Fox's Garrett provided narrow, misleading examination of "same intelligence" debate

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

On the November 30 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Fox News correspondent Major Garrett presented a highly misleading depiction of the heated debate over whether the White House and Congress saw the same intelligence on the Iraqi threat prior to the war. Garrett downplayed the administration's handling of dissenting opinions and ignored entirely the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research's (INR) strong objections to the claim that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. He also falsely reported that a bipartisan presidential commission had concluded that "in almost every instance" the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) -- a daily intelligence report provided to the president but not to Congress -- had presented more alarming assessments on Iraq than the reports provided to lawmakers.

Moreover, Garrett misrepresented the scope of this ongoing debate by focusing solely on the issue of intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear capabilities. In fact, members of Congress who have challenged the claim that they saw the same intelligence as the White House have also cited their lack of access to intelligence regarding the purported ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

On the issue of whether the Bush administration hid dissenting views from lawmakers, Garrett cited only the Department of Energy's (DOE) objections to specific claims regarding Iraq's nuclear weapon capabilities. Garrett noted that DOE had expressed doubts about the administration's claim that Iraq had acquired aluminum tubes designed to enrich uranium and countered that DOE had nonetheless "agreed Iraq was pursuing nuclear weapons." He then aired a clip of Charles Duelfer, former head of the Iraq Survey Group, who stated, "[T]here was a large consensus in terms of the overall direction that the Saddam regime wanted to go, which was, it was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program."

But Garrett failed to inform his viewers why those challenging the "same intelligence" claim have cited the DOE dissent -- because it is known to have been omitted from numerous intelligence reports provided to Congress. An October 3, 2004, New York Times article reported that the CIA had delivered 15 assessments on the aluminum tubes to Congress between April 2001 and September 2002, but that "not one of them informed senior policy makers of the Energy Department's dissent." The article noted that "the dissenting views were repeatedly discussed in meetings and telephone calls" between Bush administration and intelligence officials. Garrett further downplayed the divisions in the intelligence community over Iraq's nuclear capabilities by failing to note that INR had voiced aggressive objections to the claim Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear programs -- a fact that contradicts Duelfer's depiction of a "large consensus."

On the issue of those intelligence reports available to the White House and not to Congress, Garrett reported that a bipartisan presidential commission concluded that the PDB "in almost every instance" presented more aggressive assessments than those provided to lawmakers. But the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, chaired by former Sen. Charles Robb (D-VA) and Reagan appointee Judge Laurence H. Silberman, received only a "limited cross-section" of the PDBs provided to President Bush on the Iraqi threat:

As part of its investigation, this Commission was provided access, on a limited basis, to a number of articles from the President's Daily Brief (PDB) relating to Iraq's WMD programs. Although we saw only a limited cross-section of this product, we can make several observations about the art form.

Further, of that "limited cross-section" to which it was granted access, the Robb-Silberman commission examined only PDB articles that "concerned Iraq's weapons programs" and not those PDBs pertaining to the purported ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda. A November 22 National Journal article reported that in a PDB dated September 21, 2001, the president was informed that the intelligence community had scant evidence connecting Saddam Hussein's regime to Al Qaeda. The White House has refused to turn this and numerous other relevant PDBs over to Congress, despite repeated requests by the Senate Intelligence Committee. This has led Sen. Edward D. Kennedy (D-MA) to propose legislation requiring the Bush administration to provide the Senate and House intelligence committees copies of the PDBs spanning a three-year period.

While Garrett addressed the claim that the White House and Congress saw different intelligence on Iraq's weapons capabilities, he ignored entirely the allegation that the Bush administration had access to far more information regarding the alleged Iraq-Al Qaeda connection -- a crucial facet of this ongoing debate. In his report, Garrett played a clip of Sen. Richard J. Durbin's (D-IL) comments at a November 14 press conference. But he overlooked the fact that Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), at the same press conference, had noted that the Bush administration had apparently suppressed the intelligence community's serious doubts about the existence of any substantial Iraq-Al Qaeda ties:

LEVIN: Listen to the Defense Intelligence Agency's assessment before the war on this issue. We just released this last week: "Saddam's regime is intensely secular and wary of Islamic revolutionary movements. Moreover, Baghdad is unlikely to provide assistance to a movement it cannot control." That's what the Defense Intelligence Agency was saying. So for this administration now to say that its statements before the war about the relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein reflected the consensus in the intelligence community is just as misleading as statements that they have made in other regards relative to the whole weapons of mass destruction issue.

The vice president apparently will not hold a press conference on this issue. I don't know how he can get away with not answering questions. The president surely hasn't held many where he is asked to explain his statements relative to the relationship that he claimed existed between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, which persuaded the majority of the American people to believe something that wasn't true.

A November 16 Knight Ridder article further reported how the administration had ignored numerous "secret U.S. intelligence assessments" that undermined claims regarding the alleged relationship. The article also noted that the White House's use of alternative intelligence sources had fueled the administration's use of this claim in its case for war with Iraq:

As for prewar intelligence on Iraq, senior administration officials had access to other information and sources that weren't available to lawmakers.

[...]

Moreover, officials in the White House and the Pentagon received information directly from the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an exile group, circumventing U.S. intelligence agencies, which greatly distrusted the organization.

The INC's information came from Iraqi defectors who claimed that Iraq was hiding chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs, had mobile biological-warfare facilities and was training Islamic radicals in assassinations, bombings and hijackings.

The White House emphasized these claims in making its case for war, even though the defectors had shown fabrication or deception in lie-detector tests or had been rejected as unreliable by U.S. intelligence professionals.

All of the exiles' claims turned out to be bogus or remain unproven.

War hawks at the Pentagon also created a special unit that produced a prewar report - one not shared with Congress - that alleged that Iraq was in league with al-Qaida. A version of the report, briefed to Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and top White House officials, disparaged the CIA for finding there was no cooperation between Iraq and the terrorist group, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence disclosed.

After the report was leaked in November 2003 to a conservative magazine, the Pentagon disowned it.

In fact, a series of secret U.S. intelligence assessments discounted the administration's assertion that Saddam could give banned weapons to al-Qaida.

From the November 30 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

GARRETT: The accusation on protest signs and from some Democrats in Congress: the president lied about the Iraqi threat. The administration's response: Congress saw the same intelligence on weapons of mass destruction and backed the Iraq war. Democrats disagree.

DURBIN [video clip]: For the president to suggest that even as members of the Intelligence Committee, we have the same intelligence at our disposal as he did is just plain wrong.

GARRETT: In fact, the president did review intelligence reports Congress never saw. The CIA produced the president's daily brief or PDB. But they painted an even more dire picture of Iraq's potential threat. The bipartisan Robb-Silberman Report said the president's daily briefs on Iraq were, quote, "even more misleading," unquote, than the National Intelligence Estimate, or NIE, given to Congress. "These daily reports were, if anything, more alarmist and less nuanced than the NIE," the commission said, adding the reports', quote, "drumbeat of repetition, left an impression of many corroborating reports when in fact there were very few sources." The commission found no evidence of pressuring or coercing intelligence analysts, but it did conclude that the daily intelligence brief, quote, "seemed to be selling intelligence in order to keep its customers, or at least the first customer, interested." In other words, Congress received less aggressive assessments than the president, but they were still bleak.

DUELFER [video clip]: The bulk of them all agreed that there were existing stocks of biology, existing stocks of chemical, and for the most part they all agreed there was a nuclear program. The question was how they were going about it.

GARRETT: Duelfer's post-war survey found no biological or chemical weapons stockpiles, no nuclear weapons program. Despite this massive intelligence failure, Duelfer concludes no conspiracy was afoot.

DUELFER [video clip]: You can fault the intelligence community for many things, but for shaping its conclusions to fit the desires of the political leadership, I don't think that's right. I think that's wrong.

GARRETT: Critics accuse the administration of ignoring negative or conflicting reports. They often cite Iraq's 2001 purchase of aluminum tubes. The CIA and Pentagon concluded they were part of a renewed nuclear weapons program. The Department of Energy disagreed, saying the tubes were not well suited for a nuclear program, but probably destined for Iraqi artillery, which turned out to be the right call. Even so, the Energy Department, based on other evidence, agreed Iraq was pursuing nuclear weapons.

DUELFER [video clip]: There was a disagreement on some of the elements, but there was a large consensus in terms of the overall direction that the Saddam regime wanted to go, which was it was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.

GARRETT: Democrats have recently said their lack of access to these presidential daily briefs constitute a crucial missing link in their understanding of the Iraq threat. But as Duelfer and the bipartisan Robb-Silberman Commission have already concluded, in almost every instance, these daily reports would have made lawmakers more alarmed, not less.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Stories/Interests
Prewar Intelligence/WMD
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.