Left Hook! The Blog
The transparently bad faith of the Bush administration in the handling of pre-war intel on Iraq is well-documented--there are more items than an encyclopedia-length work could fully contain.
One such item: When Bush decided to start a war with Iraq, the administration had to come up with some sort of rationale to sell the idea. The war-hawks were mercilessly browbeating the U.S. intelligence community into tailoring their work in such a way that it would better support the public rhetoric of Bush and co., but the facts just weren't there, and those in the IC, though they did their level best to produce what was expected without sacrificing all dignity, just weren't getting the job done. So a new group was established, operating out of a back room of the Pentagon under Douglas Feith, the Under-Secretary of Defense For Policy.
Feith's position is significant--these were people who worked in politics, not intelligence, yet they were doing amateur intelligence analysis (with emphasis on the amateur). Their job was essentially to fabricate an "alternate" interpretation of Iraq intelligence that supported the war policy. They did this by cherry-picking data-points, mostly from raw intel--intel that was unconfirmed, unanalyzed as to reliability or sources, and removed from all context. It just spoils the party to note that the guy who claims Iraq has a nuclear weapon almost ready also claims he regularly engages in sexual congress with the ghost of Elvis, so such pesky facts were left on the cutting-room floor in favor of the juicy allegations, rhetorically transformed into facts when they were regurgitated by Bush, Cheney, etc.. The war-hawks were using this so-called analysis to undermine the work of the legitimate professional intelligence community--the people who actually knew what they were doing.
The 2004 report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, flawed as it was, covered a lot of this ground, and determined that this policy unit, whose members referred to themselves as "the Cabal," was, in fact, being used as an intelligence agency by the administration, and was being used to undermine the work of the legitimate IC, though the report didn't draw any conclusions as to the work-product of the group, deferring such judgments to the second phase of the investigations (which Republicans then blocked for more than two years). We got a look at the unit's work when some of it was leaked (probably by Feith himself) to Stephen Hayes, a rather dim right-wing writer at the Weekly Standard. Though Hayes was apparently too clueless to recognize the fact, it confirmed all of the criticism that had been leveled at the group that produced it.
What Hayes received was 16 pages of context-free data-points, cherry-picked from mostly unconfirmed raw reports and strung together to "prove" an operational partnership between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. All it ended up "proving" is that the many press reports about the MO of Feith's group--detailing what I've outlined above--were entirely accurate.[*]
Some background: The legitimate IC had rejected the notion of an Iraq/al Qaida partnership, and had done so for years before Bush even came into office. Paul Pillar, who, until his retirement in 2005, had been responsible for coordinating all intelligence on Iraq from U.S. intel agencies, set the record straight on that point:
"The enormous attention devoted to this subject [an operational partnership between Iraq and al Qaida] did not reflect any judgment by intelligence officials that there was or was likely to be anything like the 'alliance' the administration said existed. The reason the connection got so much attention was that the administration wanted to hitch the Iraq expedition to the "war on terror" and the threat the American public feared most, thereby capitalizing on the country's militant post-9/11 mood... The intelligence community never offered any analysis that supported the notion of an alliance between Saddam and al Qaeda."
Indeed, as the first sections of the Phase II SSCI report shows, the IC correctly regarded the two as hated enemies.
This analysis absolutely infuriated the war-hawks, who saw connecting Iraq and al Qaida as one of the best chances of getting a war. That's one of the things that led to the Feith group, which peddled fairy-tales the war-hawks wanted to hear. The SSCI report covers how this nonsense was used to undermine the analysis of the legitimate IC, though the latter's analysis turned out to be correct.
An indication of how the war-hawks regarded the work of the legitimate IC (and a good look at the Alice-In-Wonderland environment within the Bush administration) is given by a note scrawled in the margins of one of the Feith group's idiotic, fairy-tale-filled memos by none other than Vice President Dick Cheney himself:
"This is very good indeed... Encouraging... Not like the crap we are all so used to getting out of CIA."
[*] Hayes crafted an article and later a book based upon the cherry-picked
data points, further mischaracterizing it in the process by suggesting
it was well-confirmed information. Upon the publication of his article,
the Bush DoD immediately dismissed it as raw, unconfirmed intel. Hayes'
work in the area of amateur intelligence analysis made him the laughingstock
of serious writers and researchers on the subject of Iraq.
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