There is one sentence in Paul Pillar’s new Foreign Affairs article that says all you need to know about the role intelligence played in the decision to invade Iraq: “As the national intelligence officer for the Middle East [2000-2005], I was in charge of coordinating all of the intelligence community's assessments regarding Iraq; the first request I received from any administration policymaker for any such assessment was not until a year into the war.”

 

This article contains many more stunning insights.  Pillar’s insider’s look at the Iraq intelligence process confirms the findings of the January 2004 Carnegie study, WMD in Iraq:  Evidence and Implications.  Pillar concludes, as did the Carnegie authors, that the assessment process was highly politicized by the White House, that pressure was brought to bear on analysts to agree with a predetermined policy, and that while many analysts thought that Saddam had some weapons, the real pre-war debate was not over weapons but over war.  Pillar says :

 

[The White House] perception of Saddam's weapons capacities was shared by the Clinton administration, congressional Democrats, and most other Western governments and intelligence services. But…intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs did not drive its decision to go to war. A view broadly held in the United States and even more so overseas was that deterrence of Iraq was working, that Saddam was being kept "in his box," and that the best way to deal with the weapons problem was through an aggressive inspections program to supplement the sanctions already in place. That the administration arrived at so different a policy solution indicates that its decision to topple Saddam was driven by other factors -- namely, the desire to shake up the sclerotic power structures of the Middle East and hasten the spread of more liberal politics and economics in the region.”

 

Pillar acknowledges that the intelligence analysts made serious mistakes, still, he finds:

 

Official intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs was flawed, but even with its flaws, it was not what led to the war. On the issue that mattered most, the intelligence community judged that Iraq probably was several years away from developing a nuclear weapon. The October 2002 NIE also judged that Saddam was unlikely to use WMD against the United States unless his regime was placed in mortal danger.

 

The Carnegie study also found that “prior to 2002, the intelligence community appears to have overestimated the chemical and biological weapons in Iraq but had a generally accurate picture of the nuclear and missile program.”  The Carnegie authors concluded that:

 

 The dramatic shift between prior intelligence assessments and the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), together with the creation of an independent intelligence entity at the Pentagon and other steps, suggest that the intelligence community began to be unduly influenced by policymakers’s views sometime in 2002.

Cherry-picking

Pillar affirms this two-year-old, independent Carnegie assessment with critical, previously unavailable details. 

 

In the upside-down relationship between intelligence and policy that prevailed in the case of Iraq, the administration selected pieces of raw intelligence to use in its public case for war, leaving the intelligence community to register varying degrees of private protest when such use started to go beyond what analysts deemed credible or reasonable.

 

He notes that the administration never asked for an official intelligence estimate on Iraq, (it was Congress that requested the 2002 NIE). Pillar argues that the White House reversed the usual model of intelligence shaping policy decisions.  Instead:

 

The administration used intelligence not to inform decision-making, but to justify a decision already made. It went to war without requesting -- and evidently without being influenced by -- any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq.

 

Pillar, in short, directly contradicts the claims repeated by administration officials that they acted only because the intelligence showed there was an urgent threat that had to be preempted.  President Bush most recently repeated this position at Kansas State University in January:

 


The world thought Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. It wasn't just me or my administration. Our predecessor thought he had weapons of mass destruction. And there's a logical reason why -- the data showed that he likely had weapons of mass destruction, and he'd use them. I told you, the last option for a President is to send troops into combat, and I was hoping that we could solve the issue, the threat, the threat to the United States by diplomatic means.

 

 

No Link to Osama

The Carnegie study also concluded that “there was and is no solid evidence of a cooperative relationship between Saddam’s government and Al Qaeda.”  Pillar agrees:

 

The greatest discrepancy between the administration's public statements and the intelligence community's judgments concerned not WMD…but the relationship between Saddam and al Qaeda. 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. 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.

 

Pillar confirms what many suspected but could not prove absent an independent inquiry:

The… conflict between intelligence officials and policymakers escalated into a battle, with the intelligence community struggling to maintain its objectivity even as policymakers pressed the Saddam-al Qaeda connection. The administration's rejection of the intelligence community's judgments became especially clear with the formation of a special Pentagon unit, the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group. The unit, which reported to Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, was dedicated to finding every possible link between Saddam and al Qaeda, and its briefings accused the intelligence community of faulty analysis for failing to see the supposed alliance.

Finally, like the Carnegie authors, Pillar recommends major reforms in the intelligence structure to increase the independence of the analysts from the politicians.  The Carnegie study urged policymakers not to change the intelligence structures until the complete story of the administration’s influence on the threat assessments were known.  If the influence was as pervasive as it seemed, the Carnegie authors suggested professionalizing the post of the Director of Central Intelligence (now the Director for National Intelligence) similar to the system used for the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. 

 

Now Pillar bemoans “the flaws in the narrowly conceived and hastily considered reorganization legislation of December 2004,” and recommends that the intelligence community “be given greater independence and a greater ability to communicate with those other constituencies (fettered only by security considerations, rather than by policy agendas). An appropriate model is the Federal Reserve...”

 

Pillar’s essay is required reading for all concerned with accountability for the misinformation provided to the American people before the war and with the wisdom of  restructuring the intelligence agencies before a full investigation had been completed.

 


Related Links:

 

"Intelligence, Policy, and the War in Iraq"
Paul R. Pillar, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2006

 

“Ex-CIA Official Faults Use of Data on Iraq”

Walter Pincus, New York Times, 10 February 10, 2006

 

WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications

Carnegie Report, January 2003

 

Iraq Resources Page, ProliferationNews.org