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.