Wash. Times "History lessons" falsely "absolv[ed]" Bush of Iraq intelligence distortions

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

The final installment of The Washington Times' months-long series of opinion pieces aimed at "counter[ing]" the "disingenuous charge" that the Bush administration manipulated intelligence in justifying the 2003 invasion of Iraq included "excerpts from two bipartisan reports" that the Times claimed "absolv[e] the president and his staff of these opportunistic accusations." But National Journal investigative reporter Murray Waas, in two recent articles, has further offered evidence that Bush and his aides did, in fact, knowingly twist and manipulate intelligence reports to build the case for war, and then covered up their actions.

The final installment of The Washington Times' daily "History lessons" -- a months-long series of opinion pieces aimed at "counter[ing]" the "disingenuous charge" that the Bush administration manipulated intelligence in justifying the 2003 invasion of Iraq -- included "excerpts from two bipartisan reports" that the Times claimed "absolv[e] the president and his staff of these opportunistic accusations." However, the excerpts the Times highlighted -- from "Phase One" of the Senate Intelligence Committee's "Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq" and the report by the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (better known as the Robb-Silberman commission) -- do no such thing. Both commissions found that the administration had not pressured the intelligence community to arrive at certain conclusions -- a conclusion disputed by some in the intelligence community -- but neither investigated whether the administration had skewed or manipulated intelligence on its own.

Moreover, National Journal investigative reporter Murray Waas, in two recent articles, has offered evidence that Bush and his aides did, in fact, knowingly twist and manipulate intelligence reports to build the case for war, and then covered up their actions.

From the March 31 Washington Times "History lessons":

In November, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) accused the Bush administration of having been "engaged in a pattern of manipulation of the facts and retribution against anyone who had gotten in its way as it made its case for attacking, for invading Iraq." Our daily feature, "History lessons," began shortly thereafter, as a way to counter this disingenuous charge and remind those making it not only of their previous assessments of Saddam Hussein's weapons programs, but also of previous administrations' assessments. We close "History lessons" today with excerpts from two bipartisan reports absolving the president and his staff of these opportunistic accusations.

  • Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, July 9, 2004: "The Committee did not find any evidence that Administration officials attempted to coerce, influence, or pressure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities."

  • Committee on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (Robb-Silberman), March 31, 2005: "The Commission found no evidence of political pressure to influence the Intelligence Community's pre-war assessments of Iraq's weapons programs. As we discuss in detail in the body of the report, analysts universally asserted that in no instance did political pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgments."

However, as Media Matters for America has noted, neither commission absolved the Bush administration of "manipulat[ing] the facts," as Reid stated on November 1, 2005. As the quotes the Times provided clearly indicate, both commissions found that the administration had not pressured the intelligence community's Iraq assessments. In fact, it was "Phase Two" of the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation -- which has yet to be completed -- that was supposed to examine whether the administration had manipulated intelligence. The report of the Robb-Silberman commission explicitly states in its overview that it was not charged with investigating the administration's use or misuse of pre-war intelligence: "[W]e were not authorized to investigate how policymakers used the intelligence assessments they received from the Intelligence Community." Also, the conclusions of these two investigations have been challenged by senior intelligence officials.

Additionally, the Times' claim that it is "disingenuous" to accuse the Bush administration of manipulating intelligence ignores clear evidence, most recently in reporting by Waas, that indicates Bush and his aides were privately aware of sharp disagreements within the intelligence community over evidence of Iraq's WMD programs but publicly presented that same evidence as definitive in justifying the war. In a March 2 National Journal article, Waas reported that "a one-page summary of a National Intelligence Estimate" on Iraq's "procurement of high-strength aluminum tubes," delivered to Bush in October 2002, "stated that the Energy Department and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research believed that the tubes were 'intended for conventional weapons,' a view at odds with that of other intelligence agencies, including the CIA, which believed that the tubes were intended for a nuclear bomb." As Media Matters has noted, two separate government inquiries later determined that there was little cause to believe the tubes were intended for use in a nuclear weapons program.

Waas explained the significance of this revelation:

The disclosure that Bush was informed of the DOE and State dissents is the first evidence that the president himself knew of the sharp debate within the government over the aluminum tubes during the time that he, Cheney, and other members of the Cabinet were citing the tubes as clear evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program. Neither the president nor the vice president told the public about the disagreement among the agencies.

Waas further noted a second report, delivered to Bush in January 2003, in which "U.S. intelligence agencies unanimously agreed that it was unlikely that Saddam would try to attack the United States -- except if 'ongoing military operations risked the imminent demise of his regime' or if he intended to 'extract revenge' for such an assault." Waas also noted: "On at least four earlier occasions, beginning in the spring of 2002 ... the president was informed during his morning intelligence briefing that U.S. intelligence agencies believed it was unlikely that Saddam was an imminent threat to the United States."

Once again, Waas explained the significance of these reports:

However, in the months leading up to the war, Bush, Cheney, and Cabinet members repeatedly asserted that Saddam was likely to use chemical or biological weapons against the United States or to provide such weapons to Al Qaeda or another terrorist group.

In his March 30 National Journal article, Waas, citing "government records and interviews," reported that in the summer of 2003, White House senior adviser Karl Rove and then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley took affirmative steps to conceal the fact that Bush had been apprised of the intelligence community's disagreements over Iraq's WMD capabilities prior to the war. According to Waas, Rove and Hadley took these steps out of fear that Bush's chances for re-election in 2004 would have been "severely damaged":

Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser, cautioned other White House aides in the summer of 2003 that Bush's 2004 re-election prospects would be severely damaged if it was publicly disclosed that he had been personally warned that a key rationale for going to war had been challenged within the administration. Rove expressed his concerns shortly after an informal review of classified government records by then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley determined that Bush had been specifically advised that claims he later made in his 2003 State of the Union address -- that Iraq was procuring high-strength aluminum tubes to build a nuclear weapon -- might not be true, according to government records and interviews.

[...]

But Hadley and other administration officials realized that it would be much more difficult to shield Bush from criticism for his statements regarding the aluminum tubes, for several reasons.

For one, Hadley's review concluded that Bush had been directly and repeatedly apprised of the deep rift within the intelligence community over whether Iraq wanted the high-strength aluminum tubes for a nuclear weapons program or for conventional weapons.

For another, the president and others in the administration had cited the aluminum tubes as the most compelling evidence that Saddam was determined to build a nuclear weapon -- even more than the allegations that he was attempting to purchase uranium.

And finally, full disclosure of the internal dissent over the importance of the tubes would have almost certainly raised broader questions about the administration's conduct in the months leading up to war.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Intelligence, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
The Washington Times
Stories/Interests
Prewar Intelligence/WMD
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