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What do you do if you don't like the intelligence community's assessment? You create your own!

A report out today from the Defense Department's Inspector General on the administration's DIY intelligence analysis shop, led by Douglas Feith, reopens an old and vital controversy: the administration's alleged manipulation of intelligence in the run up to the Iraq War.

Feith, the undersecretary of defense famously called "the dumbest fucking guy on the planet" by Gen. Tommy Franks, started his group shortly after 9/11 with the mandate, handed down from Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, to look for state sponsors of terrorism. That soon turned into a quest for signs of collaboration between Al Qaeda and Iraq; and Feith's group was urged "to ignore the intelligence community's belief that the militant Islamist al-Qaida and Saddam's secular dictatorship were unlikely allies."

And, what do you know, Feith turned up evidence of ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq -- findings that resulted in briefings to senior administration and CIA officials in the summer and fall of 2002. Only, "left out of the version for the CIA, the inspector general said, was 'a slide that said there were 'fundamental problems' ' with the way the intelligence community was presenting the evidence."

The centerpiece of the briefings were "slides describing as a 'known contact' an alleged 2001 meeting in Prague between Mohamed Atta, the leader of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, and an Iraqi intelligence officer." That claim, of course, has since been thoroughly debunked.

Now, what does Feith say about all this?

In a telephone interview yesterday, Feith emphasized the inspector general's conclusion that his actions, described in the report as "inappropriate," were not unlawful. "This was not 'alternative intelligence assessment,' " he said. "It was from the start a criticism of the consensus of the intelligence community, and in presenting it I was not endorsing its substance."

We'll have more on the report, including a copy of the declassified summary of its findings, a little later on.

A statement out from Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) on the Defense Department's Inspector General's report on the Office of Special Plans contains more details....

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I just got off the phone with Flynt Leverett, a former CIA Mideast analyst and National Security Council staffer during President Bush's first term. Leverett says he finds it "really quite curious" that Secretary Rice is pleading a memory lapse on an Iranian offer shortly after the Iraq war to, among other things, recognize Israel.

Leverett himself says he "saw the actual document" detailing the offer, which arrived at the State Department's Near Eastern Affairs bureau via fax around late April or early May of 2003, when he had left the White House to return to his regular post as an analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency.

Leverett wasn't around to personally show Rice the document. But, he says, "What I was told from colleagues over at the NSC, people I knew on the NSC staff -- I dont know for a fact that it was put on (Rice's) desk, but it did go to the NSC. And I know for a fact that at State, it went all the way up to [Secretary of State Colin] Powell."

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As vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) was often outmaneuvered by GOP chair Pat Roberts (R-KS), when it came to prewar intelligence. In response to the Pentagon inspector general's report on the Office of Special Plans, however, Rockefeller is hinting that era is fully closed. From a Rockefeller statement, just released:

“The IG has concluded that this office was engaged in intelligence activities. The Senate Intelligence Committee was never informed of these activities. Whether these actions were authorized or not, it appears that they were not in compliance with the law.

“In the coming days, I will carefully review all aspects of the report and will consult with Vice Chairman Bond to determine whether any additional action by the Senate Intelligence Committee is warranted.”

It's kind of funny: President Bush announces in his speech on the surge that he's moving a second naval carrier group to the Persian Gulf just after he finishes talking about the malfeasance of Iran. Everyone understands that this movement is to direct a show of strength at Iran. Everyone, that is, except White House spokesman Tony Snow, who told reporters that the new deployment has... nothing to do with Iran!

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Tomorrow, the Pentagon's Inspector General will release a declassified version of a long-awaited report on the Office of Special Plans, a Pentagon office that's been accused of manipulating prewar Iraq intelligence, particularly on the question of Iraq's ties to al-Qaeda. Bob Burns of the Associated Press has a preview:

Some of the Pentagon's pre-war intelligence work, including a contention that the CIA had underplayed the likelihood of significant al-Qaida connections to Saddam Hussein, was inappropriate but not illegal, a Pentagon investigation has concluded.

In a report to be presented to Congress on Friday, the Pentagon inspector general clears former Pentagon policy chief Douglas J. Feith of allegations by some Democrats of illegal activities — specifically, that he misled Congress about the basis of the administration's assertions on the threat posed by Iraq.

Two people familiar with the findings discussed the main points and some details Thursday on condition they not be identified.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has scheduled a hearing Friday to receive the findings by Thomas F. Gimble, the Pentagon's acting inspector general. The committee's chairman, Carl Levin, D-Mich., has been a leading critic of Feith's role in pre-war intelligence activities and has accused him of deceiving Congress.

More soon.

The measure governing the nomination of federal prosecutors tucked into the fat USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act is heading for a change, after a Senate committee passed a revision today.

The change will revert the law back to what it was before a member of Sen. Arlen Specter's (R-PA) staff, acting on behalf of the Justice Department, inserted a measure that effectively allowed the administration to appoint U.S. Attorneys in perpetuity without Senate confirmation. Three Republicans, including Sen. Specter, voted for the change.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) tells the AP that he plans to "do everything I can" to bring the bill to the floor.

In addition to the law change, the Democrats continue to push the issue of the earlier purge.

Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty admitted in a hearing earlier this week that a U.S. Attorney in Arkansas was removed for no reason except to install a former aide to Karl Rove, Timothy Griffin. And today, Democratic leaders sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wanting to know more. You can read the letter in full here.

Among other questions, they asked:

In light of the unprecedented nature of the appointment, we are especially interested in understanding the role played by Karl Rove. In particular, what role did Karl Rove, with whom Griffin was closely associated, play in the decision to appoint Griffin?

And as further proof that this story won't be winding down any time soon, one of the six prosecutors who were fired on the same day in December, John McKay of Washington's Western District, has finally come out to say that he, too, was canned without any explanation: "I was given no explanation. I certainly was told of no performance issues.”

“Is it the position of this administration that it possesses the authority to take unilateral action against Iran, in the absence of a direct threat, without congressional approval?” Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) asked Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice during a Senate hearing January 11th. He's still waiting for an answer.

After a couple weeks of radio silence, Webb sent a letter again requesting a response last week. But despite his urging for clarity of what was "basically, a 'yes' or 'no' question," the answer he finally received wasn't good enough.

The written response, sent to Webb from one of Rice's assistant secretaries last week, "didn't adequately answer the specific question," according to Webb's spokeswoman, Jessica Smith. "It wasn't a form letter," she said, but it "was not responsive to the question."

Webb continues to push for an answer, Smith said.

Update: Here's Webb speaking yesterday about the administration's plans for Iran.

One outstanding controversy that Condoleezza Rice addressed -- or sort-of addressed -- in this morning's testimony has to do with a reported overture made by Iran to the U.S. in 2003. Only she may have contradicted what she told NPR last year. Last June, Glenn Kessler of the Post reported that the State Department's New Eastern Affairs Bureau received a fax from the Iranians shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq:

It was a proposal from Iran for a broad dialogue with the United States, and the fax suggested everything was on the table -- including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups.

But top Bush administration officials, convinced the Iranian government was on the verge of collapse, belittled the initiative. Instead, they formally complained to the Swiss ambassador who had sent the fax with a cover letter certifying it as a genuine proposal supported by key power centers in Iran, former administration officials said.

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Russert Denies Role in Plamegate Testifying as the final prosecution witness in Scooter Libby's perjury trial, NBC News journalist Tim Russert denied ever mentioning CIA officer Valerie Plame's name, asserting that he discovered her identity only after reading an article by columnist Bob Novak. As the trial comes to its conclusion, the newsman's testimony stands as a firm contradiction to Libby's claims of having learned of Plame's identity through Russert, and could further damage the defense of the former White House official. And by the way, you can hear a recording of Libby's grand jury testimony here. (The Washington Post)

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