The Under Secretary Responds

We wrote here about the Inspector General’s report on Department of Defense’s effort, led by Doug Feith, to challenge the CIA’s dogmatic conviction that Saddam’s “secular” Iraq could never cooperate with Islamic militants. The Inspector General concluded that the DoD’s efforts were neither illegal nor unauthorized, but were “improper.”
Before the Inspector General issued his report, it was reviewed in draft form and commented on by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. We have obtained a copy of the Under Secretary’s comments, a document which runs to 52 pages. It is, in effect, a rebuttal of the claims asserted by the IG. I am not sure whether the document has been made public or is available online, but I don’t think I’ve seen any reporting on it.
The Under Secretary’s rebuttal of the IG’s report is withering. It takes the IG’s report apart, brick by brick, and shows it to be false in every material respect. Much of the Under Secretary’s response is devoted to bureaucratic matters; e.g., the Inspector General was simply wrong in asserting that the work in question was carried out by the Under Secretary for Policy’s office.
On the merits, the Under Secretary points out that the IG has no expertise to determine that the effort to re-evaluate the intelligence gathered by the CIA and other agencies was “improper,” even though it was both legal and directed by the Secretary of Defense:

The work found “inappropriate” was an exercise in alternative thinking that the second most senior civilian in this Department directed his subordinates to prepare and brief to the most senior official of this Department. The latter, after receiving the draft briefing, directed that it be shared with the [Director of Central Intelligence]. When the Deputy National Security Advisor requested the briefing, the Deputy Secretary’s office directed that it be given to him. These are the activities that the Draft Report characterizes as “inappropriate,” because it considers them to be “production” and “dissemination” of an “alternative intelligence assessment” contradicting assessments of the “chartered-intelligence community.” If the OIG actually believes that it was inappropriate for the Deputy Secretary of Defense to have some non-[intelligence community] staff members do a critical assessment of some [intelligence community] work on a subject of major significance for national security, inappropriate for the Secretary of Defense to share the OSD work with the [Director of Central Intelligence], and inappropriate for the Deputy Secretary to share the work with the Deputy National Security Advisor when requested by the latter, the OIG should say so directly instead of finding fault with subordinate OSD offices and staff members who did as they were instructed to do.

In essence, the Inspector General concluded that it was “inappropriate” to debate the significance of the intelligence that had been gathered over the years by the intelligence agencies.
The purpose of the DoD project was to re-examine the agencies’ raw intelligence on the contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda “absent an a priori assumption that secular Baathists and Islamic extremists would never cooperate.” The Under Secretary’s comments reveal how closed-minded the CIA was on this topic, and how important it was to bring diverse perspectives to bear. Consider this anecdote:

Sometime in early 2002, in the course of her work, [a DoD analyst] came across a finished 1998 CIA report on Iraq’s [redacted]. The report mentioned that Usama bin Laden had requested and received certain training from an Iraqi [redacted] service. On her own initiative, she requested and received through CIA channels the underlying information on which the item was based, consisting of two Memo Dissems, and subsequently obtained additional CIA reports from DIA and CIA on the issue of Iraq and al-Qaida.
*** She recommended that the [Joint Intelligence Task Force] publish the [intelligence community] reporting data “so that it would be available to the entire [intelligence community] because reports published previously did not contain this important data” and that, without it, “analysis of the subject would be incomplete and inaccurate in the future.” ***
The analyst then called the J-2’s senior analyst and again recommended that the [intelligence community] reporting information be published to the entire [intelligence community]. The J-2 analyst responded that “putting it out there would be playing into the hands of people like Wolfowitz,” that the information “was old” and “only a tid-bit,” asked how did she “know that the information was true,” made a comment about trying to support “some agenda of people in the building,” and bucked the issue of publication back to the JITF chief. The JITF chief took no further action on the recommendation to publish the information, as far as we know.

This is the highly professional, objective attitude of the intelligence agencies whom the Inspector General considered it “improper” to question.
The other aspect of the Under Secretary’s comments that is of ongoing public interest is the observation that the documents created by DoD were not nearly so much at odds with the CIA’s own evaluations as the IG’s reported suggested. The Under Secretary notes:

It is puzzling…that the Draft Report fails to discuss some of the most authoritative articulations of the [intelligence community’s] analysis on Iraq and al Qaeda–the vetted, coordinated correspondence and testimony by the [Director of Central Intelligence] himself to the Congress.

So the Under Secretary retrieves from the memory hole what the CIA said about contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda during 2002 and 2003. On October 7, 2002, the Director of Central Intelligence wrote to Congress:

*Our understanding of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaida is evolving and is based on sources of varying reliability. Some of the information we have received comes from detainees, including some of high rank.
*We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and al Qaida going back a decade.
*Credible information indicates that Iraq and al Qaida have discussed safe haven and reciprocal non-aggression.
*Since Operation Enduring Freedom, we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al Qaida members, including some that have been in Baghdad.
*We have credible reporting that al Qaida leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire WMD capabilities. The reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to al Qaida members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs.
*Iraq’s increasing support to extremist Palestinians, coupled with growing indications of a relationship with al Qaida, suggest that Baghdad’s links to terrorists will increase, even absent military action.

In a statement to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on February 11, 2003, the Director of Central Intelligence stated:

Iraq has in the past provided training in document forgery and bomb-making to al Qaida. It also provided training in poisons and gases to two al Qaida associates; one of these associates characterized the relationship he forged with Iraqi officials as successful. Mr. Chairman, this information is based on a sold foundation of intelligence. It comes to us from credible and reliable sources.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on February 12, 2003, the DCI stated:

[W]e also know from very reliable information that there’s been some transfer of training in chemical and biologicals [sic] from the Iraqis to al Qaeda.

Today, there are politicians like Carl Levin and CIA officials like Paul Pillar (now retired) who prefer to forget what the intelligence agencies said back in 2002 and 2003. You might think that reporters, with access to Lexis/Nexis–not to mention their own stories from a mere four years ago–would remind them. You would be wrong.
UPDATE: Hugh Hewitt wrote on this topic this morning, and his post includes a scanned-in copy of the Under Secretary’s response to the draft report.
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