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Michael Scheur on Feith's Qaeda-Iraq Assessme
Scheuer: "Not Analysis On Which Decisons...Should Be Made"
02/14/2007 10:46 AM ET
With all the current controversy following on the DoD IG report on Doug Feith's alternative intelligence assessments in the run up to the war in Iraq, I thought it might be appropriate to re-visit some things that Michael Scheuer has said on the subject. (Disclaimer: I worked with Scheuer on Through Our Enemies' Eyes and Imperial Hubris.)

In late 2002, as Feith's report asserting a relationship between bin Laden and Saddam was making its rounds through the intelligence community, George Tenet assigned a small group of experienced CIA officers with the task of re-evaluating every available piece of intelligence on the subject to see if there was any merit to the new conclusions, which contradicted the CIA's understanding at the time.

Scheuer was tasked to head the group, and they worked for a month reviewing approximately fifty thousand pages of material extending back nearly a decade. The result of that exercise led them to reject Feith's conclusions and re-affirm the CIA's stance that there was not a working relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.

The group wrote up a new CIA assessment and turned it in to their superiors. Scheuer can only assume it went up the chain-of-command intact, and was presented to the White House with the same conclusions it had when it left the unit.

As Scheuer told me, the early 2003 report concluded that while certain accounts indicated there may have been meetings between alleged "members" of al Qaeda and Iraqi officials, they could find no evidence of those fleeting contacts to have evolved into any kind of substantial partnership.

In the 2006 revised edition of Through Our Enemies' Eyes, Scheuer even rescinded the items in the first edition (which had been based strictly on open sources--i.e. media accounts) that indicated there had been significant contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda, citing his experience in the CIA's comprehensive 2002-03 review as having convinced him that he had been wrong in the first issuance of his book.

In a passage discussing why he was making that critical update, he made a few relevant comments about the contradicting assessments that had come out of Doug Feith's unit. As he wrote:

"While I do no claim to have read all of the unit's papers, those I did read struck me as rather amateurish. The bane of the professional intelligence officer's life is that data are available to support virtually any line of analysis one wants to present, or, more dangerous, any line of analysis politicians want to have delivered....

"The analysis of Iraq-al Qaeda cooperation that came from Mr. Feith's unit struck me as either being prepared by inexperienced analysts--those not yet comfortable in discerning quality from inferior information--or by solid analysts who were ordered to produce analysis that would mesh with and support the decisions policy makers intended to make. I have no way of knowing which of the two factors were at play. I would argue, however, that it would be a stretch to describe the analysis from Mr. Feith's unit on Iraq and al Qaeda as a professional product. It certainly was not analysis on which decisions about peace and war should be made."

Always having an almost irrationally unwavering belief in President Bush's honesty and integrity, Scheuer could never bring himself to conclude that this debacle of an assessment had been crafted with a specific intent in mind.

The one thing that shook his confidence the most, however, was his confusion as to how Colin Powell could have presented such an extensive case for cooperation in his speech to the UN after the CIA had produced its report condradicting much of the presented evidence. As Scheuer told me, "He must not have gotten the memo."

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