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Pentagon official's prewar intel faulted

David Morgan and Jeremy Pelofsky
Reuters
Saturday, February 10, 2007  

A leading figure in the Bush administration's march to war in Iraq helped justify the 2003 invasion by undercutting the CIA with questionable intelligence about Saddam Hussein's links to al Qaeda, a Pentagon watchdog agency said in a report on Friday.

Former U.S. defense policy chief Douglas Feith presented the White House with claims of a "mature symbiotic relationship" between Iraq and al Qaeda as if they were facts, while ignoring contradictory views from the intelligence community, the report by the Pentagon inspector general said.

"They did not show the other, dissenting side," Defense Department acting inspector general Thomas Gimble told the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing.

A claim by Feith's office that September 11 hijacking ringleader Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi official months before the 2001 attacks could not be verified by intelligence, he said.

Gimble, who produced the classified report after a one-year review, concluded that Feith was authorized by former deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to pursue alternative intelligence conclusions and that the action was lawful.

But Feith's actions were sometimes "inappropriate" because they "did not clearly show the variance with the consensus of the intelligence community," said an unclassified two-page executive summary of the report released by the inspector general's office.

As a result, Feith's office "did not provide 'the most accurate analysis of intelligence' to senior decision-makers," it said

"The inspector general's report is a devastating condemnation," said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the Senate panel's Democratic chairman.

'POOR JUDGMENT'

Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, said the report showed that Feith's office exercised "extremely poor judgment for which our nation, and our service members in particular, are paying a terrible price."

Feith's audience at a White House presentation in September 2002 included then-deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley and Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney who is now on federal trial over another matter related to prewar Iraq intelligence.

Top administration officials including Cheney used claims of an Iraq-Qaeda relationship to suggest Saddam could have had a role in the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Independent bodies, including the September 11 commission, found no collaborative links between Iraq and the militant network blamed for the attacks that killed 3,000 people and prompted the U.S. war on terrorism.

The report, requested by the Senate Intelligence Committee in September 2005, recommended no action be taken because leadership changes in the Pentagon and intelligence community made a recurrence unlikely.

Feith, who left government in 2005, welcomed the finding that his activities were legal and authorized but said it was "absurd" to conclude that his work was inappropriate.

"It, of course, varied from (the) consensus. It was a criticism of that consensus. That is why it was written," he said in a statement.

Republicans loyal to President George W. Bush rebutted Levin and called Feith's work an intelligence critique that required no formal vetting process.

"I don't think in any way that his report can be interpreted as a devastating condemnation," said Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who replaced Donald Rumsfeld in December, did not comment on the substance of the report but said intelligence should to be handled through established channels.

"If intelligence is inadequate, then changes need to be made in those institutions to improve intelligence," Gates told reporters in Spain.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Gray and Joanne Allen, and by Kristin Roberts in Seville)

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