An April 12 Wall Street Journal editorial (subscription required) falsely claimed that the recently released Robb-Silbermann report and an earlier report by the Senate Intelligence committee both "undercut" recent "phony allegations" by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) regarding undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas J. Feith's actions concerning flawed intelligence on Iraq. Rockefeller recently criticized Feith for allegedly running an ad hoc intelligence operation in the Pentagon aimed at undermining intelligence that conflicted with the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq.
The Journal also gave "kudos" to NBC Meet the Press host Tim Russert for his false claim that there is "no evidence" that former Iraqi exile and head of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) Ahmed Chalabi is "associated" with "Curveball," the most influential source for U.S. intelligence on Iraq's biological weapons program.
In criticizing the "phony allegations," the Journal was referring to Rockefeller's comments on the April 10 edition of Meet the Press. Rockefeller asserted that "much of the ... intelligence, which the administration was accepting, especially in the Office of Special Plans, Douglas Feith, came directly from [Ahmed] Chalabi," a former Iraqi exile who headed the INC, a well-connected group that strongly advocated the U.S.-led invasion. Rockefeller also claimed that Feith "refused to tell the Central Intelligence Agency about what he was learning from Chalabi and took it directly to the White House, including the vice president."
In fact, contrary to the Journal's assertion that the two reports undercut Rockefeller's allegations, neither the Robb-Silberman report nor the Senate Intelligence Committee report cleared Feith of Rockefeller's accusations. Indeed, the Robb-Silberman report does not mention either Feith or the Office of Special Plans. As for the Senate Intelligence Committee, The New York Times reported on October 22, 2004, that Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) had issued his own report accusing Feith of establishing "a non-Intelligence Community source of intelligence analysis," precisely because Senate Republicans had prevented the Senate Intelligence Committee from assessing Feith's role in intelligence operations leading up to the war. The Times reported:
The 46-page report by Senator Levin and the Democratic staff of the Armed Services Committee is the first to focus narrowly on the role played by Mr. Feith's office. Democrats had sought to include that line of inquiry in a report completed in June by the Senate Intelligence Committee, but Republicans on the panel postponed that phase of the study until after the presidential election.
Moreover, independent news accounts suggest that Feith and his subordinates did circumvent the intelligence community by re-examining previously analyzed raw intelligence and presenting their own assessments directly to policymakers. They also collected their own intelligence through private briefings with Chalabi and his staff. The Times reported on April 28, 2004, that Feith's "two-man intelligence team" of Michael Maloof and David Wurmser, known as the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, "began work in October 2001 in a 15-by-15-foot space on the third floor of the Pentagon. The pair spent their days reading raw intelligence reports, many from the Central Intelligence Agency, in the Pentagon's classified computer system." The Times documented how Feith's analysts bypassed the CIA by presenting their findings directly to Pentagon officials and received intelligence directly from Chalabi:
At the end of 2001, Mr. Maloof and Mr. Wurmser briefed top Pentagon officials as well as John R. Bolton, the under secretary of state for arms control and international security and a veteran of the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Maloof also met with Mr. [Richard N.] Perle at his suburban Washington home. As chairman of the Defense Policy Board, an advisory group, he had security clearance.
That session was interrupted by a call from Ahmad Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, an exile group. At Mr. Maloof's request, Mr. Perle asked Mr. Chalabi, now a member of the interim government of Iraq, to have his staff provide Mr. Maloof information gleaned from defectors and others. The request was unusual, because Mr. Feith's analysts were supposed to review intelligence, not collect it. And Mr. Chalabi at that time had a lucrative contract to provide information on Iraq exclusively to the State Department, which would send it along to the intelligence agencies.
Mr. Maloof later met with member [sic] of the Iraqi National Congress's staff. As it turned out, Mr. Chalabi was a risky source: some of the information his group provided was incorrect or fabricated, intelligence officials now believe.
In addition to Bolton and Perle, the Times also documented that Feith's analysts gave intelligence briefings to other policymakers outside the traditional process by which established intelligence agencies brief policymakers. Those briefed included then-deputy secretary of defense Paul D. Wolfowitz, deputy national security advisor Stephen J. Hadley, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney.
Though Feith's group did not "refuse" to inform the CIA of their findings -- they eventually briefed CIA Director George Tenet -- they did so only after they had briefed numerous Pentagon officials and after Wurmser began working for Cheney. As the Times documented, Feith's analysts received intelligence from Chalabi "at the end of 2001" and "had completed a 150-page briefing and slide presentation for Mr. Feith" by early 2002. But Feith did not meet with Tenet and other CIA officers until August 2002.
The Times noted that the conclusions of Feith's group "were at odds with years of C.I.A. analysis. ... The C.I.A. and the D.I.A. [Defense Intelligence Agency] believed that Feith's team had greatly exaggerated the significance of reported contacts among extremist groups and Arab states."