Waas on Roberts

WAAS ON ROBERTS….Did Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, tip off Saddam Hussein at the beginning of the Iraq war that we had infiltrated his inner circle? Murray Waas says yes:

On March 20, 2003, at the onset of military hostilities between U.S. and Iraqi forces, Roberts said in a speech to the National Newspaper Association that he had “been in touch with our intelligence community” and that the CIA had informed President Bush and the National Security Council “of intelligence information from what we call human intelligence that indicated the location of Saddam Hussein and his leadership in a bunker in the suburbs of Baghdad.”

….At the time, it was one of the most sensitive secrets in government that the CIA had recruited Iraqi nationals who claimed to have infiltrated Hussein’s inner circle to be able to follow his movements at the onset of war….Whether or not Roberts’ comments were inadvertent, former intelligence officials said, they almost certainly tipped off the Iraqi dictator that there were spies close to him. “He [Roberts] had given up that we had a penetration of [Saddam’s] inner circle,” says a former senior intelligence official. “It was the worst thing you could ever do.”

But it doesn’t look that way to me. Via Nexis, here are some quotes from various news accounts about the strike on Saddam’s bunker, all from March 20-22:

  • Washington Post: Other officials said the CIA had gathered highly sensitive and reliable electronic and other information, using a wide range of assets ? from humans in some proximity to the compound to image-snapping satellites miles above.

  • Associated Press: Officials said the surprise attack was the product of a complex operation that benefited from human intelligence….

  • Toronto Globe and Mail: Sources said the strike, which destroyed a home in Baghdad, was targeted using information from “highly placed Iraqis,” who knew the movements of Saddam. Military sources said the site was pinpointed using “human intelligence” and electronic wizardry.

  • Los Angeles Times: Hussein “has to start thinking, ‘How did they know this and who is telling them?’ ” said one military intelligence official. The objective, the official said, is to make Hussein “even more paranoid than he has already been.”

  • Boston Herald: U.S. officials said they hoped the surprise attack, if it didn’t kill Hussein, at least would leave him distrustful of his inner circle and suspecting betrayal by one of his advisers.

Waas quotes an unnamed Republican congressional aide who says that Roberts’ remark was a “dumb act,” and that might be true. At the same time, it looks like (a) an awful lot of other people were saying the same thing and (b) intelligence officials were hoping that Saddam would conclude we had a mole in high places. I’m no fan of Roberts, but this seems like a pretty weak indictment.