WASHINGTON -- The former CIA official assigned to manage the U.S. government's secret intelligence assessments on Iraq says the Bush administration chose war first and then misleadingly used raw data to assemble a public case for its decision to invade.
Paul Pillar, the CIA's national intelligence officer for the Middle East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, said the Bush administration also played on the nation's fears after the 2001 terrorist attacks, falsely linking al-Qaida to Saddam Hussein's government even though intelligence agencies had not produced any analysis supporting "the notion of an alliance" between the two.
Instead, Pillar writes in the next issue of the journal Foreign Affairs, connections were drawn between the terrorists and Iraq because "the administration wanted to hitch the Iraq expedition to the 'war on terror' and the threat the American public feared most, thereby capitalizing on the country's militant post-9/11 mood."
The specific critiques in Pillar's 4,500-word essay, "Intelligence, Policy and the War in Iraq," are not new. But it apparently is the first time such criticism has been publicly leveled by such a high-ranking intelligence official directly involved behind the scenes before, during or after the invasion of Iraq nearly three years ago.
Because of his position, Pillar would have had access to, and probably intimate knowledge of, nearly every piece of Iraq-related intelligence maintained by all federal agencies.
Pillar also writes in his essay that the administration went to war without considering any strategic-level intelligence assessments "on any aspect of Iraq" and that the intelligence community foreshadowed many post-Hussein woes, though the findings were largely ignored before the March 2003 invasion.
Excerpts from Pillar's article were first reported by The Washington Post yesterday. Foreign Affairs released a copy of the essay later in the day.
Pillar, a career intelligence official, retired from the CIA last year and is a visiting professor at Georgetown University in Washington.
The White House did not respond specifically to Pillar's charges yesterday, but Frederick Jones, a spokesman for the National Security Council, pointed to previous administration statements defending its use of intelligence.
The administration first went on the offensive in the fall in an effort to thwart what President Bush, in a Veterans Day speech, called a "deeply irresponsible" effort "to rewrite the history of how that war began."
Jones said yesterday that the administration's prewar statements "about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein were based on the aggregation of intelligence from a number of sources and represented the collective view of the intelligence community."
But in his essay, the man responsible for coordinating the intelligence community's collective view of Iraq challenged the notion that the prevailing wisdom within the nation's spy services supported the decision to invade.
"If the entire body of official intelligence analysis on Iraq had a policy implication, it was to avoid war," Pillar wrote.
He also wrote that the Bush administration "used intelligence not to inform decision-making but to justify a decision already made," the decision to oust Hussein's government.
In making its case, the administration aggressively promoted pieces of "intelligence to win public support for its decision to go to war," Pillar wrote.
He also wrote that "this meant selectively adducing data - 'cherry-picking' - rather than using the intelligence community's own analytic judgments."
Although he acknowledged that the intelligence community was wrong about Iraq's capabilities to produce weapons of mass destruction, Pillar wrote that intelligence "was not what led to the war."
He saved some of his sharpest criticisms for the administration's repeated public statements in 2002 and 2003 about "links" between Iraq and al-Qaida, statements that have been repeated even though an independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks found no collaborative relationship between the two.
Pillar's allegations about the public use of selective intelligence on Iraq follows news that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, told a grand jury that he was authorized by his bosses to leak classified information about Iraq in the summer of 2003 to defend the administration's case for war.
Cam Simpson writes for the Chicago Tribune.