WHO IN THE White House knew about DITSUM No. 044-02 and when did they know it?
That’s the newly declassified smoking-gun document, originally prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency in February 2002 but ignored by President Bush. Its declassification this weekend blows another huge hole in Bush’s claim that he was acting on the best intelligence available when he pitched the invasion of Iraq as a way to prevent an Al Qaeda terror attack using weapons of mass destruction.
The report demolished the credibility of the key Al Qaeda informant the administration relied on to make its claim that a working alliance existed between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. It was circulated widely within the U.S. government a full eight months before Bush used the prisoner’s lies to argue for an invasion of Iraq because “we’ve learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and deadly gases.”
Al Qaeda senior military trainer Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi -- a Libyan captured in Pakistan in 2001 -- was probably “intentionally misleading the debriefers,” the DIA report concluded in one of two paragraphs finally declassified at the request of Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and released by his office over the weekend. The report also said: “Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest.”
He got that right. Folks in the highest places were very interested in claims along the lines Libi was peddling, even though they went against both logic and the preponderance of intelligence gathered to that point about possible collaboration between two enemies of the U.S. that were fundamentally at odds with each other. Al Qaeda was able to create a base in Iraq only after the U.S. overthrow of Hussein, not before. “Saddam’s regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements,” accurately noted the DIA.
Yet Bush used the informant’s already discredited tall tale in his key Oct. 7, 2002, speech just before the Senate voted on whether to authorize the use of force in Iraq and again in two speeches in February, just ahead of the invasion.
Leading up to the war, Secretary of State Colin Powell tried to sell it to the United Nations, while Vice President Dick Cheney, national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith repeated it breathlessly for homeland audiences. The con worked, and Americans came to believe the lie that Hussein was associated with the Sept. 11 hijackers.
Even CIA Director George Tenet publicly fell into line, ignoring his own agency’s dissent that Libi would not have been in a position to know what he said he knew. In fact, Libi, according to the DIA, could not name any Iraqis involved, any chemical or biological material used or where the training allegedly occurred. In January 2004, the prisoner recanted his story, and the next month the CIA withdrew all intelligence reports based on his false information.
One by one, the exotic intelligence factoids Bush’s researchers culled from raw intelligence data files to publicly bolster their claim of imminent threat -- the yellowcake uranium from Niger, the aluminum tubes for processing uranium, the Prague meeting with Mohamed Atta, the discredited Iraqi informants “Curveball” and Ahmad Chalabi -- have been exposed as previously known frauds.
When it came to selling an invasion of Iraq it had wanted to launch before 9/11, the Bush White House systematically ignored the best available intelligence from U.S. agencies or any other reliable source.
It should be remembered that while Bush and his gang were successfully scaring the wits out of us about the alleged Iraq-Al Qaeda alliance, U.N. weapons inspectors were on the ground in Iraq. Weapons inspectors Hans Blix and 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei promised they could finish scouring the country if given a few more months. But instead, they were abruptly chased out by an invasion necessitated by what the president told us was a “unique and urgent threat.”
Bush exploited the worldwide horror felt over the 9/11 attacks to justify the Iraq invasion. His outrageous claim, repeated over and over before and after he dragged the nation into an unnecessary war, was never supported by a single piece of credible evidence. The Bush defense of what is arguably the biggest lie ever put over on the American people is that everyone had gotten the intelligence wrong. Not so at the highest level of U.S. intelligence, as DITSUM No. 044-02 so clearly shows. How could the president not have known?