Pentagon Group Criticized for Prewar Intelligence Analysis
WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 — A Pentagon investigation into the handling of prewar intelligence has criticized civilian Pentagon officials for conducting their own intelligence analysis to find links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, but said the officials did not violate any laws or mislead Congress, according to Congressional officials who have read the report.
The long-awaited report by the Pentagon’s acting inspector general, Thomas F. Gimble, was sent to Congress on Thursday. It is the first major review to rebuke senior officials working for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for the way intelligence was used before the invasion of Iraq early in 2003.
Working under Douglas J. Feith, who at the time was under secretary of defense for policy, the group “developed, produced and then disseminated alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and Al Qaeda relationship, which included some conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus of the Intelligence Community, to senior decision-makers,” the report concluded. Excerpts were quoted by Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who has long been critical of Mr. Feith and other Pentagon officials.
The report, and the dueling over its conclusions, shows that bitter divisions over the handling of prewar intelligence remain even after many of the substantive questions have been laid to rest and the principal actors have left the government.
In a rebuttal to an earlier draft of Mr. Gimble’s report, Eric S. Edelman, the under secretary of defense, said the group’s activities were authorized by Mr. Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz. They did not produce formal intelligence assessments, and they were properly shared, the rebuttal said.
In a statement issued Thursday, Mr. Feith, who left the Pentagon in 2005, made similar points. Mr. Rumsfeld did not respond to telephone messages seeking comment.
According to Congressional officials, Mr. Feith’s statement and the policy office’s rebuttal, the report concluded that none of the Pentagon’s activities were illegal and that they did not violate Defense Department directives.
But the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, said in a statement that because the inspector general considered the work of Mr. Feith’s group to be “intelligence activities,” the committee would investigate whether the Pentagon violated the National Security Act of 1947 by failing to notify Congress about the group’s work.
Senator Levin, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the report a “very strong condemnation” of the Pentagon’s activities.
“I think they sought this kind of intelligence. They made it clear they wanted any kind of possible connections, no matter how skimpy, and they got it,” he said.
Mr. Feith and other officials in his Pentagon office have been accused by critics of the administration of distorting intelligence data to justify the invasion of Iraq. When Democrats were in the minority in Congress, Mr. Levin conducted an inquiry and issued a report excoriating Mr. Feith and others at the Pentagon for their conduct.
The conclusions the Pentagon team reached in the year or so before the invasion of Iraq have been generally known for some time and were largely discredited by the Sept. 11 commission, which found “no evidence” that contacts between the Iraqi government and Al Qaeda “ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship.”
According to Mr. Levin, the inspector general’s report did not make any specific recommendations, and he said that interagency coordination “will significantly reduce the opportunity for the inappropriate conduct of intelligence activities outside of intelligence channels.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee, meanwhile, is completing work on its own investigation into the use of intelligence by policy makers in the months before the Iraq war. Under Republican leadership, it had delayed an examination of Mr. Feith’s activities pending the outcome of the inspector general’s report.
The Pentagon’s rebuttal vehemently rejected the report’s contention that there was “inappropriate” use of intelligence by Pentagon civilians and said the effort to identify links between Saddam Hussein’s government and Al Qaeda was done at the direction of Mr. Wolfowitz, who was deputy defense secretary at the time.
Describing the work as a “fresh, critical look” at intelligence agency conclusions about Al Qaeda and Iraq, the Pentagon rebuttal said, “It is somewhat difficult to understand how activities that admittedly were lawful and authorized (in this case by either the secretary of defense or the deputy secretary of defense) could nevertheless be characterized as ‘inappropriate.’ ”
The Feith operation dates to shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when the Pentagon established a small team of civilians to sift through existing intelligence with the aim of finding possible links between terror networks and governments. Bush administration officials contended that intelligence agencies were ignoring reports of collaboration between Iraq and Al Qaeda.
By the summer of 2002, the group, whose membership evolved over time, was aimed at identifying links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq.
The inspector general’s report criticizes a July 25, 2002, memo, written by an intelligence analyst detailed to Mr. Feith’s office, titled, “Iraq and al-Qaida: Making the Case.”
The memo said that, while “some analysts have argued” that Osama bin Laden would not cooperate with secular Arab entities like Iraq, “reporting indicates otherwise.”
The inspector general concluded that the memo constituted an “alternative intelligence assessment” from that given by the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies and that it led to a briefing on links between Al Qaeda and Iraq that was given to senior Bush administration officials in August 2002, according to excerpts of the draft inspector general report quoted by Mr. Edelman.
It is not clear whether the inspector general revised his report after receiving the rebuttal.
The draft inspector general report said Mr. Feith’s office should have followed intelligence agency guidelines for registering differing views, “in those rare instances where consensus could not be reached.”
In his statement Thursday, Mr. Feith said he was pleased that the inspector general had cleared him of violating laws or Defense Department policies, but he called it “wrong” and “bizarre” for the report to criticize civilian officials for scrutinizing intelligence agency conclusions and passing along their findings to senior officials.
Mr. Feith also said that the inspector general’s findings reflected “confusion about the way policy and intelligence officials relate to one another in the real world.”