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The Intelligence War

What the New York Times left out of its latest assault on the Bush administration.

8:25 AM, Nov 6, 2005 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Conclusion 104. None of the portrayals of the intelligence reporting included in Secretary Powell's speech differed in any significant way from earlier assessments published by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Neither of these conclusions is mentioned in the Times piece.

LEVIN TOLD the Washington Post that he did not have the DIA document until after the Phase I report was completed. That's possible. But given his history on the issue, it's also possible that Levin was simply waiting until he could be sure his claims would be most politically damaging to the administration. (This is the man who released his own personal "study" of the intelligence on October 21, 2004, two weeks before the presidential election.) Whatever the truth of the matter, if history holds, Levin was almost certainly cherry-picking the intelligence, using only the information that supports his charges and ignoring the rest.

The rest is important. It provides much-needed context to the Bush administration's prewar claims. For example, we learn from the Phase I report that the CIA produced a classified analysis in September 2002 called Iraqi Support for Terrorism. The report assessed: "The general pattern that emerges is of al Qaeda's enduring interest in acquiring chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) expertise from Iraq."

Among the conclusions of Iraqi Support for Terrorism were these:

Regarding the Iraq-al Qaeda relationship, reporting from sources of varying reliability points to . . . incidents of training . . . [ellipses in original]

The most disturbing aspect of the relationship is the dozen or so reports of varying reliability mentioning the involvement of Iraq or Iraqi nationals in al Qaeda's efforts to obtain CBW training.

There is no question that al Libi's claims that Iraq trained al Qaeda on chemical and biological weapons were important. But one of the reasons that the CIA and Bush administration policymakers took them so seriously is because they fit a pattern of earlier reporting, albeit reporting from sources of "varying reliability."

These claims did not begin with the Bush administration. Senior Clinton administration officials repeatedly claimed that Iraq had provided chemical weapons expertise--at least--to al Qaeda in 1998. After al Qaeda terrorists struck two U.S. embassies in East Africa the Clinton administration retaliated by striking an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan and the al Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. In its defense of the al Shifa strikes, Clinton administration officials cited an al Qaeda presence at suspected chemical weapons facilities in Sudan. These facilities, according to both Clinton administration spokesmen and senior intelligence officials, were the result of a collaborative effort between Iraqi scientists, the Sudanese Military Industrial Corporation and al Qaeda terrorists. Clinton administration officials stand by those claims today.

Does Carl Levin think they are wrong?

ONE FINAL POINT: For two years Carl Levin has led the Democratic assault on the credibility of Bush administration's claim of an Iraq-al Qaeda connection. It is worth moment to examine his credibility on these same issues.

In the months after the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, Levin repeatedly accused the Bush administration of pressuring intelligence officials to reach conclusions that supported the case for war. He provided an example in an appearance on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on June 16, 2003, saying, "We were told by the intelligence community that there was a very strong link between Iraq and al Qaeda."

But Levin's allegations were undermined as the Senate Intelligence Committee interviewed analysts to determine whether they were pressured to change their analyses. None of the analysts supported his claim, a finding that was later confirmed in the Phase I report.

So Levin adjusted his allegation. "The intel didn't say that there is a direct connection between al Qaeda and Iraq," he said in an appearance on Fox News Channel on February 2, 2004. "That was not the intel. That's what this administration exaggerated to produce."

So which is it? Did the intelligence claim a "very strong link" or no direct connection?

At his press conference last week, Levin went even further. "The intelligence was not far off as it related to the nonexistent relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein."

Carl Levin may believe that there was no relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda. But his claims are at odds with the views of the CIA.