Wolfowitz Committee Instructed White House To Use Iraq/Uranium Reference

WASHINGTON, DC — A Pentagon committee led by Paul Wolfowitz,
the deputy secretary of defense, advised President Bush to include
a reference in his January State of the Union address about Iraq
trying to purchase 500 tons of uranium from Niger to bolster the
case for war in Iraq, despite the fact that the CIA warned
Wolfowitz’s committee that the information was unreliable,
according to a CIA intelligence official and four members of the
Senate’s intelligence committee who have been investigating the
issue.

The senators and the CIA official said they could be forced out
of government and brought up on criminal charges for leaking the
information to this reporter and as a result requested anonymity.
They later questioned CIA Director George Tenet in a closed-door
hearing to determine whether Wolfowitz and members of a committee
he headed misled Bush and if the president knew about the erroneous
information prior to his State of the Union address.

Spokespeople for Wolfowitz and Tenet vehemently denied the
accusations. Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director,
would not return repeated calls for comment.

The revelations by the CIA official and the senators, if true,
would prove that Tenet, who has said he erred by allowing the
uranium reference to be included in the State of the Union address,
took the blame for an intelligence failure for which he was not
responsible. The lawmakers said it could also lead to a widespread
probe of pre-war intelligence.

At issue is a secret committee set up in 2001 by Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called the Office of Special Plans, which
was headed by Wolfowitz, Abrum Shulsky, and Douglas Feith,
under-secretary of defense for policy, to probe allegations of
links between Iraq and the terrorist organization al-Qaeda and
whether the country was stockpiling a cache of weapons of mass
destruction. The Special Plans committee disbanded in March after
the U.S. and Britain invaded Iraq.

The committee’s job, according to published reports, was to
gather intelligence information on the Iraqi threat that the CIA
and FBI could not uncover and present it to the White House to
build a case for war in Iraq. The committee relied heavily on
information provided by Iraqi defector Ahmad Chalabi, who has
provided the White House with reams of disputed intelligence on
Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs. Chalabi heads the Iraqi National
Congress, a group of Iraqi exiles that has pushed for regime change
in Iraq.

The Office of Special Plans, according to the CIA official and
the senators, routinely provided Bush, Rumsfeld, Vice President
Dick Cheney, and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice with
questionable intelligence information on the Iraqi threat, much of
which was included in various speeches by Bush and Cheney and some
of which was called into question by the CIA.

In the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq, Rumsfeld
became increasingly frustrated that the CIA could not find any
evidence of Iraq’s chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons
program, evidence that would have helped the White House build a
solid case for war in Iraq.

In an article in The New York Times last October, the
paper reported that Rumsfeld had ordered the Office of Special
Plans to ‘to search for information on Iraq’s hostile intentions or
links to terrorists’ that might have been overlooked by the
CIA.

The CIA official and the senators said that’s when Wolfowitz and
his committee instructed the White House to have Bush use the
now-disputed line about Iraq’s attempts to purchase 500 tons of
uranium from Niger in a speech the president was set to give in
Cincinnati. But Tenet quickly intervened and informed Stephen
Hadley, an aide to national security adviser Rice, that the
information was unreliable.

Patrick Lang, a former director of Middle East analysis at the
Defense Intelligence Agency, said in an interview with the New
Yorker
magazine in May that the Office of Special Plans
‘started picking out things that supported their thesis and
stringing them into arguments that they could use with the
president. It’s not intelligence. It’s political propaganda.’

Lang said the CIA and Office of Special Plans often clashed on
the accuracy of intelligence information provided to the White
House by Wolfowitz.

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, the author of a May
New Yorker story on the Office of Special Plans, reported,
‘former CIA officers and analysts described the agency as
increasingly demoralized. George knows he’s being beaten up,’ one
former officer said of Tenet. ‘And his analysts are terrified.
George used to protect his people, but he’s been forced to do
things their way.’ Because the CIA’s analysts are now on
the defensive, ‘they write reports justifying their intelligence
rather than saying what’s going on. The Defense Department and the
Office of the Vice-President write their own pieces, based on their
own ideology. We collect so much stuff that you can find anything
you want.’

‘They see themselves as outsiders,’ a former C.I.A. expert who
spent the past decade immersed in Iraqi-exile affairs said of the
Special Plans people. ‘There’s a high degree of paranoia,’ he told
Hersh. ‘They’ve convinced themselves that they’re on the side of
angels, and everybody else in the government is a fool.’

By last fall, the White House had virtually dismissed all of the
intelligence on Iraq provided by the CIA, which failed to find any
evidence of Iraq’s weapons programs, in favor of the more critical
information provided to the Bush administration by the Office of
Special Plans

Hersh reported that the Special Plans Office ‘developed a close
working relationship with the (Iraqi National Congress), and this
strengthened its position in disputes with the C.I.A. and gave the
Pentagon’s pro-war leadership added leverage in its constant
disputes with the State Department. Special Plans also became a
conduit for intelligence reports from the I.N.C. to officials in
the White House.’

In a rare Pentagon briefing recently, Office of Special Plans
co-director Douglas Feith said the committee was not an
‘intelligence project,’ but rather a group of 18 people that looked
at intelligence information from a different point of view.

Feith said when the group had new ‘thoughts’ on intelligence
information it was given; they shared it with CIA director
Tenet.

‘It was a matter of digesting other people’s intelligence,’
Feith said of the main duties of his group. ‘Its job was to review
this intelligence to help digest it for me and other policy makers,
to help us develop Defense Department strategy for the war on
terrorism.’

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