Cheney likes leaked intel reports, hooray!

One of the central underpinnings of Iraq's invasion was the supposed link between Saddam and al-Qaeda. This link was never conclusively proven to the American public, but insinuations from the war agitators came steadily. Finally, the Weekly Standard published a secret memorandum from Defense Undersecretary Douglas Feith, a compilation of raw intelligence reports--not evaluated, that is to say approved by experts--which supposedly proved the link. The very release of this information was quite possibly illegal, and its contents disavowed by the Pentagon. Yet Cheney finds it a fabulous article. (Keep in mind the Weekly Standard is a neo-con organ run by Bill Kristol). Seem convoluted? Tease apart the loops and we can see a problem. Reported by Eric Bohlert in Salon.com:

Cheney's favorite leak:
Vice President Dick Cheney's claim that a magazine article, based on leaked and unevaluated intelligence, definitively proved links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden has triggered a new round in the Bush administration's conflict with the intelligence community. 

"It's disgusting," said Vincent Cannistraro, the former CIA chief of counter-terrorism. "It's bullshit," said Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst who served in the agency's Near East division....

The conservative Weekly Standard published its article on the Saddam-al-Qaida connection, "Case Closed," by Stephen Hayes, in its Nov. 24, 2003, issue. The piece, released on Nov. 14, was instantly promoted as providing proof for the Bush administration's assertion that Saddam was long involved with Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization. Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes trumpeted the article on Fox News. "These are hard facts, and I'd like to see [skeptics] refute any one of them," he said. 

But the Department of Defense did just that. On Nov. 15, the next day, the Pentagon issued an extraordinary statement calling the story "inaccurate" and explaining it was based on raw intelligence ... that had not been evaluated.

The assertion that Saddam and al-Qaida were in league was a major justification for the Iraq war. Indeed, a majority of Americans came to believe the alliance was real as a result of the administration's persistent suggestion that Saddam was behind 9/11, and it was the reason they gave for supporting the war. 

However, no proof was ever offered, and the administration's continuing effort to press the point led the press corps to question President Bush about it. "There's no question that Saddam Hussein had al-Qaida ties," Bush said on Nov. 18, 2003. But he added, "We have no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the Sept. 11" attacks. Yet on Jan. 9, Cheney, in an interview with the Rocky Mountain News, spontaneously lauded the discredited Weekly Standard article and described it as "the best source of information." ....

The Weekly Standard article was drawn from a "top secret U.S. government memorandum" that the magazine depicted as proving bin Laden and Saddam had an "operational relationship" that dated back nearly a decade. The memo was written by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, who also oversaw the unique Office of Special Plans within the Pentagon. This small office of handpicked operatives was created under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to act as a counter to the CIA and other intelligence agencies that were seen as insufficiently loyal in providing material to help make the administration's case about Saddam's imminent threat. Since its inception, the OSP has worked outside established intelligence channels, rarely sharing its intelligence information for peer review, and has been a direct source of information, often faulty, for the White House. 

Following Feith's testimony about alleged ties between Saddam and external terrorist groups before Congress last July 10, he was pressed in a follow-up letter from Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., respectively the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to provide the evidence that backed up his assertions. In response, Feith's office cited 50 instances of raw intelligence that suggested ties between Iraqi dictator and the al-Qaida leader. Meanwhile, Feith's report also found its way to the Weekly Standard. 

The article, which gave credence to Feith's report and suggested it had conclusively confirmed the Saddam-al-Qaida connection, never informed its readers that the report was simply a laundry list of uncorroborated data. 

Former CIA counter-terrorism chief Cannistraro explains that hundreds, if not thousands, of raw reports from first-, second- and third-hand sources flood into the CIA offices around the word every day. But these are of little or no use until they can be analyzed...Cannistraro is stunned that Feith's office, out to prove linkage between Saddam and bin Laden, relied on raw intelligence summaries and not evaluated intelligence. "It's just amazing, because it's the antithesis of the intelligence process," he said. 

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