The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[casi] "Cooked Information": Knight-Ridder and The Guardian

Two significant stories about the U.S. Administration's misrepresentation of
intelligence data (in particular, a debunking of claimed high-level ties between
Baghdad and Al-Qaida):

>> Knight-Ridder (the 2nd largest newspaper publisher in the U.S.) cites more
than a dozen military and intelligence sources in claiming "administration hawks
have exaggerated evidence of the threat that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein poses
-- including distorting his links to the al-Qaida terrorist network -- have
overstated the amount of international support for attacking Iraq and have
downplayed the potential repercussions of a new war in the Middle East."

>> The Guardian quotes Vincent Cannistraro, the CIA's former head of
counter-intelligence: "Basically, cooked information is working its way into
high-level pronouncements and there's a lot of unhappiness about it."

These stories are summarized in a 3rd piece by Salon's exec editor, Gary Kamiya.

Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA

Oct. 8, 2002, 10:47AM

Some administration officials expressing misgivings on Iraq
Knight-Ridder Tribune News

WASHINGTON -- While President Bush marshals congressional and international
support for invading Iraq, a growing number of military officers, intelligence
professionals and diplomats in his own government privately have deep misgivings
about the administration's double-time march toward war.

These officials charge that administration hawks have exaggerated evidence of
the threat that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein poses -- including distorting his
links to the al-Qaida terrorist network -- have overstated the amount of
international support for attacking Iraq and have downplayed the potential
repercussions of a new war in the Middle East.

They charge that the administration squelches dissenting views and that
intelligence analysts are under intense pressure to produce reports supporting
the White House's argument that Saddam poses such an immediate threat to the
United States that pre-emptive military action is necessary.

"Analysts at the working level in the intelligence community are feeling very
strong pressure from the Pentagon to cook the intelligence books," said one
official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A dozen other officials echoed his views in interviews.

No one who was interviewed disagreed.

They cited recent suggestions by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National
Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that Saddam and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida
network are working together.

Rumsfeld said on Sept. 26 that the U.S. government has "bulletproof confirmation
of links between Iraq and al-Qaida members, including "solid evidence" that
members of the terrorist network maintain a presence in Iraq.

The facts are much less conclusive. Officials said Rumsfeld's statement was
based in part on intercepted telephone calls, in which an al-Qaida member who
apparently was passing through Baghdad was overheard calling friends or
relatives, intelligence officials said. The intercepts provide no evidence that
the suspected terrorist was working with the Iraqi regime or that he was working
on a terrorist operation while he was in Iraq, they said.

Rumsfeld also suggested that the Iraqi regime has offered safe haven to bin
Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

While technically true, that also is misleading. Intelligence reports said the
Iraqi ambassador to Turkey, a longtime Iraqi intelligence officer, made the
offer during a visit to Afghanistan in late 1998, after the United States
attacked al-Qaida training camps with cruise missiles to retaliate for the
bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. But officials said the
same intelligence reports said bin Laden rejected the offer because he didn't
want Saddam to control his group.

In fact, the officials said, there's no ironclad evidence that the Iraqi regime
and the terrorist network are working together or that Saddam has ever
contemplated giving chemical or biological weapons to al-Qaida, with whom he has
deep ideological differences.

None of the dissenting officials, who work in a number of different agencies,
would agree to speak publicly, out of fear of retribution. But many of them have
long experience in the Middle East and South Asia, and all spoke in similar
terms about their unease with the way U.S. political leaders are dealing with

All agreed that Saddam is a threat who eventually must be dealt with, and none
flatly opposes military action. But, they say, the U.S. government has no
dramatic new knowledge about the Iraqi leader that justifies Bush's urgent call
to arms.

"I've seen nothing that's compelling," said one military officer who has access
to intelligence reports.

Some lawmakers have voiced similar concerns after receiving CIA briefings.

White House 'exaggerating Iraqi threat'

Bush's televised address attacked by US intelligence

Julian Borger in Washington
Wednesday October 9, 2002
The Guardian

President Bush's case against Saddam Hussein, outlined in a televised address to
the nation on Monday night, relied on a slanted and sometimes entirely false
reading of the available US intelligence, government officials and analysts
claimed yesterday.
Officials in the CIA, FBI and energy department are being put under intense
pressure to produce reports which back the administration's line, the Guardian
has learned. In response, some are complying, some are resisting and some are
choosing to remain silent.

"Basically, cooked information is working its way into high-level pronouncements
and there's a lot of unhappiness about it in intelligence, especially among
analysts at the CIA," said Vincent Cannistraro, the CIA's former head of

In his address, the president reassured Americans that military action was not
"imminent or unavoidable", but he made the most detailed case to date for the
use of force, should it become necessary.

But some of the key allegations against the Iraqi regime were not supported by
intelligence currently available to the administration. Mr Bush repeated a claim
already made by senior members of his administration that Iraq has attempted to
import hardened aluminium tubes "for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich
uranium for nuclear weapons". The tubes were also mentioned by Tony Blair in his
dossier of evidence presented to parliament last month.

However, US government experts on nuclear weapons and centrifuges have suggested
that they were more likely to be used for making conventional weapons.

"I would just say there is not much support for that [nuclear] theory around
here," said a department of energy specialist.

David Albright, a physicist and former UN weapons inspector who was consulted on
the purpose of the aluminium tubes, said it was far from clear that the tubes
were intended for a uranium centrifuge.

Mr Albright, who heads the Institute for Science and International Security, a
Washington thinktank, said: "There's a catfight going on about this right now.
On one side you have most of the experts on gas centrifuges. On the other you
have one guy sitting in the CIA."

Mr Albright said sceptics at the energy department's Lawrence Livermore national
laboratory in California had been ordered to keep their doubts to themselves. He
quoted a colleague at the laboratory as saying: "The administration can say what
it wants and we are expected to remain silent."

There is already considerable scepticism among US intelligence officials about
Mr Bush's claims of links between Iraq and al-Qaida. In his speech on Monday, Mr
Bush referred to a "very senior al-Qaida leader who received medical treatment
in Baghdad this year".

An intelligence source said the man the president was referring to was Abu Musab
Zarqawi, who was arrested in Jordan in 2001 for his part in the "millennium
plot" to bomb tourist sites there. He was subsequently released and eventually
made his way to Iraq in search of treatment. However, intercepted telephone
calls did not mention any cooperation with the Iraqi government.

There is also profound scepticism among US intelligence experts about the
president's claim that "Iraq has trained al-Qaida members in bomb-making and
poisons and deadly gases".

Bob Baer, a former CIA agent who tracked al-Qaida's rise, said that there were
contacts between Osama bin Laden and the Iraqi government in Sudan in the early
1990s and in 1998: "But there is no evidence that a strategic partnership came
out of it. I'm unaware of any evidence of Saddam pursuing terrorism against the
United States."

A source familiar with the September 11 investigation said: "The FBI has been
pounded on to make this link."

In making his case on Monday, Mr Bush made a startling claim that the Iraqi
regime was developing drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which "could
be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas".

"We're concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions
targeting the United States," he warned.

US military experts confirmed that Iraq had been converting eastern European
trainer jets, known as L-29s, into drones, but said that with a maximum range of
a few hundred miles they were no threat to targets in the US.

"It doesn't make any sense to me if he meant United States territory," said
Stephen Baker, a retired US navy rear admiral who assesses Iraqi military
capabilities at the Washington-based Centre for Defence Information.

Mr Cannistraro said the flow of intelligence to the top levels of the
administration had been deliberately skewed by hawks at the Pentagon.

"CIA assessments are being put aside by the defence department in favour of
intelligence they are getting from various Iraqi exiles," he said. "Machiavelli
warned princes against listening to exiles. Well, that is what is happening

President Bush's distorted case for war
U.S. officials say the White House is exaggerating the threat posed by Saddam
and pressuring the intelligence community to "cook the books."

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Gary Kamiya

Oct. 10, 2002  |  On Monday, President Bush took to the airwaves to try to
convince Americans that Saddam Hussein poses an imminent threat to the United
States. He gave a long list of reasons, emphasizing Saddam's ties to al-Qaida
and the likelihood that he would acquire nuclear weapons soon. But according to
the director of the CIA and numerous intelligence and diplomatic sources within
Bush's administration, many of the president's arguments are exaggerated or

You won't hear U.S. officials say that publicly, though, because intelligence
sources say they are being leaned on by higher-ups to support the get-Saddam
program -- never mind the facts. In a damning article by Knight Ridder reporters
Warren P. Strobel, Jonathan S. Landay and John Walcott that appeared Tuesday,
one U.S. official is quoted as saying, "Analysts at the working level in the
intelligence community are feeling very strong pressure from the Pentagon to
cook the intelligence books."

Unfortunately for Bush, that pressure apparently does not extend to CIA Director
George Tenet, who told Congress in a letter that Iraq "for now appears to be
drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or
chemical or biological weapons against the United States." Flying even more
directly in the face of Bush's war plans was Tenet's statement that if Saddam
became convinced a U.S. attack was inevitable, "he would probably become much
less constrained in adopting terrorist actions. Such terrorism might involve
conventional means, as with Iraq's unsuccessful attempt at a terrorist offensive
in 1991, or chemical or biological weapons."

Gen. Wesley Clark, the former NATO supreme European commander, made the same
point in testimony before Congress on Sept. 23. By approaching Saddam the same
way we approach al-Qaida, Clark said, "it is also possible we will have
incentivized Saddam Hussein now as a last-ditch defense to do what he wouldn't
have done before, which is, well, find me the nearest members of al-Qaida, here
take this sack and do something with it."

Then there is the awkward matter of the CIA report on Iraq released last week,
which concluded that U.N. inspections actually worked before they were halted in
1998, leaving Saddam's military and his chemical-weapons program weaker than
they were in the 1980s.

In other words, the head of American intelligence and a top military man don't
think Saddam is planning terrorist attacks against the U.S. now, but might if he
was convinced we were coming in after his head. And the CIA says that Saddam's
military machine poses less of a threat to the U.S. than it did a decade ago.

You'd think this was the kind of information that the president of the United
States would share with the American people in a major televised address about a
looming war that could result in the deaths of thousands of American troops. (In
his new book "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq," former CIA
analyst Kenneth M. Pollack estimates that the U.S. could suffer as many as
10,000 combat deaths -- and he supports an invasion.)

But the White House is not interested in putting all of the facts before the
American people. It wants to whip up war fever. And if doing that requires
making irresponsible claims, so be it.

Bush's most dubious claims are his inflammatory charges that Iraq has ties to
al-Qaida. "We know that Iraq and the al-Qaida terrorist network share a common
enemy -- the United States of America," Bush said. "We know that Iraq and
al-Qaida have had high-level contacts that go back a decade. Some al-Qaida
leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior
al-Qaida leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has
been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks. We have
learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaida members in bomb making, poisons, and
deadly gases. And we know that after Sept. 11, Saddam Hussein's regime gleefully
celebrated the terrorist attacks on America. Iraq could decide on any given day
to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual
terrorists. Alliances with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack
America without leaving any fingerprints."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, working from the same script, said on Sept.
26 that U.S. intelligence had "bulletproof" evidence that Iraq and al-Qaida were
linked and that there was "solid evidence" that al-Qaida members were in Iraq.

To hear Bush and Rumsfeld talk, you'd think that al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein
were the closest of allies, united by their hatred of the Great Satan, and that
Saddam is just waiting for the right moment to unleash terror attacks on the
U.S. What they fail to mention is that al-Qaida is a radical Islamist group that
hates Saddam's secular Ba'ath regime, and that Saddam detests Islamist mullahs,
who threaten his regime, and has brutally murdered many of them. According to
former CIA analyst Pollack, members of Iraq's intelligence service, the
Mukhabbarat, and al-Qaida members have occasionally made contact, but "none of
the Western agencies has found any evidence of sustained contact or cooperation.
Instead, whenever information has been available, it has demonstrated that
neither side wanted to have too much to do with the other and they mostly went
their separate ways." This makes sense: Why would Saddam give members of a group
that detests him the means to strike at him?

As for Rumsfeld's "bulletproof" evidence of an al-Qaida-Iraq link, it might be
more like spitball-proof. According to U.S. officials interviewed in the Knight
Ridder article, "Rumsfeld's statement was based in part on intercepted phone
calls, in which an al-Qaida member who apparently was passing through Baghdad
was overheard calling friends or relatives ... The intercepts provide no
evidence that the suspected terrorist was working with the Iraqi regime or that
he was working on a terrorist operation while he was in Iraq, they said." Other
sources for the administration's allegations of an Iraq/al-Qaida link may be
equally dubious. In an interview on NPR, reporter Jonathan Landay noted that
U.S. officials said some of these claims probably come from an al-Qaida prisoner
who wants to push the U.S. into war with Saddam in the hope there will be more
terror recruits as a result.

Bush and Rumsfeld's claim that al-Qaida members are in Iraq is misleading. Yes,
Iraq may have supported a radical Iraqi Islamist Kurdish group tied to al-Qaida
in their battle against other Iraqi Kurds, but this doesn't mean Iraq supports
al-Qaida's global terror campaign: having the Kurds all kill each other is very
much in Saddam's interest. In any case, the radical group, Ansar al-Islam, was
operating out of the Kurdish security zone, which is under U.S. protection.

Finally, there is Bush's scary claim that Saddam could give weapons of mass
destruction to terrorists to use against the U.S., thus leaving no fingerprints.
But biological or chemical weapons do leave fingerprints. In any case, Saddam
knows that he is likely to be held responsible for any mysterious terrorist
attack against the U.S. Implicitly painting Saddam as an anti-American
psychopath, Bush and his fellow war hawks want to make us think that the Iraqi
leader is so irrational that such arguments don't apply. But the evidence
suggests that Saddam is not an insane zealot, but a Stalin-like brute whose
desire to remain alive and remain in power trumps everything else.

The fact is that the Bush administration has produced no hard evidence of
significant ties between Saddam's regime and al-Qaida. The famous alleged
meeting between Mohammad Atta and an Iraqi intelligence official has been pretty
much debunked, and we are basically asked to accept the other claims on faith.
Considering that no fewer than a dozen officials from different governmental
agencies who were interviewed by Knight Ridder deny that there is any
significant new evidence linking al-Qaida to Iraq, and the suspicious timing of
the latest revelations -- shocking new al-Qaida/Saddam links found just as the
White House rolls out its big war P.R. campaign! -- it does not seem unduly
cynical to question their truthfulness.

Of course, it is possible that the Bush administration's dire interpretation of
the few facts we have about Saddam is correct. But nations should not rush into
war based on tendentious suppositions, exaggerated claims and half-truths. At a
minimum, a war debate requires a full and fair airing of what is known --
including dissent or contradictory opinions from within the U.S. government.
Even those who are willing to acknowledge that Saddam poses a threat to the U.S.
must be troubled by the egregious way the Bush administration is putting its
finger on the scales -- as if this was a cheap political lobbying campaign, not
the gravest decision a nation can make.

By pandering to Americans' 9/11 fears and drawing strained connections between
Saddam and al-Qaida, Bush is arguing his case like a prosecutor hellbent on
conviction, not weighing the evidence like a judge trying to get at the truth.
He may feel he is justified in doing so because he is so certain that Saddam
poses a threat. In fact, he is only showing contempt for the American people,
whose sons and daughters will have to pay the price of an invasion. Until the
Bush administration makes its case more dispassionately and objectively, it will
have little credibility as it presses for war.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

About the writer
Gary Kamiya is Salon's executive editor

Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
To unsubscribe, visit
To contact the list manager, email
All postings are archived on CASI's website:

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]