Sidney Blumenthal’s article at Salon states that the answer is a resounding “Yes!”.
On Sept. 18, 2002, CIA director George Tenet briefed President Bush in the Oval Office on top-secret intelligence that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, according to two former senior CIA officers. Bush dismissed as worthless this information from the Iraqi foreign minister, a member of Saddam’s inner circle, although it turned out to be accurate in every detail. Tenet never brought it up again.
Nor was the intelligence included in the National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002, which stated categorically that Iraq possessed WMD. No one in Congress was aware of the secret intelligence that Saddam had no WMD as the House of Representatives and the Senate voted, a week after the submission of the NIE, on the Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq. The information, moreover, was not circulated within the CIA among those agents involved in operations to prove whether Saddam had WMD.
Blumenthal is a former Clinton adviser who has made a career recently out of lampooning the Bush administration, so in that sense the story must be understood to be stilted. In other words, the mirror image of Dick Morris in many respects.
But is there a core of truth to his story? Remember that a reporter doesn’t necessarily have to be unbiased to be right.
According to the former officers, the intelligence was also never shared with the senior military planning the invasion, which required U.S. soldiers to receive medical shots against the ill effects of WMD and to wear protective uniforms in the desert.Instead, said the former officials, the information was distorted in a report written to fit the preconception that Saddam did have WMD programs. That false and restructured report was passed to Richard Dearlove, chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), who briefed Prime Minister Tony Blair on it as validation of the cause for war.
Secretary of State Powell, in preparation for his presentation of evidence of Saddam’s WMD to the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003, spent days at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., and had Tenet sit directly behind him as a sign of credibility. But Tenet, according to the sources, never told Powell about existing intelligence that there were no WMD, and Powell’s speech was later revealed to be a series of falsehoods.
Blumenthal’s language gives his feelings away – Powell’s statements weren’t incorrect, they were falsehoods.
The CIA officers on the case awaited the report they had submitted on Sabri to be circulated back to them, but they never received it. They learned later that a new report had been written. “It was written by someone in the agency, but unclear who or where, it was so tightly controlled. They knew what would please the White House. They knew what the king wanted,” one of the officers told me.
That report contained a false preamble stating that Saddam was “aggressively and covertly developing” nuclear weapons and that he already possessed chemical and biological weapons. “Totally out of whack,” said one of the CIA officers.
The report with the misleading introduction was given to Dearlove of MI6, who briefed the prime minister. “They were given a scaled-down version of the report,” said one of the CIA officers. “It was a summary given for liaison, with the sourcing taken out. They showed the British the statement Saddam was pursuing an aggressive program, and rewrote the report to attempt to support that statement. It was insidious. Blair bought it.” “Blair was duped,” said the other CIA officer. “He was shown the altered report.”
The information provided by Sabri was considered so sensitive that it was never shown to those who assembled the NIE on Iraqi WMD. Later revealed to be utterly wrong, the NIE read: “We judge that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs in defiance of UN resolutions and restrictions. Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions; if left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade.”
So is Blumenthal playing it straight with us? To me the story has a ring of truth.
Cross-posted at The Van Der Galin Gazette.