president is still there. This was the vice president; the vice president wanted this information.

This was his -- David, this was the contention that Safire made. It was a justification for going to war. This was a justification that Fred Barnes made for going to war, was that, if they had been involved in 9/11, that was the case to go to war. That's how serious it is.

JIM LEHRER: Having cleared this up, we're going to come back and talk about some other things later in the program, Mark and David. Thank you both.