President Bush, Vice President Cheney, then Secretary of State Colin Powell, and other Bush Administration officials based many of their pre-Iraq War claims of ties between Iraq and al Qaeda on the testimony of a detainee who was known to be a fabricator.
A top member of Al Qaeda in American custody was identified as a likely fabricator months before the Bush administration began to use his statements as the foundation for its claims that Iraq trained Al Qaeda members to use biological and chemical weapons, according to newly declassified portions of a Defense Intelligence Agency document.
The newly declassified portions of the document were given to Jehl by Senator Carl Levin, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. It appears this revelation had something to do with Senator Reid’s parliamentary move that closed the Senate last week. Levin and Senator John D. Rockefeller, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, made a request to declassify the two paragraphs on October 18. In its response, the CIA said it found “no reason for it to remain classified.”
The story in brief: Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was captured in Pakistan at the end of 2001. In February 2002, the Defense Intelligence Agency reported in the two paragraphs that Libi’s statements were highly improbable. The report said he was “‘intentionally misleading the debriefers’ in making claims about Iraqi support for Al Qaedaâ€™s work with illicit weapons,” writes Jehl.
Yet administration officials merrily went ahead and repeated Libi’s stories in their speeches.
Among the first and most prominent assertions was one by Mr. Bush, who said in a major speech in Cincinnati in October 2002 that â€œweâ€™ve learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases.â€™â€™ …
… Mr. Powell relied heavily on accounts provided by Mr. Libi for his speech to the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003, saying that he was tracing â€œthe story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to Al Qaeda.â€™â€™
For more examples of Bush Administration statements based on Libi’s fabrications, see Think Progress.
At the time Powell made his speech, Jehl says, an unclassified statement by the CIA said Libi’s stories were credible. “But Mr. Levin said he had learned that a classified C.I.A. assessment at the time stated ‘the source was not in a position to know if any training had taken place.,’ Jehl writes.
One might conclude that someone in the CIA was being helpful to the White House cause and making sure that statements supporting the war made the rounds, while those not supporting the war were hidden out of sight.
And the DIA report would have circulated widely in government, Jehl says, and would have been available to the CIA, the White House, the Pentagon, and other agencies. However, neither the Senate Intelligence Committee report nor the September 11 Commission report, both issued in 2004, made any reference to the 2002 DIA report. “It remains unclear whether the D.I.A. document was provided to the Senate panel,” Jehl writes.
Libi recanted his stories in January 2004, which prompted the CIA to recall all intelligence reports based on his testimony. This fact was recorded in a footnote to the September 11 Commission report, but the original DIA report report is MIA from the 9/11 report.
The document provides the earliest and strongest indication of doubts voiced by American intelligence agencies about Mr. Libiâ€™s credibility. Without mentioning him by name, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state, and other administration officials repeatedly cited Mr. Libiâ€™s information as â€œcredibleâ€™â€™ evidence that Iraq was training Al-Qaeda members in the use of explosives and illicit weapons.
Senator Levin seems a tad miffed.
Mr. Levin said the new evidence of early doubts about Mr. Libiâ€™s statements dramatized what he called the Bush administrationâ€™s misuse of prewar intelligence to try to justify the war in Iraq. That is an issue that Mr. Levin and other Senate Democrats have been seeking to emphasize, in part by calling attention to the fact that the Republican-led Senate intelligence committee has yet to deliver a promised report, first sought more than two years ago, on the use of prewar intelligence. …
… In an interview on Friday, Mr. Levin also called attention to a portion of the D.I.A. report that expressed skepticism about the idea of close collaboration between Iraq and Al Qaeda, an idea that was never substantiated by American intelligence but was a pillar of the administrationâ€™s prewar claims.
â€œSaddamâ€™s regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements,â€™â€™ the D.I.A. report said in one of two declassified paragraphs. â€œMoreover, Baghdad is unlikely to provide assistance to a group it cannot control.â€™â€™
Libi, who apparently has been in custody at Guantanamo since 2003, was of course not the only intelligence source later uncovered as a fibber. For example, an Iraqi exile code named “Curveball” was the primary source for the ephemeral mobile biological weapons labs. And there is Ahmed Chalabi, beloved of neocons, who has been accused of feeding the Pentagon all manner of misinformation.
So far, the White House has refused to comment, while Republicans are sticking to this weeks’ talking point that they weren’t the only ones to make mistakes in prewar assessments.
The Senate intelligence committee is scheduled to meet beginning next week to review draft reports prepared as part of a long-postponed â€œPhase IIâ€™â€™ of the panelâ€™s review of prewar intelligence on Iraq. At separate briefings for reporters on Friday, Republicans staff members said the writing had long been under way, while Senate Democrats on the committee claimed credit for reinvigorating the process, by forcing the closed session. They said that already nearly complete is a look at whether prewar intelligence accurately predicted the potential for an anti-American insurgency.
Other areas of focus include the role played by the Iraqi National Congress, that of the Pentagon in shaping intelligence assessments, and an examination of whether public statements about Iraq by members of the Bush and Clinton administrations, as well as members of Congress, were substantiated by intelligence available at the time.
When Harry Reid shut down the Senate earlier this week due to Pat Roberts and Bill Fristâ€™s stonewalling of a Phase Two investigation over how the Bush Administration used intelligence in making its case for war, many of us wondered why now? What took you guys so long to use a procedural lever that youâ€™ve had available to you all along that could have been employed before the election to raise the issue of Bushâ€™s lies into a campaign issue? Was it a sudden re-growth of guts and balls that did this, or did the Democrats now come into possession of new information that was withheld from them before the election that gave them the club to force this issue out into the open now? We now know the answer, and it is the latter.
Moreover, Steve says, it puts Junior in a shitload of trouble.
… we now know that the Bush Administration also knew as far back as January 2003 that the Niger uranium claim was based on forgeries. We know that the Bush Administration was also told that the aluminum tubes story was bogus before the invasion as well. We now know that the claim that Saddam was assisting Al Qaeda was also a lie, and that the Administration knew this from Rummy himself as far back as February 2002. And we know that the IAEA was still on the ground in Iraq and had not confirmed any of Bushâ€™s claims that Saddam had definitively stockpiled WMDs in violation of the two UN resolutions that Bush based his war upon.
And why exactly is this so important? Because take a look at the certification that Bush sent to Congress to start the war, which was required in the October 2002 war resolution, and then see that as we suspected over two and a half years ago, Bush has a big problem now …
This latest revelation means that at the time Bush justified the commencement of war against Iraq consistent with what was required under Public Law 107-243, he certified things not in evidence, and made claims to Congress (Saddamâ€™s active operation of a WMD program and Saddamâ€™s assistance to Al Qaeda) that he, Cheney, and Rummy already knew were false.
If Bush isn’t called to account for this, then there is no democracy in America any more.
[Cross-posted to The American Street.]