Senators Finally Hold Hearing on Pre-War Intelligence

By David Swanson

Well, the Senate Intelligence Committee, under Republican control, and with very polite (OK, almost nonexistent) Democratic protest, has yet to hold hearings on the Iraq War lies, but today the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a Hearing on the model of Rep. John Conyers’ Downing Street Memo hearing: no subpoena power, but great witnesses. And a Republican even came: Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina.

Here are the witnesses’ prepared statements.

Here are my notes from the hearing in Room 192 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building:

Senators Dorgan, Reid, and Bingaman were here at the start.

Dorgan chairs the Policy Committee. Senator Rockefeller, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, was not present, but was out recovering from surgery.

1:30 p.m. ET Dorgan opened the hearing and said that additional Senators would be coming, as well as Rep. Walter Jones, who had asked to attend.

Senator Feinstein showed up a moment later.

Dorgan said the hearing was needed in order to understand why the pre-Iraq War intelligence was wrong, and stressed that good intelligence was needed in the future. He mentioned the recent Frontline program on PBS, which he said disturbed him.

Senator Reid, like Dorgan, spoke as if there were a mystery as to how the Iraq intelligence ended up so “flawed.”

1:40 p.m. The room is packed, ca. 50 chairs filled and more than 50 people standing, plus a media table and 6 television cameras.

Bingaman said he was glad to be here.

Feinstein spoke about T. Drumheller’s recent statements about “Curveball” and about unsuccessful efforts to exclude bogus claims from Bush’s speeches. Feinstein also pointed out the Senate Intelligence Committee’s failure to fulfill its commitment to investigating the (mis)use of pre-war intelligence.

Dorgan introduced Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. I’ve been handed hardcopies of all the witnesses prepared remarks. Hopefully they will be posted in full on Sen. Dorgan’s website.

1:46 Thus far Wilkerson is not following his text, but talking about historical context and saying that Presidents from Truman to the present have been balancing security needs with civil liberties.

Now, he’s roughly following the text, going over his own background. But he’s skipped the part where he laments the absence of Republicans in the room (other than himself). And he’s said he’ll go quickly and not say everything.

But he plans to talk about 1)pre-Iraq War intell., 2) specifically Powell’s UN speech, 3) US intell capability. Re pt. 1, he says he was dismayed and raises the possibility that some accountability may be required. Re. pt. 2, he says it will be the low point of his career until he dies. He sees the case for the Iraq war as “the perpetration of a hoax.”

What disturbs him is politicization of intelligence, cherry-picking to fit political objectives.

Wilkerson left out most of his 7 pages of prepared testimony.

1:52 Dorgan introduced Paul Pillar, former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia. Pillar has already testified at similar Democratic hearings on the House side of Capitol Hill.

Pillar cites three problems: 1) the non-use of intelligence and intelligence assessments. His office did not receive any requests for intelligence from the Bush Administration until about a year into the war. It was the Senate that requested the National Intelligence Estimate.

Even the flawed NIE said Iraq was years away from having nuclear weapons, and unlikely to use any WMD it had. And the intelligence community predicted that a war would lead to a disastrous situation, not democracy.

Second, the administration used raw reporting not approved by the intelligence community, as in the uranium lies and the lies about alleged ties to al Qaeda (I’m paraphrasing. No one has used the word “lies”.)

Third, the intelligence community’s own judgments were politicized, and not just by blatant arm twisting, also by the creation of an environment in which intelligence is used only to justify a predetermined course, and only that sort of intelligence is welcomed.

Pillar pretty well covered his 3-page prepared statement. An excellent statement – one that calls into question the motives of the Senators and House Members who voted for the war. Senator Feingold said recently that he voted against the war because the intelligence was not credible. That was, of course, one of the reasons that Rep. Dennis Kucinich and others in the House organized most of the Dems to vote No. Yet the Senators in this room STILL support the war. They’re investigating the lies that launched the war, but still today back the war.

2:02 p.m. Sen. Dorgan introduced Carl Ford, Jr., Former Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, U.S. Department of State.

Ford has a 2-page prepared statement. He’s mumbling it, verbatim. And he’s claiming that the problem was NOT political pressure, but rather incompetence. The NIE was excellent, he thinks. Every NIE, he says, is always long on opinion and short on evidence. “I put most of the blame on the intelligence community.”

He also blames policy makers, he said, addressing the present Senators, telling them not to accept the crap the intelligence community usually churns out (crap is his word).

Always ask whether other agencies agree, he told the Senators. Insist on more than assertions and conclusions. When they resist, throw the messenger out of your office and tell everyone about your bad experience. Rely on your own instincts. If the milk smells, don’t drink it.

….well, that was, um, helpful, uh, I guess.

Next to speak is Wayne White, Former Deputy Director, Office of Analysis for the Near East and South Asia, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, U.S. Dept. of State.

He said that the President, VP, Rummy, Condi had little experience with the Middle East, and that they intervened in the intelligence analysis in order to shape it to serve a regional agenda.

He cited the “harassment of INR analyst Christian Westerman by … Bolton

He said the NIE findings on nuclear weapons were “either ignored or allegedly, repeat allegedly, not read by at least one key decision maker.”

He cited other good examples, and offered this as what he said was a new one:

CENTCOM planned to rely on NGOs for the gathering of Iraqi dead and treatment of Iraqi military and civilian wounded. “In two separate meetings, I reminded CENTCOM officers in no uncertain terms of their responsibilities under the Geneva Convention regarding these duties and that NGOs almost never operate on active battlefields.

He also recounted his efforts to counter the idea that the insurgency was largely foreign fighters, pointing out that the insurgency was driven by opposition to the occupation, disenfranchisement, joblessness, and lack of public services.

White stressed the Iraqis military prowess, as demonstrated in the Iran-Iraq war, and said that in the first week of the war he warned of the danger of a powerful guerrilla insurgency.

White covered his 4.5 pages of prepared text.

Sen. Dorgan thanked the four witnesses.

Dorgan asked Ford: When members of the US Congress are provided with intelligence by the head of the CIA, by the President and the Vice President, is there a requirement for that intelligence to be described to the Congress in terms of where it comes from and other sources that may disagree? The intelligence delivered to us about the aluminum tubes omitted important information from another agency, the Department of Energy.

Ford said: There is no obligation for the head of the CIA to tell you what we at INR or others think, but I think they should. Some of the obligation has to rest to you to ask those questions: “Does everyone agree with this?”

Dorgan then asked Wilkerson: When a presentation was made to the UN by Sec. Powell, I watched it and was impressed by it, and it was information that had been given to us as well, but the Sec. of State later discovered that he had not been given all the information. Is that correct?

Wilkerson said he believed so. Dorgan and Wilkerson are following the line taken by Frontline on PBS, which holds that the CIA misled Powell, who meant well. Wilkerson said that Powell was persuaded by the CIA on the aluminum tubes. Wilkerson still claims the aluminum tubes issue is complicated and that he’s still not clear on what Saddam Hussein bought the tubes for.

But we already know that the State Department staff warned Powell that many of his claims would not be found plausible, and that Powell manufactured disinformation:

Wilkerson went on to say that at no time, during any briefing at Langley, did we hear the name “Curveball,” or any of the doubts about many of the sources of information – Chalabi and others from INC.

Dorgan: Did they have doubts then?

Wilkerson: Tyler Drumheller says he did.

Dorgan: What was done to you, the exact same thing was done to the United States Congress.

2:35 p.m. Bingaman asked Pillar (repeatedly mispronouncing his name, which everyone else then followed for the rest of the hearing, exhibiting the ease with which bad intelligence can spread) whether there was a point when the Administration shifted from wanting to know the facts to wanting to justify a determined plan. In his question, Bingaman cited the Downing Street Memo and the Briefing Paper that preceded that meeting in July 2002, referring to Michael Smith’s expected testimony.

Pillar said he believed that by the Spring or Summer of 2002 the decision to go to war had been made. Pillar said that when making assessments in January 2003 he was sure the war would go ahead.

Bingaman asked White, who didn’t really answer, the same question. Then he asked Wilkerson, who said that Powell was very heavily involved in diplomacy into early 2003. Wilkerson thinks Powell believed he could still influence the decision as late as early 2003 – which suggests how out-of-the-loop Powell was.

Sen. Feinstein asked Wilkerson where al Libby information came from. Powell was ready to throw out 25-pages on terrorism – pages that Wilkerson came from a combination of the White House and the CIA.

Feinstein: when did DIA dissent?

Wilkerson: at time of interrogation, because evidence obtained by torture. I’m told DIA dissented Feb 3, two days before Powell went to UN. And Tenet had passed the text of Powell’s speech around for comment. So, why weren’t we told?

Feinstein: Where did Powell get the charts?

Wilkerson: from an Iraqi who worked in the labs [apparently Curveball], via the CIA. He assumes the CIA made the drawings.

Feinstein: Did you read yesterday’s Washington Post. Do you believe Drumheller met with John McLaughlin.

Wilkerson: can’t say. Trusts Drumheller, but impossible McLaughlin really doesn’t remember.

Feinstein: How did information from Curveball make it into Powell’s speech?

Wilkerson: from the reports we were given from four sources.

Dorgan: Didn’t German authorities warn this country about Curveball’s reliability. That he was a taxi driver and a drunk, and not an engineer?

Wilkerson: Someone might have registered a dissent at a lower level that was dismissed. The problem I have now is with Tyler Drumheller.

Feinstein: I agree.

Wilkerson believes John Hannah wrote and Scooter Libby only edited 48-page doc on WMD. Wilkerson says they turned to the NIE, but parts of it turned out to be just as bad.

Feinstein: asked Wilkerson what else he might like to say, because to put this man out before the world with information that was not correct, to put it modestly, was just a dastardly thing to do.

Tenet and McLaughlin did not bother to tell the Secretary whether Drumheller was telling the truth about Curveball or the DIA’s dissent on al Libby.

Wilkerson was asked about the Pentagon and Doug Feith. He said they were very eclectic and tended to grab anything from a variety of sources.

Pillar addressed the same question and said that at least one project under Feith was to develop links between Iraq and al Qaeda.

Ford said If a few guys at the Pentagon can out talk the rest of us, shame on us.

Sen Dorgan: We didn’t even know there was a dispute on the aluminum tubes.

Ford: Sir, with due respect, I came down here to the Hill too many times and expressed our positions on aluminum tubes and nuclear weapons – the problem was that the rest of the community disagreed with us at INR

Feinstein: Except for the Energy Dep.

Ford: Well, the Energy Dept tried to have it both ways. They went back and said they thought Saddam Hussein was trying to reconstitute a nuclear program….You should not base anything on what the intelligence community says. It’s not any good.

Dorgan said that was the most disturbing comment yet.

Wilkerson was asked about M Atta and recounted numerous times that the story was stuck back in, and how many times it had to be taken out.

Wilkerson said a mapping company sold a product Saddam Hussein, and it came with maps of the Eastern U.S. That was the basis of the claims that Hussein was mapping the US coast. Did the DCI tell the office of the Vice President that? No.

Rep. Walter Jones is here now. Dorgan says a lot of Senators are out of town because there are no votes today.

Feinstein cited the Downing Street Memos and the evidence there that the facts were being fixed around the policy. Pillar said that was accurate and fairly apparent.

Ford said that he had not known in Spring and Summer of 02 that the decision had been made. He said that if the intelligence community had stood up, they might have changed the course.

White said he was unaware and believed up into 03 that the decision was not final.

Congressman Jones said he has sent over 8,000 letters to soldiers’ families. What has befuddled me so greatly, he said, referring to Lt Gen Greg Newbold’s article in Time Magazine this past April saying that he spoke within the military against the case for war. How did the four or five neoconservatives in the Dept. of Defense rewrite the intelligence? Unless someone wanted them to have that authority, how in the world could they have that influence? How could professionals see what was happening and not speak out?

Jones said that he, like others not on the intelligence committee (though he was on armed services) pretty much accepted what they were told.

Wilkerson: let me answer you with three words: The Vice President. Wilkerson also thanked Jones for being the only Republican to attend today.

Ford said he disagreed with Wilkerson’s answer.

White said he didn’t know about the intelligence office in the Pentagon until ca. 6 months before the war, when someone gave me a document from that office as comic relief. It looked like an unsorted pile of junk. Those offices should be eliminated. People don’t know about them, there’s no communication, the people have not been vetted, it has none of the professional standards.

Pillar also spoke about the work of the Sec of Defense and Office of VP. Feith’s office gave a briefing to the intelligence committee and gave a longer briefing to the White House, which included extra slides criticizing the intelligence community for missing the link between Iraq and al Qaeda. We only learned about the different set of slides from a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Rep. Jones raised the topic of the Rendon Group.

Ford said he had never heard about them until recently.

Wilkerson said he thinks we’ve outsourced what we couldn’t put in the Dept of Defense, and that the Rendon Group and the Lincoln Group are part of that outsourcing.

3:30 Still scheduled to testify are Rod Barton, Former Senior Advisor to the Iraq Survey Group (by video); Michael Smith of the Sunday Times of London (by telephone); and Joseph Cirincione, Senior Vice President of the Center for American Progress.

But I have to run.

Michael Smith sent me his prepared testimony.


Here’s Commentary from Larry Johnson:

Vice President Cheney, Chef in Chief
Larry C Johnson

The evidence now on the public record is overwhelming and, if we could have a jury, Vice President Dick Cheney would be found guilty of cooking the intelligence and lying us into war. Three remarkable and compelling pieces of evidence have hit the streets within the last two weeks. Let’s start with today and work backwards. The Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing on the pre-war intelligence. Republican Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina, who requested to attend today’s Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing — asked Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (Ret’d) how neoconservatives in the Administration gained so much power, and why no one spoke out against their efforts to shape policy toward Iraq in the run-up to war. Col. Wilkerson responded, “The Vice President”. (or you can click to watch the clip.)

Most of the men who appeared today before Senator Dorgan and Congressman Jones are Republicans. None are partisans. Their words are horrifying when you realize that over 2500 American men and women have died in Iraq based on a lie.

You can read their statements at this link.

If you have visited this blog before you have probably seen several pieces by me describing how the Administration ignored the intelligence community warnings to not use the claim that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium yellowcake in West Africa and that there was no operational relationship between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. On both issues Vice President Cheney, President Bush, National Security Advisor Rice, and Secretary of Defense deliberately ignored the intelligence community.

Bush, and others in his administration, have denied they were trying to persuade Americans that Iraq was somehow behind 9-11. That too is a lie. A bald faced lie. How can I be so confident? We now have public testimony that the Administration repeatedly tried to link the 9-11 attacks to Iraq and willfully ignored the analysis of the intelligence community and the evidence from the law enforcement community. Vice President Cheney and Stephen Hadley, the current National Security Advisor, pressured and bullied the intelligence community to confirm that Mohammed Atta met with Iraqi intelligence officers in the Czech Republic prior to the 9-11 attack.

First, we have the testimony of Col. Wikerson. According to the Colonel:

In the rehearsal and discussion sessions at Langley, the give and take was mostly the Secretary of State trying to eliminate unsubstantiated and/or unhelpful material and others from the White House trying to keep that material in, or add more. One such incident occurred several times and the final time it occurred provided an example of the Secretary’s growing frustration.

Repeatedly, the OVP or NCS staff personnel tried to insert into the presentation the alleged meeting in Prague between al-Qaeda operative and 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and Iraqi intelligence personnel. Repeatedly, Secretary Powell eliminated it based on the DCI’s refusal to corroborate it.

Finally, at one of the last Langley rehearsals, Secretary Powell was stopped in mid-presentation by deputy national security advisor Steve Hadley and asked what had happened to the paragraph describing the meeting in Prague. Secretary Powell fixed Hadley with a firm stare and said with some pique, “We took it out, Steve — and it’s staying out.

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