The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date: November 7, 2003
Betrayal of trust
A former intelligence officer looks at how the U.S. was misled into supporting a preemptive war
By CHARLES N. DAVIS
To an intelligence analyst, Sad-dams strategy prior to the second Gulf war was extremely puzzling. It now appears that he destroyed Iraqs nuclear capabilities in the 1990s and maintained only an embryonic chemical and biological weapons program. While Iraqs military was lacking in usable weapons of mass destruction, Saddams actions and propaganda seemed designed to give the impression that he had robust WMD capabilities.
On the U.S. side, after the terrorist attack of 9/11, it appears that the current Bush administration was determined to invade Iraq because of the belief that Saddam would supply terrorists with WMD. The administration could not -- or would not -- trust the analysis of its own intelligence community that did not show a tie between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government.
The long-standing divergence of views between current U.S. policy makers and the CIA is now well-known. As James Risen wrote Oct. 6 in The New York Times:
Although the U.N. inspections in 2002 did not find any WMD, there was no proof of elimination. Thus, no respectable intelligence analyst, at the beginning of 2003, would have advised any policymaker that Iraq did not still have significant, hidden WMD capabilities.
Yet, despite the belief Iraq had WMD, there was no reason for anyone to assume that massive retaliation -- the fear that any use of WMD by Iraq against its neighbors would not be countered by massive retaliation by the West -- would not have deterred Saddam from using these weapons.
Nonetheless, the current Bush administration asserted that not only did Iraq have nuclear weapons but these could be supplied to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda -- who would use them against the United States. This was a gross overstatement. However, since administration spokes-persons presented the case in terms that made it appear to reflect valid intelligence, it persuaded me and many others to write that the threat was real and a U.S. pre-emptive attack was justified.
The director of the CIA was recently criticized for not correcting this assertion when the administration originally made the charge public. A Sept. 25 letter to CIA Director George Tenant by the leaders of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence criticizes the judgment that there was sufficient information to link Iraq with al-Qaeda and that if public officials cite intelligence incorrectly, the intelligence community had a responsibility to go back to that policymaker -- those in the Bush administration -- and make clear that the public statement mischaracterized the available intelligence.
In addition to making a false connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda, the Bush administration worked hard to inflate Iraqs potential to develop nuclear weapons.
In the most bizarre event in my over 40 years of working in national intelligence or writing about it after retirement, the administration betrayed one of its own undercover agents because her husband, retired Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, had exposed the misstatements of the president in his 2003 State of the Union speech.
The upshot of revelations of the politicization of intelligence and the retaliation of the administration against one of its own clandestine agents and her husband -- an act which administration spokespersons seem blithely to refer to as a leak -- have almost certainly estranged the intelligence community against current U.S. policymakers.
The Washington Posts editorial of Oct. 5 concerning the report of David Kay, the leader of the current U.S. hunt for Iraqs WMD, said the following: The Bush administration and Congress have a more urgent task: to discover and explain why some of the most significant estimates of Iraqs weapons were false. The task is crucial not just because the United States stands to suffer a major loss of credibility and influence if governments around the world conclude that the president made his case against Iraq on the basis of faulty or falsified intelligence. It is also important because the U.S. intelligence community, which developed and stood behind many of the assessments, cannot afford to be so wrong about a country as important as Iraq. In an era of large dangers and small weapons, will the CIA know when a threat is next developing? And when Mr. Bush says such a threat exists, will other nations or his own people believe him?
To this day, some in the administration are trying to keep alive a tie between al-Qaeda and Saddam in the mind of the public. Maureen Dowd of The New York Times writes: Even after the president was forced to admit after Mr. Cheneys last appearance on Meet the Press last month that the link the vice president drew between Saddam and 9/11 did not actually exist, that did not deter Mr. Cheney. In a speech given on Oct. 19, Cheney repeatedly tied Saddam and 9/11 and said, all evidence to the contrary, that the secular Iraqi leader had an established relationship with al-Qaeda. In her Oct. 12 op-ed in The New York Times, Dowd called the vice presidents speech a masterpiece of demagogy.
Despite the politicization of intelligence, we need to stay the course. The United States betrayed the Iraqi people at the end of the first Gulf war by giving them the impression that it would back them if they were to rise up to overthrow Saddam. A U.S. pullout now would allow the country to revert to the tender mercies of the survivors of Saddams regime -- a second betrayal. It would also detract from our capacity to affect other pressing security situations in Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea.
But for the American people to continue to try to win the peace, they need to see a pragmatic, strategically optimistic, morally serious plan to get behind (Thomas Friedman, The New York Times, Sept. 28).
So far, this has been lacking.
A footnote: David E. Sanger writes that new intelligence estimates that North Korea may have produced one or two nuclear weapons in recent months -- or perhaps more -- have immersed the administration in another internal debate about the quality of intelligence about illegal weapons (The New York Times, Oct. 14).
Here we go again.
Charles N. Davis served in the Defense Intelligence Agency and on the National Intelligence Council from 1962 through 1992.
National Catholic Reporter, November 7, 2003
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