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Thursday, October 21, 2004

The Shock of the Old 

A New York Times "scoop" that will no doubt come as a source of outrage and astonishment to the millions of sad, benighted readers who have never heard of the Office of Special Plans -- mainly because the Paper of Record is only just getting around to covering the stories Seymour Hersh broke a year ago this week:
As recently as January 2004, a top Defense Department official misrepresented to Congress the view of American intelligence agencies about the relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda, according to a new report by a Senate Democrat.

The report said a classified document prepared by Douglas J. Feith, the under secretary of defense for policy, not only asserted that there were ties between the Baghdad government and the terrorist network, but also did not reflect accurately the intelligence agencies' assessment - even while claiming that it did.

In issuing the report, the senator, Carl M. Levin, the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said he would ask the panel to take "appropriate action'' against Mr. Feith. Senator Levin said Mr. Feith had repeatedly described the ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda as far more significant and extensive than the intelligence agencies had . . . .

In a statement, the Pentagon said the Levin report "appears to depart from the bipartisan, consultative relationship" between the Defense Department and the Armed Services Committee, adding, "The unanimous, bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report of July 2004 found no evidence that administration officials tried to coerce, influence or pressure intelligence analysts to change their judgments."

Senator Warner said, "I take strong exception to the conclusions Senator Levin reaches." He said his view was based on the Intelligence Committee's "analysis thus far of the public and classified records."

Among the findings in the report were that the C.I.A. had become skeptical by June 2002, earlier than previously known, about a supposed meeting in April 2001 in Prague between Mohamed Atta, a leader of the Sept. 11 attacks, and an Iraqi intelligence official. Nevertheless, Mr. Feith and other senior Bush administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, continued at least through the end of 2002 to describe the reported meeting as evidence of a possible link between Iraq and the Sept. 11 attacks . . . .

Perhaps most critically, the report says, Mr. Feith repeated a questionable assertion concerning a Jordanian, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Qaeda ally whose presence in Iraq was cited by the Bush administration before the war as crucial evidence of Mr. Hussein's support for terrorism.

In his Oct. 27 letter, Mr. Feith told Congress that the Iraqi intelligence service knew of Mr. Zarqawi's entry into Iraq. In recommending a correction, the C.I.A. said that claim had not been supported by the intelligence report that Mr. Feith had cited, the Levin report says. Nevertheless, the report says, Mr. Feith reiterated the assertion in his addendum, attributing it to a different intelligence report - one that likewise did not state that Iraq knew Mr. Zarqawi was in the country.

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