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10/21/2004

Levin Report

Sen. Carl Levin, ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has released a report [PDF] on pre-war intelligence. The report claims that the Iraq-Al Qaeda relationship was "exaggerated by high ranking officials in the Department of Defense to support the Administration's decision to invade Iraq when the intelligence assessments of the Intelligence Community did not make a sufficiently compelling case." The report lays the blame squarely on Doug Feith's Office of Special plans:

This report shows that in the case of Iraq's relationship with al Qaeda, intelligence was exaggerated to support Administration policy aims primarily by the Feith policy office, which was determined to find a strong connection between Iraq and al Qaeda, rather than by the IC, which was consistently dubious of such a connection. [Levin Report 2]
The entire report is damning. It notes the Bush administration's long-held desire to invade Iraq, relying on Suskind and O'Neill's Price of Loyalty, Woodward's Plan of Attack, Clarke's Against All Enemies, and the 9/11 Commission report. Some key arguments:
  1. That Feith's office undertook the intelligence review, rather than an IC agency, "suggests a determination to reach a particular conclusion." [13] Feith's office, promoting it's "hypothesis in search of evidence," "advanced the DOD perspective in two ways: by attempting to change the IC's views (or at least the content of IC products), and by taking its interpretation straight to policymakers, including in the White House." [14]

  2. Feith's office undertook significant efforts to influence IC work product. These included sending staff to IC meetings, criticizing the "tone" of IC product, pushing for greater emphasis on discarded or already considered intelligence:
    ...Feith's staff requested, both verbally and in written form, at least 32 changes to the draft [of the CTC report Iraq and al Qaida: Interpreting a Murky Relationship], including inserting raw intelligence reports that had previously been omitted, deleting others, and altering the characterization of certain issues and raw reporting. Although the substance of all the related documents remains classified, a comparison of the Feith staff's requests for changes to the final report indicates that half of the changes they advocated were made, either as requested or with caveats. Specifically, 16 changes were made, 14 were not, and for 2 the outcome is indeterminate. [15-16]
    The trick, as the Levin report makes clear, was to get dubious intelligence reports into the documents; analysis which caveated them was casually ignored.

  3. Feith's office stovepiped raw intelligence to decision makers. Feith's office prepared a report entitled "Assessing the Relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda" and gave it to Rumsfeld, Tenet and Cheney. The report included a reference to Atta in the version presented to Cheney, but omitted it as presented to Tenet. [16-17]
    ...unbeknownst to the IC, policymakers were getting information that was inconsistent with, and thus undermined, the professional judgments of the IC experts. The changes included information that was dubious, misrepresented, or of unknown import. [22-23]
  4. Feith's office advanced baseless criticisms of IC product. [18-22] These criticisms were that the IC was applying too high an evidentiary standard, was insufficiently wary of deception, and put too much weight on the fact that Al Qaeda was unlikely to cooperate with the secular Hussein regime.

  5. The IC was unaware of the stovepiping.
    Under Secretary Feith never informed the IC that he was taking the briefing they saw (with the addition of the slide critical of the IC and two other slides) to the White House. In fact, DCI Tenet had been unaware of the Feith staff September 2002 briefing to the White House until February 2004, when Senator Levin raised the issue at an SSCI hearing. [24]
  6. Feith's office acted dishonestly and dishonorably in the handling of the memo that was leaked to Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard. Feith's office prepared the memo for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and promptly leaked it to Hayes. The IC looked at the memo after it became a public issue, and sent a list of corrections to Feith's office. Feith's office sent a purportedly "corrected" memo to the Senate Select Armed Services Committee, but it did not alter significant errors highlighted by the IC, particularly those related to the alleged explosives training proffered to Al Qaeda by Hussein and concerning Zarqawi's ties to Hussein [26-29].

  7. The administration relied on Feith's conclusions rather than IC findings. The Levin report includes 13 pages of quotes from administration officials and discussion of how they reflected Feith's views rather than the views of the IC. [30-43]

  8. DOD was not cooperative with the SASC investigation. The final page [46] is an appendix of reports requested from DOD but not received.
Any debate on intelligence reform must address the dangers of politicization - when an administration wants to go to war, it must not be able to gin up a rationale. Senator Levin has done us all a service in releasing this report at this time.

AFP coverage.

Update, 10/22/04, 10:11 AM EST: The NYT has a good Doug Jehl write up of the report. It notes the dishonest "correction" of the Hayes memo:
The Levin report also disclosed for the first time that the C.I.A., in December 2003, sent Mr. Feith a letter pointing out corrections he should make to the document before providing it to Senator Levin, who had requested the document as part of his investigation.

Perhaps most critically, the report says, Mr. Feith repeated a questionable assertion concerning a Jordanian, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Qaeda ally whose presence in Iraq was cited by the Bush administration before the war as crucial evidence of Mr. Hussein's support for terrorism.
Greg Miller's LAT article also focuses on the fake "corrections," as does the AP story:
In his report, Levin said the CIA requested a number of corrections to a memo written by Feith and provided to some senators in 2003, before the memo could be distributed widely to the Senate armed services panel.

But, Levin's report says, crucial changes requested by CIA were not made, including adequate alterations to information about the credibility of a source who provided raw intelligence on the Iraq-al-Qaida link. Levin suggests the changes would have weakened evidence of a link.
AP includes the standard "politiciztion" defense, this time citing Sen. John Cornyn calling it "a partisan effort to influence the election." Oddly, Sen. John Warner attempts to rebut the report by citing some of the Feith shop's disputed interpretations:
While much information remains classified, Warner noted that Iraq has been on the State Department's list of terror sponsors since 1990 and has a history of support for terror groups that attack Israel. Warner also said that there is evidence of contacts between Saddam's regime and groups and individuals associated with al-Qaida.
No one doubts this - the question has always been the relationship to Al Qaeda. Feith's office claimed this evidence indicated cooperation between Hussein and AQ - the IC disagreed. The Bush administration sided with Feith, even though the matter is one of intelligence, not policy.

Reuters has a bland release which implies politicization, reflecting the official DoD response:
The Levin report appears to depart from the bipartisan, consultative relationship that exists between the Department of Defense and the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Department cooperated carefully with Senator Levin’s investigation, knowing that Senator Levin might decide, as he did, not to seek a unanimous -- or at least bipartisan -- report.
The Weekly Standard responded to the pointed criticism in the report first by republishing a Stephen Hayes hit piece on Senator Levin, then following it up this morning with a Stephen Hayes penned attack on the report. He doesn't bother to mention that he was singled out, by name, in the report.

Update, 10/22/04, 10:46 AM EST: Steve Clemons half-heartedly comes to the defense of Feith, worrying that he is the "Lyndie England" of the intelligence mess. He's right, to the extent that the buck can't stop with Feith. He was simply the guy most willing to give the administration higher ups what they wanted - the cheapest intelligence whore. The Johns still need to be held accountable.

Matt Yglesias flags the report, promising more later. Laura Rozen at War and Piece provides highlights while also promising more.

Update, 10/24/04, 10:55 AM EST: I missed yesterday's NYT editorial on the report:
For those who were confused before the war, and still are, by all the Bush administration's claims - that the hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi official shortly before 9/11, that a member of Al Qaeda set up a base in Iraq with the help of Mr. Hussein, that Iraq helped Al Qaeda learn to make bombs and provided it with explosives - the evidence is now clear. The Levin report, together with the 9/11 panel's findings and the Senate intelligence report, show that those claims were all cooked up by Mr. Feith's shop, which knew that the C.I.A. and the Defense Intelligence Agency had already shown them to be false.

We don't know exactly how much of that the White House knew because Mr. Feith tried to confuse things. He eliminated points that the C.I.A. disputed when he showed the intelligence agency his report, and he put them back in when he sent it to the White House.
Last night the AP was provided a copy of a letter Feith wrote to Levin immediately prior to the release of the report. Feith takes umbrage at the accusation of politicization and denies that he misled Congress about his consideration of CIA "corrections" to his report. His defense would be stronger if DoD had cooperated with the investigation.

 

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