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The Pentagon Muzzles the CIA

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    The Pentagon Muzzles the CIA The American Prospect Volume 13, Issue 22. December 16, 2002. Devising bad intelligence to promote bad policy Robert Dreyfuss
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 12, 2002
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      The Pentagon Muzzles the CIA
      The American Prospect
      Volume 13, Issue 22. December 16, 2002.
      Devising bad intelligence to promote bad policy
      Robert Dreyfuss
      http://www.prospect.org/print/V13/22/dreyfuss-r.html

      Even as it prepares for waragainst Iraq, the Pentagon is already
      engaged on a second front: its war against the Central Intelligence
      Agency. The Pentagon is bringing relentless pressure to bear on the
      agency to produce intelligence reports more supportive of war with
      Iraq, according to former CIA officials. Key officials of the
      Department of Defense are also producing their own unverified
      intelligence reports to justify war. Much of the questionable
      information comes from Iraqi exiles long regarded with suspicion by
      CIA professionals. A parallel, ad hoc intelligence operation, in the
      office of Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith,
      collects the information from the exiles and scours other raw
      intelligence for useful tidbits to make the case for preemptive war.
      These morsels sometimes go directly to the president.

      The war over intelligence is a critical part of a broader offensive
      by the party of war within the Bush administration against virtually
      the entire expert Middle East establishment in the United States --
      including State Department, Pentagon and CIA area specialists and
      leading military officers. Inside the foreign-policy, defense and
      intelligence agencies, nearly the whole rank and file, along with
      many senior officials, are opposed to invading Iraq. But because the
      less than two dozen neoconservatives leading the war party have the
      support of Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense
      Donald Rumsfeld, they are able to marginalize that opposition.

      Morale inside the U.S. national-security apparatus is said to be
      low, with career staffers feeling intimidated and pressured to
      justify the push for war. At the State Department, where Secretary
      of State Colin Powell's efforts at diplomacy have thus far slowed
      the relentless pressure for war, a key bureau is chilled by the
      presence of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East
      Affairs Elizabeth L. Cheney, the vice president's daughter, who is
      in charge of Middle East economic policy, including oil. "When [Near
      East Affairs] meets, there is no debate," says Parker Borg, who
      served in the State Department for 30 years as an ambassador and
      deputy chief of counterterrorism. "How vocal would you be about
      commenting on Middle East policy with the vice president's daughter
      there?" Undersecretary of State John Bolton is also part of the
      small pro-war faction.

      And at the Pentagon, where a number of critical offices have been
      filled by hawkish neoconservatives whose commitment to war with Iraq
      goes back a decade, Middle East specialists and uniformed military
      officers alike are seeing their views ignored. "I've heard from
      people on the Middle East staff in the Pentagon," says Borg,
      referring to the staff under neocon Peter Rodman, the assistant
      secretary of defense for International Security Affairs. "The Middle
      East experts in those officers are as cut off from the policy side
      as people in the State Department are."

      But the sharpest battle is over the CIA. "There is tremendous
      pressure on [the CIA] to come up with information to support
      policies that have already been adopted," says Vincent Cannistraro,
      a former senior CIA official and counterterrorism expert. What's
      unfolding is a campaign by well-placed hawks to undermine the CIA's
      ability to provide objective, unbiased intelligence to the White
      House.

      Voice crackling over his cell phone, Jim Woolsey is trying hard to
      sound objective and analytical, but he is, well, gloating. The
      former CIA director has been one of the leaders of the get-Saddam
      Hussein faction for years, promoting a unilateral U.S. strike
      against Baghdad. Woolsey is not quite a private citizen, serving as
      an adviser to the CIA and as a member of the Defense Policy Board,
      which is chaired by the ringleader of the pro-war neocons, former
      Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle. Woolsey has also, at
      least once, served as unofficial liaison to the Iraqi National
      Congress (INC) and other Iraqi opposition groups.

      What's got him excited is an Oct. 7 letter, recently declassified,
      from CIA Director George Tenet that put the CIA on record for the
      first time as saying that there have been "high-level contacts
      between Iraq and al-Qaeda going back a decade"; that Iraq and Osama
      bin Laden's gang have "discussed safe haven"; that members of al-
      Qaeda have been present in Baghdad; and that Iraq has "provided
      training to al-Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases."

      "The CIA has started saying things that the Defense Department has
      been saying all along, but up until that letter, I hadn't seen any
      evidence publicly that the CIA was acknowledging all these contacts
      between Iraq and al-Qaeda," says Woolsey. "What I read the Tenet
      letter as saying is that they are starting to. The CIA has started
      to come around to point out some of the things that the Pentagon has
      been talking about."

      Tenet's statement on Iraq and al-Qaeda was a significant departure
      from the consensus view among intelligence professionals. Since
      September 11, many of them, inside government and out, have pooh-
      poohed the notion that Iraq has provided support to al-Qaeda, and
      they continue to do so. Daniel Benjamin, co-author, with Steven
      Simon, of The Age of Sacred Terror, was director of counterterrorism
      at the National Security Council (NSC) in the late 1990s, and he
      oversaw a comprehensive review of Iraq and terrorism that came up
      empty. "In 1998, we went through every piece of intelligence we
      could find to see if there was a link [between] al-Qaeda and Iraq,"
      says Benjamin. "We came to the conclusion that our intelligence
      agencies had it right: There was no noteworthy relationship between
      al-Qaeda and Iraq. I know that for a fact. No other issue has been
      as closely scrutinized as this one." The State Department's annual
      review of state-sponsored terrorism hasn't mentioned any link,
      either.

      A sign of how the Iraq-al-Qaeda issue is roiling the agency is how
      Tenet himself qualified the analysis. In his letter, addressed to
      Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on
      Intelligence, Tenet wrote: "Our understanding of the relationship
      between Iraq and al-Qaeda is evolving and is based on sources of
      varying reliability." Benjamin, along with other analysts, points
      out that the CIA's letter seemed to strain to make the connection,
      noting that the phrase "sources of varying reliability" is "a way of
      saying that there isn't much evidence."
      But if after failing to find links between Iraq and al-Qaeda for
      years the CIA is suddenly discovering a connection between the two,
      some analysts believe that it is Tenet, the CIA director, playing
      politics and arranging to tell the Pentagon what it wants to
      hear. "[The CIA] is giving Bush what he wanted on Iraq and al-
      Qaeda," says Melvin Goodman of the Center for International Policy,
      who is also a former CIA Soviet expert and a fierce critic of
      politicized intelligence. "Tenet is playing the game, to a certain
      extent." Goodman, who has maintained contacts inside the agency,
      says that the CIA's key intelligence analysts are upset with Tenet
      and concerned that he will frame their conclusions in a way that
      kowtows to the Pentagon's preconceived view. "There's a lot of anger
      and questions about whether Tenet will hold off this pressure,"
      Goodman says. "[The CIA analysts are] worried, and they don't have a
      lot of confidence in him. But the analytical core is holding fast to
      the evidence, and the evidence doesn't show that link."

      However, the intense pressure from the Pentagon seems to be having
      an effect. Tenet is, after all, a politician, not a CIA veteran.
      After serving as staff director for the Senate Select Committee on
      Intelligence, Tenet moved over to the CIA itself and was named to
      the director's job by President Clinton. But he took pains to
      ingratiate himself with the Bushes, père et fils. He quickly acted
      to name the CIA headquarters after former President Bush in 1998,
      organized a major intelligence conference at the George Bush School
      of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University -- itself
      headed by Robert Gates, a former CIA director -- and personally
      briefed then-Texas Gov. Bush during the 2000 election campaign.
      Tenet's quiet politicking was enough to persuade Bush to keep him on
      at the CIA, and the director's recent actions signal that he doesn't
      intend to buck the drive toward war.

      "It's demoralizing to a number of the analysts," says
      Cannistraro. "The analysts are human, and some of them are also
      ambitious. What you have to worry about is the 'chill factor.' If
      people are ignoring your intelligence, and the Pentagon and NSC keep
      telling you, 'What about this? What about this? Keep looking!' --
      well, then you start focusing on one thing instead of the other
      thing, because you know that's what your political masters want to
      hear."

      Spy vs. Spy For more than a year, one of the main sources of Defense
      Department pressure on the CIA has been a unnamed, rump intelligence
      unit set up in Undersecretary Feith's policy shop at the department.
      Begun as a two-person group, it has since expanded to four and now
      five people, and was set up to provide Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of
      Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Feith with data they can use to
      disparage, undermine and contradict the CIA's own analyses.
      Established just after September 11, the unit's main focus -- though
      not its only one -- has been on Iraq, especially Iraq's alleged
      links to al-Qaeda and Iraq's alleged intent to use its alleged
      nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

      In a controversial Oct. 24 briefing at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld noted
      that a primary purpose of the unit was to provide him with
      ammunition that he could use to harass the CIA staffer who briefs
      him every morning. "In comes the briefer, and she walks through the
      daily brief and I ask questions," said Rumsfeld. "What I could do is
      say, 'Gee, what about this? Or what about that? Has somebody thought
      of this?'" Using powerful computers and having access to reams of
      intelligence factoids, Feith's team could create a steady stream of
      data bits that Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Feith himself could use to
      pick apart the CIA's conclusions, sending the CIA's collectors and
      analysts back to rewrite their reports.

      The fact that the unit is overseen by Feith, an ideologically
      committed partisan who is pushing for war with Iraq, raises
      questions about its impartiality and its willingness to reach
      conclusions that might contradict the Pentagon leadership's stated
      policy intentions. "It's one thing to create a unit to provide an
      independent look, and it's another thing to go on a fishing
      expedition," says Benjamin, the former NSC official. "The fact that
      this unit has been there for more than a year suggests that it is a
      fishing expedition."

      Informed sources say the person in charge of the unnamed unit is
      Abram Shulsky, another key member of the Perle-Wolfowitz war party.
      When Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) was elected to the Senate in
      1976, he "brought with him some of [Sen. Henry M.] Jackson's most
      militantly neoconservative former aides, among them Elliott Abrams,
      Chester Finn, Abram Shulsky and Gary Schmitt," according to a 1986
      account in The Washington Post. Perle was also a former Jackson
      aide, and Shulsky, Perle and many kindred thinkers got jobs in
      President Reagan's Department of Defense in the 1980s. Shulsky also
      spent years at the Consortium for the Study of Intelligence, a
      project of the National Strategy Information Center (NSIC), and at
      the RAND Corporation. At RAND, along with other fellow neocons,
      including I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby (now Cheney's chief of staff),
      Shulsky contributed a study called "From Containment to Global
      Leadership: America and the World after the Cold War." That study
      was a forerunner of the recent military strategy document released
      by the Pentagon suggesting that the United States act to preserve
      its global hegemony, even if it means preemptive war or preventive
      war making.

      Roy Godson, the head of the Consortium for the Study of Intelligence
      and a colleague of Shulsky's for many years, has high hopes for the
      success of the Pentagon's Iraq intelligence unit, despite its small
      size when arrayed against the CIA's might. "It might turn out to be
      a David against Goliath," says Godson.
      Dubious Intelligence
      The Pentagon's war against the CIA relies heavily on intelligence
      from the Iraqi National Congress. But most Iraq hands with long
      experience in dealing with that country's tumultuous politics
      consider the INC's intelligence-gathering abilities to be nearly
      nil. Yet, Perle, Woolsey and the Pentagon's policy-makers
      increasingly use the INC as their primary source of information
      about Iraq's weapons programs, its relationship to terrorism and its
      internal political dynamics. "A lot of what is useful with respect
      to what's going on in Iraq is coming from defectors, and furthermore
      they are defectors who have often come through an organization,
      namely, the INC, that neither State nor the CIA likes very much,"
      Woolsey told me.

      Earlier this year, the State Department abruptly stopped funding an
      INC scheme to collect intelligence inside Iraq. "The INC could only
      account for $2.5 million out of $4.5 million they received for the
      program," says a State Department official. "I can't say that there
      was evidence of corruption or embezzlement, but $2 million was
      unaccounted for." The more the INC began getting into intelligence
      work, the more the State Department grew uncomfortable funding the
      program. "The only reason they stopped paying for that program is
      that the State Department hates the INC," says a knowledgeable
      source. Shortly thereafter, the Pentagon picked up the tab. Now,
      whatever intelligence the INC collects goes straight to the Defense
      Department, according to spokesman Lt. Col. David Lapan. "The
      intelligence guys here get the information first and do the
      analysis," he says. Goodman, the former CIA analyst, concurs,
      saying, "The INC is in the Pentagon every day."

      But the Pentagon's critics are appalled that intelligence provided
      by the INC might shape U.S. decisions about going to war against
      Baghdad. At the CIA and at the State Department, Ahmed Chalabi, the
      INC's leader, is viewed as the ineffectual head of a self-inflated
      and corrupt organization skilled at lobbying and public relations,
      but not much else. [See "Tinker, Banker, Neocon, Spy," tap, Nov.
      18.] "The [INC's] intelligence isn't reliable at all," says
      Cannistraro. "Much of it is propaganda. Much of it is telling the
      Defense Department what they want to hear. And much of it is used to
      support Chalabi's own presidential ambitions. They make no
      distinction between intelligence and propaganda, using alleged
      informants and defectors who say what Chalabi wants them to say,
      [creating] cooked information that goes right into presidential and
      vice-presidential speeches."

      Adds Cannistraro, "They're willing to twist information in order to
      serve that interest. They've opened up a channel at the Pentagon to
      collect intelligence from Iraqi exiles, using people off the books,
      contractors. It's getting pretty close to an Iran-Contra type of
      situation."

      Manipulating the CIA is nothing new, of course. For decades,
      politicians annoyed that intelligence from the agency might work
      against policy goals have sought to bring pressure to bear on the
      CIA to alter its views or, failing that, to diminish the CIA's
      standing. During the Vietnam War, the Pentagon disparaged CIA
      analyses that cast into doubt the projected "light at the end of the
      tunnel." In the 1970s, then-CIA Director George H.W. Bush invited a
      so-called Team B group of neoconservative hawks to spin out a report
      accusing the CIA ("Team A") of consistently underestimating the
      Soviet threat. (Team B, it's worth noting, was created at the
      instigation of Albert Wohlstetter, the political godfather to Perle,
      Wolfowitz, et al.) That pressure continued, in other forms, during
      Ronald Reagan's military buildup in the 1980s. In the 1980s, too,
      then-CIA Director Bill Casey was notorious for constantly trying to
      politicize the CIA, repeatedly trying to influence the agency's
      reporting on Central America, Afghanistan and the Soviet Union.
      The Uses of Endless War
      The hostility by the hard-liners against what they see as the CIA's
      myopia on Iraq at least matches any of those earlier fights. Perle,
      who said recently that the CIA's analysis of Iraq "isn't worth the
      paper it's written on," adds that the CIA is afraid of rocking the
      ark in the Middle East. "The CIA is status-quo oriented," he told
      me. "They don't want to take risks. They don't like the INC because
      they only like to work with people they can control."

      According to informed sources, Perle, who's currently based at the
      conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), has for the past
      several years sponsored the work of a former CIA clandestine
      operative, Reuel Marc Gerecht, helping him financially, lending him
      the use of his villa in France to write a book and getting him a
      fellowship at AEI. Gerecht, who spends much of his time living in
      Brussels, maintains close ties to the INC via its centers in London
      and Washington. According to a person familiar with the arrangement,
      Gerecht is privately working with the INC's intelligence people to
      help funnel information to Feith's office in the Pentagon.

      Asked whether he is working as an unofficial intelligence handler
      for the INC, Gerecht demurs but doesn't deny it. "It's pretty
      overstated," he says. "I talk to the Iraqi opposition now and then,
      but there are a lot more people in Washington who talk to the Iraqi
      opposition. So I don't think that Pentagon requires my
      assistance ... in gathering information from Iraqi opposition." But
      Gerecht is quick to criticize the CIA over Iraq. "There is a great
      deal of hesitancy if not opposition to the war at the agency," he
      says. "I don't think [Rumsfeld] is terribly happy. The collective
      output that CIA puts out is usually pretty mushy. I think it's fair
      to say that the civilian leadership isn't terribly cracked up about
      the intelligence they receive from CIA."

      To call Gerecht a hard-liner on Iraq would be an understatement. For
      him and for many of his allies -- Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith and
      others -- an attack on Iraq is a strategic necessity, not because
      Saddam Hussein is a threat but because America needs to display an
      overwhelming show of force to keep unruly Arabs and Muslims all over
      the world in line. "If we really intend to extinguish the hope that
      has fueled the rise of al-Qaeda and violent anti-Americanism
      throughout the Middle East, we have no choice but to re-instill in
      our foes and friends the fear and respect that attaches to any great
      power," he wrote in The Wall Street Journal last December. "Only a
      war against Saddam Hussein will decisively restore the awe that
      protects American interests abroad and citizens at home. We've been
      running from this fight for 10 years."

      The Pentagon's campaign against the CIA is broader than just Iraq.
      Since the end of the Cold War, the CIA has been squeezed by the
      military again and again. Through its control over the National
      Security Agency, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, the
      National Reconnaissance Office, the Defense Intelligence Agency and
      other entities, the Pentagon already controls the vast bulk of
      America's spy budget. To consolidate that control, Rumsfeld is
      currently pushing to create an intelligence czar at the Pentagon
      whose power and influence would rival that of the CIA director's.
      And more and more often, the CIA's covert-operations arm finds
      itself dominated by the Defense Department's Special Forces units,
      the gung-ho soldiers who've been on the front lines in the ongoing,
      and apparently endless, war on terrorism.

      What's at stake here is far greater than a bureaucratic turf battle.
      The CIA exists to provide pure and unbiased intelligence to its
      chief customer, the president. George W. Bush, whose knowledge of
      world affairs is limited at best, probably depends more heavily than
      most presidents on what his aides tell him about the outside world.
      And there is mounting evidence that the decision to go to war is
      based on intelligence of doubtful veracity, which has been cooked by
      Pentagon hawks.

      Copyright © 2002 by The American Prospect, Inc.

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