Saturday 4 October 2003

Dubious intelligence

CIA enraged by cynical White House end-run around its sources

by Eric Margolis

For the Bush administration, which has wrapped itself in faux patriotism, accusations that it revealed the identity of a serving CIA agent are a huge political embarrassment and another blow to its sinking credibility.

Last July, former ambassador Joseph Wilson IV contradicted President George Bush's assertions that Iraq had imported uranium ore from Niger.

Wilson said his investigations in Niger found the whole story was a fake, based on forged documents.

Bush nevertheless suggested Iraq was importing uranium in his keynote state of the union address.

Wilson's patriotic act ruined his career and made him the target of a vicious smear campaign.

At least six journalists were told by administration sources that Wilson's wife was an active CIA officer. Journalist Robert Novak cited her name in his column.

Revealing names of CIA agents is a federal crime. There is speculation that the source of the story came from within the office of Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's powerful chief of staff.

(Bush's press secretary has said "absolutely nothing brought to our attention suggests any White House involvement and that includes the vice-president's office." Scott McClellan added that if it turns out any administration officials were involved in the leak, they'll be fired.)

In any event, Libby and Pentagon civilian allies, Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and Richard Perle, all played key roles in the buildup to the war with Iraq. They brought intensive pressure on the CIA to produce proof of hidden weapons and links between Iraq and al-Qaida.

Behind the scandal over identifying Wilson's wife as a CIA agent, a far more important battle is raging.

The Bush administration plans to spend $1 billion in the fruitless search for unconventional weapons in Iraq.

The non-existence of these weapons, which were the main excuse for the invasion, has badly damaged the White House; eroded the power of Cheney's men Wolfowitz, Feith and Perle -- who jestingly called themselves "the cabal" -- and humiliated the hapless Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Now "the cabal" and some politicians blame the CIA for the failure to find Iraq's non-existent weapons and alleged links to al-Qaida.

But the CIA is fighting back through leaks, accusing the administration of distorting, corrupting and politicizing the conduct of national security.

The CIA does deserve sharp criticism over Iraq. It had a shocking lack of reliable human intelligence there, forcing the agency to rely heavily on dubious defectors and foreign intelligence, rather than its own resources.

Ironically, France had excellent intelligence in Iraq and rightly warned Bush his war would lead to disaster. Bush was too busy listening to the neo-conservatives' hyped intelligence to heed France's excellent and reliable advice.

So far, CIA chief George Tenet has refused public comment over the attacks, but agency sources report him furious with the White House and its neo-conservative Pentagon allies. CIA staffers are waiting for Tenet to go public and take on the neo-cons who are trying to blame the agency for the fiasco they created.

When White House hawks such as Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Cheney and the Pentagon cabal found the CIA was not providing damning evidence on Iraq they needed to promote war, they created a special intelligence unit.

It cherry-picked bits and pieces of negative data about Iraq, trumpeted lurid claims by Iraqi defectors, then passed them on to the White House.

Iraqi exiles were used as a primary conduit for the disinformation, and were provided with funding and political support. The New York Times repeatedly parroted the Iraqi defectors' distortions.

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