Barone misrepresented Senate report to assert possible Al Qaeda-Iraq connection

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

Michael Barone claimed that the Senate Intelligence Committee's 2004 report on prewar intelligence assessments of Iraq showed "that the CIA did obtain evidence of an al-Qaida-Saddam relationship from foreign intelligence and open sources." In fact, the report was critical of the U.S. intelligence community for using foreign sources too heavily, and it concluded that the CIA "reasonably assessed" that contacts between Saddam and Al Qaeda "did not add up to an established formal relationship."

In his March 6 nationally syndicated column, U.S. News & World Report senior writer Michael Barone claimed that the Senate Intelligence Committee's 2004 "Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq" showed "that the CIA did obtain evidence of an al-Qaida-Saddam relationship from foreign intelligence and open sources." In fact, the report specifically criticized the U.S. intelligence community for "rel[ying] too heavily on foreign government services and third party reporting" when it was determining whether a possible relationship existed between Saddam Hussein and terrorist groups prior to the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Also, the report concluded that the CIA "reasonably assessed" that contacts between Saddam and Al Qaeda "did not add up to an established formal relationship."

In his March 6 column, Barone wrote:

Case in point: Paul Pillar, CIA national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, now retired, writing in the most recent Foreign Affairs magazine. The "greatest discrepancy between the administration's public statements and the intelligence community's judgments concerned not WMD (there was indeed a broad consensus that such programs existed), but the relationship between Saddam and al-Qaida. The enormous attention devoted to this subject did not reflect any judgment by intelligence officials that there was or was likely to be anything like the 'alliance' the administration said existed." But the Senate Intelligence Committee report showed that the CIA did obtain evidence of an al-Qaida-Saddam relationship from foreign intelligence and open sources.

That's not surprising. CIA Director George Tenet in October 2002 told Congress of "growing indications of a relationship with al-Qaida." And of course evidence of contacts between al-Qaida and Saddam's regime went back to the 1990s and were cited, without murmur of dissent, by President Bill Clinton.

The conclusions of the Intelligence Committee report, however, do not support Barone's assertion:

Conclusion 10. The Intelligence Community relies too heavily on foreign government services and third party reporting, thereby increasing the potential for manipulation of U.S. policy by foreign interests.

Due to the lack of unilateral sources on Iraq's links to terrorist groups like al-Qaida [DELETED], the Intelligence Community (IC) relied too heavily on foreign government service reporting and sources to whom it did not have direct access to determine the relationship between Iraq and [DELETED] terrorist groups. While much of this reporting was credible, the IC left itself open to possible manipulation by foreign governments and other parties interested in influencing U.S. policy. The Intelligence Community's collectors must develop and recruit unilateral sources with direct access to terrorist groups to confirm, complement or confront foreign government service reporting on these critical targets.

[...]

Conclusion 93. The Central Intelligence Agency reasonably assessed that there were likely several instances of contacts between Iraq and al-Qaida throughout the 1990s, but that these contacts did not add up to an established formal relationship.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Terrorism, War in Iraq
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Townhall.com
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Michael Barone
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