Aide Denies Shaping Data to Justify War
'One senior official, who said he was skeptical of Mr. Feith's account, was too angry to answer immediately. Another official said simply, "There was a lot of doublespeak out there."'
Aide Denies Shaping Data to Justify War
By ERIC SCHMITT
'WASHINGTON, June 4 — The Pentagon's top policy adviser held an unusual briefing today to rebut accusations that senior civilian policy makers had politicized intelligence to fit their hawkish views on Iraq and to justify war on Saddam Hussein.
The official, Douglas J. Feith, the under secretary of defense for policy, acknowledged that he created a small intelligence team inside his office shortly after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, to search for terrorist links with Iraq and other countries that he suggested the nation's spy agencies may have overlooked.
Intelligence analysts elsewhere in the government have complained that the Pentagon team provided an alternative hard-line view of intelligence related to Iraq that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld used in meetings with President Bush and other top national security aides.
"This suggestion that we said to them, `This is what we're looking for. Go find it,' is precisely the inaccuracy that we are here to rebut," Mr. Feith told reporters. "I know of nobody who pressured anybody."
Mr. Feith declined to comment on a growing chorus of criticism that American intelligence miscalculated the threat of Iraq's weapons programs or that policy makers exaggerated the threat. Eight weeks after the Iraq war ended, American forces have yet to find any chemical or biological weapons in Iraq.
"The process of gathering information about the Iraqi programs is under way," Mr. Feith said, referring to a new, enlarged military search team that began arriving in Iraq this week. "I'm not going to come in and pre-empt the careful work that's being done."
The administration's handling of intelligence on Iraq is growing into a significant political issue. Mr. Bush, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, have in recent days all defended the intelligence used by the administration to justify the attack against Iraq. In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair has done the same, and today rebutted criticism from lawmakers who were pressing for an independent inquiry into British intelligence on Iraq.
After Mr. Feith's nearly hourlong briefing, some defense officials familiar with classified intelligence assessments on Iraq, its ties to terrorists and what the govern ment charged were its weapons of mass destruction programs, said they were baffled or angered by his remarks.
One senior official, who said he was skeptical of Mr. Feith's account, was too angry to answer immediately. Another official said simply, "There was a lot of doublespeak out there."
Mr. Feith rarely gives on-the-record interviews or press briefings, but he said he acted on his own — not on orders from Mr. Rumsfeld or the White House — to rebut several published reports about the intelligence team he set up and its relation to the Office of Special Plans, an 18-member unit responsible for planning the Defense Department's Iraq policy.
Mr. Rumsfeld has expressed confidence that Iraq's chemical and biological weapons will eventually be uncovered, but in recent days he has suggested some of the stockpiles might have been destroyed before the war or that Iraq might have concealed its production equipment in commercial factories to be used when needed.
The C.I.A. is now preparing for Congress the information its analysts used to draw their conclusions that Baghdad possessed chemical and biological weapons, and was actively pursuing development of nuclear arms. House and Senate committees are also readying their own reviews of prewar intelligence.
Mr. Feith said he established an intelligence team of two to six people after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington to examine terrorist connections around the world, not solely with Iraq.
Its specialty was to use powerful computers and new software to scan and sort documents and reports from the C.I. A., the Defense Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies, defense officials said.
"Its job was to review this intelligence to help digest it for me and other policy makers, to help us develop Defense Department strategy for the war on terrorism," Mr. Feith said.
But other defense officials said the team's task quickly turned to gleaning details that may have collectively pointed to Iraq's wider connections to terrorism.
Among the team's most prominent findings were suspected linkages between Iraq and Al Qaeda, a conclusion doubted by the C.I.A. and D.I.A. Mr. Rumsfeld found the report important enough to ask Mr. Feith to present it to Mr. Tenet, which Mr. Feith said he did last August.
Mr. Feith denied that the creation of the intelligence team reflected frustration on the part of senior Defense Department officials.
"I don't know why it should surprise anybody that any given group of people looking at a mass of material might come up with a few interesting insights that other people didn't come up with," Mr. Feith said.
He said the planning office, led by the neo-conservative scholar Abram N. Shulsky, was created last October to handle the growing duties of preparing for a possible war with Iraq.
Mr. Feith said the intelligence team and policy planning office were separate entities with different responsibilities. He said the intelligence team was disbanded last August and the planning office was established two months later. Mr. Feith also denied that the planning office was a conduit for intelligence reports from the Iraqi National Congress to the White House.
But other defense officials gave a different interpretation today. These officials said the intelligence team was still active at least through last fall, and its assessments carried weight with the Special Plans office.
In interviews late last October, Mr. Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, described the intelligence team as still active. A senior defense official said today he could not explain the discrepancy, adding that the intelligence team was a "very minor thing on their radar screens."
Mr. Feith also disputed the notion that the intelligence team "developed the case on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction," saying it focused on terrorist networks. But moments later, Mr. Feith said one of the seminal lessons from the Sept. 11 attacks was the connection between terrorist networks and their desire to obtain weapons of mass destruction.
Asked why his internal intelligence team would therefore not look at the weapons programs of Iraq and other countries, Mr. Feith conceded, "Yes, I imagine that they looked at W.M.D. along with other stuff."'
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