A top-level Defense Department official skewed intelligence reports about Iraq in 2001 and 2002 in an attempting to justify an invasion, according to an inspector general's report from the Pentagon. The Senate Armed Services Committee discussed the report today.
Congress has been embroiled all week in the debate over what the United States should be doing next in Iraq.
But today the argument shifted to the role a secretive Pentagon office played in taking the nation to war there in the first place. The Pentagon's inspector general told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Office of Special Plans had carried out "inappropriate" intelligence activities.
For Sen. Carl Levin, the Armed Services panel's new Democratic chairman, the report from the Defense Department was a vindication. It confirmed a report Levin authored more than two years ago that skewered the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, the unit created by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and headed by Douglas Feith.
The report concludes that the office gave top Bush administration officials assessments that were not supported by available intelligence — such as asserting that there was a mature symbiotic relationship between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida.
"The bottom line is that intelligence relating to the Iraq-al-Qaida relationship was manipulated by high-ranking officials in the Department of Defense to support the administration's decision to invade Iraq" despite evidence to the contrary, Levin said.
But Feith, who headed the Pentagon policy office, disputes Levin's assessment.
"What he's saying is wrong and unsupported," Feith said. "The criticism that is being directed now at my former office is because my office was trying to prevent an intelligence failure.
"We had people in the Pentagon who thought that the CIA's speculative assessments were not, were not of top quality, they were not raising all the questions they should raise and considering all the information they should consider."
But according to acting Pentagon Inspector Thomas Gimble, who defended the report before the panel, the problem was not the criticism Feith's office aimed at the CIA. The problem was that the office presented only one side of highly controversial intelligence assessments.
"We don't believe they followed the prescribed intelligence vetting processes," Gimble told the panel. "And they had information that went up that was not vetted and it was not shown to be divergent from the other in these briefing charts."