The CIA Did Not Drive the Administration to Iraq (Improved Version)

by Brendan Lalor

Too many Americans are still looking for ways to justify defending George W. Bush and his Administration as good, honest leaders. These defenders of Bush seized upon Colin Powell’s pre-war “revelation” of Iraq’s “drone aircraft” as evidence backing the Administration’s claims that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the U.S.

That Administration claim was debunked in short order.

These defenders of Bush seized upon every news story early in the U.S. occupation of Iraq announcing supposed evidence for WMDs — news stories often appearing in the supposedly “liberal” New York Times — as evidence that Bush was telling the truth after all.

The Administration’s hopes of vindication were again dashed, repeatedly. (It is unfortunate that, often, news stories correcting false Administration claims appeared closer to papers’ page A-17 than to A-1, on which the false claims themselves typically appeared.)

Lately these defenders of Bush have been eager to pin as much blame for the Iraq war as possible on the CIA. Some of this is surely proper. As the Los Angeles Times reported on 10 July:

In a classified National Intelligence Estimate prepared before the Iraq war, the CIA hedged its judgments about Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction, pointing up the limits of its knowledge.

But in the unclassified version of the NIE — the so-called white paper cited by the Bush administration in making its case for war — those carefully qualified conclusions were turned into blunt assertions of fact, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on prewar intelligence.

What could explain what the Senate Intelligence Committee called a “systematic alteration of the classified version” — i.e., a pattern of alterations that downplayed doubt and hyped limp evidence?

For a little context, recall intelligence insiders’ reports that the Bush Administration pressured them for intelligence supporting the claims that Saddam’s WMD program was active, and that links him to terrorism, preferably to al Qaeda. Recall Bush’s former chief of counterterrorism, Richard Clarke, reporting that the Administration was bent on attacking Iraq rather than pursuing bin Laden. Recall Donald Rumsfeld giving the CIA a run for its money by creating his own competing intelligence office inside the Defense Department. Justin Barber, in a special investigation for the Guardian (17 July 2003), described Rumsfeld’s Office of Special Plans as

the shadow rightwing intelligence network set up in Washington to second-guess the CIA and deliver a justification for toppling Saddam Hussein by force.

Recall Dick Cheney applying pressure more directly, making highly unusual, repeated visits to the CIA prior to the war.

It is only by ignoring these and other pieces of a larger pattern of pressures from Administration insiders that the defenders of Bush can claim with straight faces, “Bush and his Administration were duped.” The Bushies ordered up a pattern of systematically altered evidence — evidence doctored to support a pre-existing, rather than a data-supported, thesis — and that is what they got.

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