The Magazine

The War Against Bush

From the June 30, 2003 issue: They were split over Saddam, but Dems are united against the president.

Jun 30, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 41 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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The Cheney trips, according to Ackerman and Judis, "were understood within the agency as an attempt to pressure the low-level specialists interpreting the raw intelligence. 'That would freak people out,' says one former CIA official. 'It is supposed to be an ivory tower.'" Really? Here as elsewhere Ackerman and Judis betray limitless credulousness in the face of claims by "former CIA officials" who agree with them on policy. They refuse to entertain the possibility that the vice president of a country about to embark on war might want to be as thoroughly briefed as possible. Similarly, why would a special task force to review al Qaeda-Iraq links be such a bad idea? Can it really be the position of the administration's critics that the executive branch is to defer uncritically to CIA analysis?

And that's it. A still-disputed Mohammed Atta meeting, denials from terrorists, trips to the CIA, and a special intelligence review team--with that, Ackerman and Judis accuse the Bush administration of deception, of "constructing castles out of sand." And though George Tenet, a Clinton administration holdover and veteran Democratic staffer with the Senate intelligence committee, wrote of "solid reporting of senior-level contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda going back a decade," Ackerman and Judis dismiss this as "a sop to the administration."

THERE IS NO QUESTION that some CIA analysts--perhaps even most CIA analysts--were skeptical about connections between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. But other intelligence experts disagreed, and events and findings since the war's end would seem to make those links at least an open question. But not to the critics--they know better.

There are several interesting reports of Iraq-al Qaeda links that the critics ignore. Farouk Hijazi, former Iraqi ambassador to Turkey and Tunisia, long believed to be the liaison between Iraq and al Qaeda, was captured a month ago. Administration officials told Newsweek that Hijazi admitted meeting with Osama bin Laden in Sudan in the mid-1990s, confirming previous intelligence reports. So terrorists who deny links with Iraq are more believable than Hijazi?

A mid-level associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an al Qaeda leader specializing in biological and chemical weapons, was captured in Baghdad shortly after the war. Al-Zarqawi, who also has ties to an al Qaeda splinter group, Ansar al-Islam, which operated in Kurdish-controlled Iraq, fled to Baghdad and received medical treatment after he was wounded fighting in Afghanistan. Colin Powell, in his presentation to the U.N. Security Council on February 5, 2003, spoke of al-Zarqawi and intelligence that he was operating a small cell from Baghdad. U.S. intelligence officials believe he remained in Baghdad as the war in Iraq began in mid-March, and may have fled to Iran following the conflict. On June 11, 2003, Knight-Ridder reporters revealed that U.S. troops in Baghdad captured "several suspected associates of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi" and "suspected members of Ansar al-Islam, a Kurdish Islamic extremist group."

Ackerman and Judis also focus on the administration's case on nukes, which they argue was at least hyped, and perhaps dishonest. The "misinformation and exaggeration" culminated in a speech President Bush gave in Cincinnati, Ohio, on October 7. Said Bush: "The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program." He further asserted, "Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons."

Studies conducted by both the CIA and DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) provided the basis for this assertion. Both agencies stand by that analysis today. But Ackerman and Judis point to studies of the tubes conducted by teams at the Department of Energy and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Those studies concluded that such tubes are not a good fit for gas centrifuges. So there was not unanimity. Why administration critics who are eager to defer to the CIA's skepticism about Saddam's al Qaeda links would rather not believe the CIA about the aluminum tubes is not explained. What's more, at least one foreign intelligence service has conducted its own tests on the tubes, and concluded that they are compatible with use in gas centrifuges.