Published on Saturday, June 14, 2003 by the Los AngelesTimes
CIA Reassigns 2 Top Iraq Analysts but Denies the Move Is Punitive
by Greg Miller
WASHINGTON — The CIA has reassigned two senior officials who oversaw its analysis on Iraq and the deposed regime's alleged banned weapons, a move that a CIA spokesman said was routine but that others portrayed as an "exile."
The officials served in senior positions in which they were deeply involved in assembling and assessing the intelligence on Iraq's alleged stocks of chemical and biological arms.
U.S. search teams have yet to find conclusive evidence that Iraq had such weapons in the months before the war — an assertion that was the Bush administration's principal justification for the March invasion.
One of the officials was reassigned last week to the CIA's personnel department after spending the last several months heading the Iraq Task Force, a special unit set up to provide 24-hour support to military commanders during the war.
The other, a longtime analyst who had led the agency's Iraq Issue Group, was dispatched on an extended mission to Iraq. The group is responsible for the core analysis of all the intelligence the United States collects on Iraq.
CIA spokesman Bill Harlow said Friday that the changes were routine, and that it is "absolutely wrong to think this is somehow punitive or negative or indicative of anything other than a normal rotation." Citing security concerns, he asked that neither employee be identified by name.
But other intelligence sources offered a different account.
"Two of the key players on this problem have essentially been sent into deep exile," said one agency official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official added that the changes seemed designed to show the administration that "we're being responsive to charges that we did not perform well."
The failure so far to find banned weapons in Iraq has raised questions about whether the prewar intelligence was flawed or shaded to support the White House's desire to present a compelling case for war.
The agency's personnel moves come as congressional committees are reviewing the prewar intelligence, with some Democrats pushing for public hearings and a full-scale investigation.
Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee signed a letter this week seeking a meeting with the panel chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), in an effort to pressure him to drop his opposition to a full investigation.
Meanwhile, staffers on the House and Senate Intelligence committees are already poring over thousands of pages of prewar intelligence documents turned over by the CIA in recent days.
One Capitol Hill aide who has reviewed the material said there are troubling contradictions in the documents and statements. In some cases, records show officials reaching one conclusion on Iraq's weapons, only to offer a contradictory conclusion a few months later.
The aide declined to discuss specifics but said the tangled nature of the material is likely to add fuel to the controversy.
"It's all fodder for the Democrats," the aide said. "What they'll find is people having said things that aren't consistent with what they're saying now."
An intelligence official familiar with the Iraq assessments said congressional investigators are not likely to find documented proof that analysts were pressured to tailor their assessments.
"They'll be hard-pressed to find any kind of smoking gun, a case of somebody coming in and saying, 'I wrote it this way and it came back from the 7th floor telling me to write it another way,' " the official said, referring to the location at CIA headquarters where Director George J. Tenet and other top officials have offices.
Instead, the official compared the pressure analysts faced in the months preceding the war to that applied by lawyers "badgering the witness — asking the question over and over and over again to the point where people get worn down."
Much of this pressure, the official said, came from top officials at the Pentagon, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Pentagon officials have repeatedly denied seeking to influence the intelligence on Iraq.
Tenet is said to have called a special meeting with the CIA's Iraq analysts on June 5, a session one source described as an attempt to clear the air at a time when top officials have been alarmed by anonymous complaints showing up in the press.
It is not clear whether the meeting came before or after the two senior officials were reassigned. Several intelligence sources said it was unusual for employees in such key assignments to move on to positions of equal or lesser prestige.
The woman who led the Iraq Issue Group had been there for less than a year, a relatively short stint. That sort of job has traditionally been a launching pad to higher rank. Winston P. Wiley, who went on to head the Directorate of Intelligence, had held a similar position during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Harlow, the CIA spokesman, said the woman "is moving on to an assignment in Iraq to support important issues out there." He noted that, as an expert on the country, she welcomed the opportunity to work there. Before Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled, he said, "we didn't have positions in Iraq."
The other employee was reassigned in part because the wartime task force is winding down, Harlow said. "This guy needed a new job and is going off to do recruiting [for the agency]. It's something he wanted to do, and it's something critically important to us."
Others questioned that explanation. A move to the personnel department, one former official said, "is usually not a step up."
The weapons controversy has exposed new fault lines between the White House and the intelligence community.
In a series of media appearances this week, senior White House officials including national security advisor Condoleezza Rice stressed that all of the administration's prewar claims came straight out of briefings from the CIA.
"You had a director of central intelligence that produced an estimate that said this regime had weapons of mass destruction," Rice said in a television interview.
This week, the White House put Tenet in charge of the ongoing weapons hunt, a job that had belonged to the Pentagon.
"They handed the whole ball to George," said one intelligence source familiar with the details of the assignment. He said the message being sent to Tenet seemed clear: "You said [the banned weapons] were there. You go find them."
Another congressional aide said the move reflected not only an eagerness to put Tenet on the hook for the weapons search mission, but also dissatisfaction with the way the Pentagon had managed the assignment.
"It's a little of both," the aide said, noting that the weapons search has been plagued by breakdowns, shortages of necessary equipment and infighting.
This week, Tenet tapped a former U.N. weapons inspector, David Kay, to serve as a "special advisor" to the search effort in Baghdad. The move was somewhat surprising from an administration that had openly derided the effectiveness of United Nations teams before the war.
Kay will report directly to Tenet and have authority over the 1,300-member Iraq Survey Group recently dispatched to step up the search.
Many in the intelligence community are now skeptical that stocks of anthrax, botulin, sarin gas or other agents Iraq was accused of producing will be found.
"It's not that they were never there or that we worked for years on erroneous information," one intelligence official said. Rather, there is growing concern that the nation's spy community missed the destruction of the materials because analysts were not prepared to consider Hussein capable of taking such a step.
"We didn't have the hypothesis that maybe this guy would decide it's too dangerous to have this stuff," the official said, noting that some think Hussein focused on preserving technology that would enable him to restart his programs later.
"If you save design work you can gin it back up pretty quickly," the official said. "The only one you can't gin up is nuclear."
The question of Iraq's nuclear activities has also become a source of friction between the agency and policymakers in the administration.
The Washington Post reported this week that the CIA failed to tell the White House that it was skeptical of claims that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from Niger. A diplomat sent by the agency to Niger to investigate the claims concluded that they were false.
Nevertheless, the claim was included in President Bush's State of the Union address in January. The documents that were the basis for the claims were subsequently shown to be forgeries.
The CIA says it did express skepticism about the uranium claims in numerous intelligence reports that were widely circulated within the administration before the president's speech.
Copyright 2003 Los Angeles Times