The CIA’s top analyst recused herself from clearing the intelligence used in then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s 2003 speech to the United Nations describing Iraq’s alleged arsenal of biological and chemical weapons, according to a new book by the spy agency’s former acting director.
Jami Miscik, the deputy director of intelligence at the time, declined to participate in the exercise because she didn’t agree with then-CIA Director George Tenet’s decision to accede to Powell’s request to review all intelligence on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction and finalize a working draft of the speech in a CIA conference room, writes Michael Morell.
Powell made the request because he and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research had doubts about the sources and reliability of the intelligence and wanted the CIA to share responsibility for the content of the speech delivered to the world body in February 2003, department officials said at the time.
Miscik, however, “believed that crafting a policy speech in the halls of the CIA was crossing the line between intelligence and policy,” Morell, former deputy director and acting director of the CIA, writes in “The Great War of Our Time.” Bloomberg News obtained an advance copy of the book, written by Morell with Bill Harlow, Tenet’s spokesman at the CIA, and due for release next week.
Miscik, now president of Kissinger Associates Inc., “felt so strongly about this that she recused herself from participating in the process,” writes Morell, who said he was unaware “of her principled stance” until much later. Morell writes that he didn’t share her concern.
The Bush administration’s claims about Iraq’s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs were later exposed as falsehoods or exaggerations. A number of U.S. intelligence analysts and outside experts questioned them at the time, although not publicly. Miscik’s action, if disclosed then, might have helped slow the administration’s rush to war based on bad information.
Morell apologizes to Powell in the book for his agency’s erroneous assessments of Iraq’s WMD programs and says that then-Vice President Dick Cheney pressured analysts in the CIA and elsewhere to find links between Iraq and al-Qaeda that didn’t exist.
Morell, though, also says that group-think, poor analysis, nonexistent sources in Iraq’s senior leadership, and the absence of fresh intelligence to update four-year-old data buttressed the administration’s fears and fed its sales pitch for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
He faults the Defense Intelligence Agency for “analytical malpractice” for failing to alert the CIA that a prime source of allegations that Saddam Hussein possessed a mobile biological weapons production capability that made it into Powell’s speech was a known fabricator.
‘I Was Stunned’
“I do not know why they did not speak up” during prep session with Powell, as “when I learned about this months later, I was stunned,” Morell writes.
Some U.S. intelligence officials did tell reporters that they didn’t believe reports from Iraqi exiles that Iraqi bioweapons labs were disguised as milk and yogurt trucks.
More broadly, Morell acknowledges in one of many now-they-tell-us moments that “by far, the biggest mistake made by analysts” was not the wrong conclusions “but rather that they did not rigorously ask themselves how confident they were in their judgments.”
They “would most likely have said ‘not very,’” and constituted a collective judgment “that would have been a very different message to the president and other policy-makers and potentially could have affected their policy decision.”
Why would those assessments have been given low confidence? “Because the vast majority of the information we were working with was at least four years old,” dating back to 1998, Morell writes.
“And to top it off,” the case that Saddam had an active WMD program was “largely circumstantial,” based not on reliable current intelligence, but on the fact that he “once had chemical weapons, once used chemical weapons” and in 1991 was much closer to a nuclear weapon than previously thought. Those facts “were actually irrelevant to whether he was doing so in 2003.”
Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a post-invasion moment of candor said in June 2003 that “the coalition did not act in Iraq because we had discovered dramatic new evidence of Iraq’s pursuit. We acted because we saw the evidence in a dramatic new light -- through the prism of our experience on 9/11.”
Morell’s book also suggests that the CIA learned little from its mistakes in 2002 and 2003, badly misjudging the outcome of the Arab Spring uprisings elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa during the Obama administration.
“We thought and told policy-makers that this outburst of popular revolt would damage al-Qaeda by undermining the group’s narrative,” Morell writes. Instead, he concludes: “From a counterterrorism perspective, the Arab Spring had turned to winter.”
The agency erred, he writes, by overestimating the impact of Osama bin Laden’s death on the movement he led and by relying too heavily on Arab intelligence services.
“We were lax in creating our own windows into what was happening, and the leadership we were relying on was isolated and unaware of the tidal wave that was about to hit,” Morell writes.
In other issues that are still the subject of debate, he defends the CIA’s use of “alternative interrogation techniques” on suspected terrorists and criticizes the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation led by Democrats that found no evidence that waterboarding, sleep deprivation, force-feeding and other measures produced valuable intelligence that couldn’t be obtained by other means.
Morell also repeats his defense of the Obama administration’s response to the 2012 attacks on the CIA and State Department compounds in Benghazi, Libya, but writes that the CIA considered the turmoil in eastern Libya so serious that he had urged the Libyan government to unite against Islamist groups.
While he writes that the Obama administration distorted some elements of what happened in Benghazi, Morell also faults congressional Republicans for deliberately twisting accounts of the incident for partisan purposes.