Top Pentagon officials, authorized by then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, "inappropriately" misled the White House in asserting strong prewar ties between Iraq and al Qaeda, which turned out not to be true, and intentionally withheld data provided by outside intelligence agencies that challenged the Pentagon's conclusions, Acting Defense Dept. Inspector General Tom Gimble told lawmakers Feb. 9.
Gimble's testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee and a summary report of a year-long investigation by the Inspector General's office shows the deep divide between policymakers at the Pentagon and the intelligence community, as well as stark partisan disagreements on whether the Bush Administration used false data to justify its war in Iraq.
A 52-page rebuttal by the Pentagon disputes most of the inspector general's findings, "except the finding that the activities reviewed were lawful and authorized."
Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said the inspector general's report provides a "devastating condemnation" of the Defense Dept. policy that started the war with Iraq.
"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," Levin said.
Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) disagreed with Levin. "You can read the same report and come up with different conclusions…I don't think in any way that his report could be interpreted as a devastating condemnation, as you point out Mr. Chairman."
Just Following Orders?
Shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Defense Dept. expanded the duties of its policy office, then run by former Under Secretary Douglas Feith, to find any connections between al Qaeda and the Iraqi and other governments and to develop its own intelligence assessments—separate from the Central Intelligence Agency and other agencies. Feith's shop under then-Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz disseminated "alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and al Qaeda relationship, which included conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus of the intelligence community and these were presented to senior decision-makers," Gimble said.
Levin said, "senior Administration officials used the twisted intelligence produced by the Feith office in making the case for the Iraq war."
Feith, who is now teaching at Georgetown University and has been criticized in the past for manipulating intelligence data, released a statement saying it is "bizarre for the Inspector General to disapprove of policy officials' doing work that they were directed to do by the secretary or deputy secretary of Defense." Feith led a group of private contractors who reviewed existing intelligence reports to find any links between al Qaeda and Iraq.
The Bush Administration has already received $503 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The Pentagon recently asked Congress for another $235.1 billion to fund war operations this year and next. That's in addition to the $481.4 billion the Defense Dept. just requested from Capitol Hill to fund its regular operations in fiscal year 2008, which begins Oct. 1.