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(Update) "Politicized" Intelligence and the CIA

3:16 PM, Feb 10, 2006 • By DANIEL MCKIVERGAN
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(Update: Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) told Tim Russert on Sunday's Meet the Press that Paul Pillar said nothing about subtle political pressure on analysts when he was interviewed as part of the committee's investigation of pre-war intelligence. "Now we interviewed over 250 analysts during the WMD-the WMD inquiry, including this gentleman [Mr. Pillar]. Not one, except him now, post after all this is done, said that they were pressured in any way. And that was backed up by the WMD commission.")

Not surprisingly, the Washington Post's Walter Pincus reports on an upcoming Foreign Affairs piece by Paul Pillar, the CIA's national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005. Pillar's views are old news, of course, as Stephen Hayes points out. He believed that "containment" was working and that Saddam could have been kept "in his box" -- a favorite phrase of Secretary of State Albright during the Clinton years. Fine. But the president, elected by the voters to make policy judgments, and many others disagreed then and still do today with Pillar's "in his box" assessment -- see here. Since the Iraq invasion, Pillar hasn't apparently been shy in letting people know "privately" and also publicly about the wisdom of the CIA and the ignorance of the Bush White House.

Pincus writes:

The Bush administration, Pillar wrote, "repeatedly called on the intelligence community to uncover more material that would contribute to the case for war," including information on the "supposed connection" between Hussein and al Qaeda, which analysts had discounted.

Of course, Mr. Pillar's dismissive comments are puzzling given that, at the time, U.S. intelligence had no high-level, human assets in Saddam's inner circle let alone inside the top ranks of al Qaeda. For example, consider these two congressional reports, the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities before and after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001 (pp. 90, 91), and the Report on U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq (pp. 322, 323, 351, 355):

"The U.S. Intelligence Community was not able to penetrate al Qaeda's inner circle successfully before September 11, despite the fact that human penetration of that organization was considered a priority."

"According to senior CTC [Counterterrorist Center] officials, CIA had no penetrations of al Qaeda's leadership and never obtained intelligence that was sufficient for action against Usama bin Laden."

"CIA acknowledged the poor intelligence collection on both the Iraqi regime and al Qaeda leadership."

"CIA stated it did not have specific intelligence reports that revealed Saddam Hussein's personal opinion about dealing with al Qaeda."

"There was no robust HUMINT collection capability targeting Iraq's links to terrorism until the fall of 2002."

"Despite four decades of intelligence reporting on Iraq, there was little useful intelligence collection that helped analysts determine the Iraqi regime's possible links to al Qaeda."

"The CIA had no…sources on the ground in Iraq providing reporting specifically on terrorism."

But then again, perhaps the people who wrote these reports were "subtly" pressured to reach these conclusions.