It has been an open secret that U.S. intelligence agencies felt pressured by the Bush administration to exaggerate the threat of Iraqi WMD and find alleged links between al Qaeda and Saddam Husseins regime. But that latent anger has recently gone public in leaks of a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report questioning the credibility of intelligence provided by the administrations closest allies in Iraq. It also surfaced in the disclosure that the CIA has notified the Justice Department that a criminal statute apparently was violated when someone allegedly divulged the identity of a CIA covert agent to the media. That someone was likely a senior administration official or two. With a now openly hostile intelligence community, those embarrassing revelations may be only the first of many to come.
To protect the lives of covert intelligence agents in the field, it is illegal to disclose their identities. Passed during the Reagan administration, the law was originally targeted at a private organization that was relying entirely on publicly available information to out the covert agents. Whoever thought that the statute might eventually be used to criminally prosecute senior administration officials? For an administration that often subtly questions the patriotism of its critics, the outing of former Ambassador Joseph Wilsons wife as alleged revenge for his first-hand criticism of the Bush administrations inflation of the Iraqi nuclear threat smacks of a double standard. Even by the standards of the knock-down, drag-out brawling common to the nations capital, that retribution was hitting below the belt.
And its not very prudent either. Putting the lives of intelligence agents in danger is the quickest way to create a vendetta in the mind of the kings of covert operations. The depth of animosity in the intelligence community is exemplified by the CIAs notification to the Justice Department that the law apparently had been violated. CIA Director George Tenet, a former Clinton appointee who was allowed to keep his job when the Bush administration took office, had been heretofore compliant with administration pressure on the intelligence community to come up with the right answers on Iraq. Tenet has now either finally decided to fight back or, more likely, is under so much pressure inside the community that he has no choice. Unless the Justice Department can find some plausible excuse to quash a criminal investigation, the political fallout from that scandal could be intense.
Another indication that the intelligence agencies are not happy is the leaking of an internal DIA report questioning the credibility of defectors supposedly expert in Iraqs WMD programs. Those defectors were provided by the administrations strongest allies in Iraq, Ahmad Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress. The DIA noted that the defectors invented or exaggerated their credentials and provided very little useful information on Iraqi WMD.
Even the congressional criticism of the Bush administrations handling of intelligence on Iraqi WMD programs and Husseins alleged links with al Qaeda at least partly mirrors the intelligence communitys ire. The House Intelligence Committee, usually not very critical of the intelligence community, is led by Representative Porter Goss, a Republican and former CIA agent. The leaders of the committee, Goss and Democrat Jane Harman, recently noted that there were too many uncertainties in the outdated and inadequate intelligence that the Bush administration used to justify the war. They further concluded: The intelligence available to the U.S. on Iraqs possession of W.M.D. and its programs and capabilities relating to such weapons after 1998, and its links to Al Qaeda, was fragmentary and sporadic. Thats a nice way of saying that the Bush administration based its invasion of Iraq on only the scant new intelligence gathered after international weapons inspectors left five years ago.
Despite official pledges of cooperation, will the politicos at the White House return fire for the leaked DIA report or the CIAs notification of apparent criminal violation? They should think twice before doing so. By outing an intelligence agent and by bringing undue pressure on the intelligence community to come up with an excessively threatening picture of pre-war Iraq, the administration is already in enough trouble with the keepers of the secrets. It may already be too late for the administration to avoid other embarrassing revelations by its own spooks. But unwisely escalating the bitter feud with a foe that holds most of the cards certainly cant help the administrations fortunes.
Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.
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