Pentagon office ‘misled’ on Iraq war

By Demetri Sevastopulo in Munich

Financial Times

Published: February 11 2007

A special Pentagon office created in the run-up to the Iraq war engaged in “inappropriate” activities by providing misleading intelligence to policymakers, according to the US Department of Defense.

The Pentagon inspector-general on Friday said the Office of Special Plans set up by Douglas Feith, then undersecretary of defence for policy, provided senior policymakers with “alternative intelligence assessments” on alleged links between al-Qaeda and Iraq that were “inconsistent with the consensus of the intelligence community”.

Senator Carl Levin, the Democratic chairman of the armed services committee and senior member of the intelligence committee, said the report was a “devastating condemnation” of senior Pentagon officials.

“The bottom line is that intelligence relating to the Iraq/al-Qaeda relationship was manipulated by high ranking officials in the Department of Defense to support the administration’s decision to invade Iraq when the intelligence assessments of the professional analysts of the intelligence community did not provide the desired compelling case,” said Mr Levin.

The report comes at a critical time for the White House as President George W. Bush struggles to keep Republican support for the war in Iraq.

Democrats have long argued that Mr Feith was engaged in helping Dick Cheney, vice-president, build the case for war based on inaccurate, or misleading, intelligence.

Before the 2003 invasion, Mr Cheney often referred to the alleged links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, which subsequent investigations confirmed never existed.

While the report said the actions of Mr Feith’s office were not “illegal or unauthorised”, it concluded that they were “inappropriate” because they “did not clearly show the variance with the consensus of the intelligence community”.

Mr Feith, who now teaches at Georgetown University, told Associated Press that the allegations of inappropriate activity were “bizarre”.

“The policy office has been smeared for years by allegations that its pre-Iraq-war work was somehow ‘un­lawful’ or ‘unauthorised’ and that some information it gave to congressional committees was deceptive or misleading,” AP cited Mr Feith as saying.

Robert Gates, the new US defence secretary, in Seville for Nato meetings yesterday, said he had not read the report, which referred to activities that occurred under his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld.

But the former Central Intelligence Agency director said: “Based on my whole career, all intelligence ­activities need to be carried out through established institutions where there is oversight.”

Separately, yesterday, Mr Gates said the US had “pretty good” evidence that Iran was providing groups in Iraq with sophisticated explosive devices called “explosively formed projectiles” [EFPs].

He said the evidence included serial numbers and markings on fragments of exploded devices. But Mr Gates again dismissed suggestions that the recent increase in anti- Iranian rhetoric in Washington was a prelude to war. After the Iranian supreme leader threatened on Thursday to respond to any US attack on Iran, Mr Gates responded that it was “just another day in the Persian Gulf”.

Asked yesterday whether that response was aimed at ratcheting down the US rhetoric, he replied: “In the last few weeks there’s been an effort in Washington actually to tone down everybody else.

“I don’t know how many times the president, Secretary [Condoleezza] Rice and I have had to repeat that we have no intention of attacking Iran, that the second carrier group [recently dispatched to the Gulf] is there to ­reassure our allies, as well as to send a signal that we’ve been in the Persian Gulf for decades and we intend to stay there. And I think these are fairly modest statements.”