CIA Was Asked to Reassess No Iraq-al-Qaida Ties, Author Says

By Greg Miller

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

July 1, 2004

WASHINGTON -- In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, CIA analysts were ordered repeatedly to redo intelligence assessments that concluded al-Qaida had no operational ties to Iraq, according to a veteran CIA counterterrorism official who has written a book that is sharply critical of the decision to go to war with Iraq.

Agency analysts never altered their conclusions, but saw the pressure to revisit their work as a clear indication that officials in the Bush administration were seeking a different answer regarding Iraq and Osama bin Laden, the CIA officer said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

"We on the bin Laden side (of the agency's analytic ranks) were required repeatedly to check, double-check and triple-check our files about a connection between al-Qaida and Iraq," said the officer, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Mike.

Asked whether he attributed the demands to an eagerness among officials at the White House or the Pentagon to find evidence of a link, he said: "You could not help but assume that was the case. They knew the answer (they wanted) before they asked the question."

The officer is the author of a forthcoming book titled "Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terrorism." He is listed as "Anonymous" on the book, which describes him as a "senior U.S. intelligence official with nearly two decades of experience in national security issues."

The author has held a number of high-ranking agency positions, including serving from 1996 to 1999 as head of a special unit tracking bin Laden.

The book was approved for publication by the CIA after a four-month review -- creating a highly unusual situation in which one of the secretive agency's senior officers is offering public criticism of administration policies and the prosecution of the war on terrorism. The book's publisher is Brassey's Inc., of Dulles, Va.

CIA spokesman Bill Harlow stressed that the opinions in the book are those of the author, not the agency. He acknowledged that the book's publication is somewhat awkward for an agency that strives to be apolitical, but he said that the CIA found no classified material in the book, and therefore decided to allow its release.

Some have questioned the author's motives, noting that he was removed as head of the bin Laden unit in 1999 over concerns about his performance. An intelligence official who has worked with the author at the CIA said he may have been embittered by his removal, but that "people tend to think of him as a straight shooter."

Mike said he was removed from the post because agency leaders "thought I was too myopic, too intense, too aggressive." He declined to elaborate. But he insisted that he did not write the book to settle scores.

"The important thing to me is that we're missing the boat on this issue," he said.

The book has created a stir in intelligence and policy circles for its scathing critique of U.S. efforts in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. In the book, Mike writes that the war in Afghanistan was in many respects a failure because the United States waited nearly a month to launch the invasion -- allowing al-Qaida operatives to flee -- and relied heavily on proxy Afghan forces that were not always loyal to the U.S. cause.

The book asserts that invading Iraq has inflamed anti-American sentiment to such a degree that it is minting a new generation of terrorists.

"We have waged two failed half-wars and, in doing so, left Afghanistan and Iraq seething with anti-U.S. sentiment, fertile grounds for the expansion of al-Qaida and kindred groups," he wrote in one passage in the book.

In an interview this week, Mike, said Monday's transfer of authority in Iraq is likely to do little to curtail insurgent attacks.

"Iraq, with or without a transfer of power, will be a mujahadeen magnet as long as whatever government is there is dependent on America's sword," he said.

The stealth manner in which sovereignty was transferred this week in Iraq also sent a weak signal, he said.

"From bin Laden's perspective, we were afraid they were going to attack us and we left like a thief in the night, with Bremer throwing the keys to (Iraqi interim prime minister) Allawi," he said. "They can only see this as a victory."

Mike's criticism of the war in Iraq echoes that of other prominent counterterrorism officials, including former White House aide Richard Clarke. But he is the first active CIA official to make the criticism publicly, albeit anonymously. However, Mike also faulted Clarke and others who served in the Clinton administration for failing to mount operations to capture or kill bin Laden when the CIA had intelligence on his whereabouts.

He said that he believes bin Laden would have been extremely reluctant to enter a collaborative relationship with Saddam in part because he saw Iraq's military and spying services as inferior, incapable of protecting the security of al-Qaida plans and operations.

Mike said that because he did not work in the agency's Iraq section, he could not assess the accuracy of claims that analysts were pressured by the White House to tailor their assessments of Iraq's alleged weapons programs to help make the case for war. Despite being forced to redo their work multiple times, he said, counterterrorism analysts never altered their conclusion that Iraq was not working with al-Qaida.

"There was pressure to perform," he said. "But to its credit the intelligence community as a whole said there was nothing (to suggest a collaborative relationship). The director on down insisted we call it straight."

He also wrote a book, published in 2002, on bin Laden titled, "Through Our Enemies' Eyes."