New York Times
February 11, 2006
WASHINGTON, Feb. 10 — A C.I.A. veteran who oversaw intelligence assessments about the Middle East from 2000 to 2005 on Friday accused the Bush administration of ignoring or distorting the prewar evidence on a broad range of issues related to Iraq in its effort to justify the American invasion of 2003.
The views of Paul R. Pillar, who retired in October as national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, echoed previous criticism from Democrats and from some administration officials, including Richard A. Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism adviser, and Paul H. O'Neill, the former treasury secretary.
But Mr. Pillar is the first high-level C.I.A. insider to speak out by name on the use of prewar intelligence. His article for the March-April issue of Foreign Affairs, which charges the administration with the selective use of intelligence about Iraq's unconventional weapons and the chances of postwar chaos in Iraq, was posted Friday on the journal's Web site after it was reported in The Washington Post.
"If the entire body of official intelligence on Iraq had a policy implication, it was to avoid war — or, if war was going to be launched, to prepare for a messy aftermath," Mr. Pillar wrote. "What is most remarkable about prewar U.S. intelligence on Iraq is not that it got things wrong and thereby misled policymakers; it is that it played so small a role in one of the most important U.S. policy decisions in decades."
In an interview on Friday, Mr. Pillar said he recognized that his views would become part of the highly partisan, three-year-old battle over the administration's reasons for going to war. But he said his goal in speaking publicly was to help repair what he called a "broken" relationship between the intelligence produced by the nation's spies and the way it is used by its leaders.
"There is ground to be replowed on Iraq," said Mr. Pillar, now a professor at Georgetown University. "But what is more important is to look at the whole intelligence-policy relationship and get a discussion and debate going to make sure what happened on Iraq doesn't happen again."
President Bush and his aides have denied that the Iraq intelligence was politicized. Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, said in November, "Our statements about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein were based on the aggregation of intelligence from a number of sources, and represented the collective view of the intelligence community. Those judgments were shared by Republicans and Democrats alike."
Reports by the Senate Intelligence Committee and the presidential commission on weapons intelligence headed by Laurence H. Silberman, a senior federal judge, and Charles S. Robb, the former Virginia governor and senator, found that C.I.A. analysts had not been pressed to change their views. A second phase of the Senate committee review, on how administration officials used intelligence, has not been completed.
Mr. Pillar alleged that the earlier studies had considered only "the crudest attempts at politicization" and that the real pressures were far more subtle. "Intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions that had already been made," chiefly to topple Mr. Hussein in order to "shake up the sclerotic power structures of the Middle East," he wrote.
According to Mr. Pillar's account, the administration shaped the answers it got in part by repeatedly asking the same questions, about the threat posed by Iraqi weapons and about ties between Mr. Hussein and Al Qaeda. When intelligence analysts resisted, he wrote, some of the administration's allies accused Mr. Pillar and others of "trying to sabotage the president's policies."
In light of such accusations, he wrote, analysts began to "sugarcoat" their conclusions.
Mr. Pillar called for a formal declaration by Congress and the White House that intelligence should be clearly separated from policy. He proposed the creation of an independent office, modeled on the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Budget Office, to assess the use of intelligence at the request of members of Congress.
Mr. Pillar suggested that the root of the problem might be that top intelligence officials serve at the pleasure of the president.
A C.I.A. spokeswoman, Jennifer Millerwise Dyck, said the agency had no comment.
Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said that the C.I.A. had long resisted intervention in Iraq, and that internal pressure on analysts to resist war was greater than any external pressure.
"If the C.I.A. had spent less time leaking its opinions, throughout the 1990's, opposed to any conflict with Iraq, and more time developing assets inside Iraq, the agency would have more credibility and better intelligence," said Ms. Pletka, who served for a decade, until 2002, as a Republican staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.