Prewar intelligence, or when "inappropriate" looks pretty good

An inspector general's report says the Pentagon used unreliable intel to satisfy the Bush administration's craving for an Iraq-al-Qaida connection.

By Tim Grieve
Published February 9, 2007 2:03PM (EST)

A new inspector general's report says the man Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney's office authorized to provide an "alternative" prewar intelligence estimate used "reporting of dubious quality or reliability" in order to tell senior Bush administration officials exactly what they wanted to hear about Iraq and al-Qaida.

The report, parts of which have been obtained by the Washington Post, says that Doug Feith and his office were "predisposed to finding a significant relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda" and -- surprise of surprises -- claimed to find exactly that. Feith's office concluded that there was a "mature symbiotic relationship" between al-Qaida and the government of Saddam Hussein -- a conclusion, the report says, 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."

Among those officials: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who continued to insist, long after the war in Iraq had begun, that there was, in Cheney's words, "overwhelming evidence" of a relationship between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida.

Sen. Carl Levin, who will hold a hearing today centered on the inspector general's report, calls its conclusions a "very damning" portrait of a Pentagon that manipulated intelligence in order to make a case for war. As for Feith? He tells CNN that the report is "bizarre" and "quibbling," and he emphasizes in an interview with the Post that the inspector general has concluded that his activities were "inappropriate" but not unlawful.

Which means that it's time to remember, once again, what a fellow named George W. Bush said back in 2001. Cue the tape, Snerdly: "We must always ask ourselves not only what is legal, but what is right."

Tim Grieve

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

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