Former CIA official: White House shaped and ignored intelligence on Iraq

If intellignce on Iraq had a "policy implication," it was "to avoid war -- or, if war was going to be launched, to prepare for a messy aftermath."

Published February 10, 2006 2:06PM (EST)

The Senate Republican Policy Committee put out a white paper Thursday aimed at debunking the "myths" being spread by critics of the president's use of prewar intelligence on Iraq.

One day later, it may be time for a rewrite already.

As Walter Pincus reports in today's Washington Post, a former CIA official who was, until last year, in charge of U.S. intelligence for the Middle East is providing a new insider's account of the ways in which the Bush administration shaped and/or ignored intelligence in order to justify a war it had long since decided to start.

Paul Pillar, the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, acknowledges in an upcoming edition of Foreign Affairs that intelligence on Iraq was flawed, but he says that it wasn't the flaws in intelligence that led to war. To the contrary, Pillar writes, the White House went down the road to war "without requesting -- and evidently without being influenced by -- any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq."

Pillar writes: "If the entire body of official intelligence analysis on Iraq had a policy implication, it was to avoid war -- or, if war was going to be launched, to prepare for a messy aftermath."

As Pincus explains, Pillar says that administration officials "subtly" shaped the intelligence they were getting by framing the questions they asked in ways that pointed toward the answers they wanted. Pillar says the CIA was "repeatedly" pressed to provide more information about the "supposed connection" between Iraq and al-Qaida, and that "feeding the appetite" for such material "consumed an enormous amount of time and attention."

And because intelligence officials came to understand that the White House had already decided to go to war, they knew that administration officials would "frown on or ignore analysis that called into question a decision to go to war and welcome analysis that supported such a decision." Pillar says that intelligence officials couldn't help but be swayed, even unconsciously, by pressure to come up with answers that would please their superiors. Still, he says that the intelligence community did make arguments about the risk of war -- arguments the Bush administration seems to have ignored along the way. Among them: It would take a massive effort to build a successful democracy in postwar Iraq, and any occupying force there would become a "target of resentment and attacks -- including guerrilla warfare -- unless it established security and put Iraq on the road to prosperity in the first few weeks or months after the fall of Saddam."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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