MANIPULATING INTELLIGENCE….Paul Pillar, the national intelligence officer responsible for the Middle East from 2000 to 2005, has an article today in Foreign Affairs about the politicization of intelligence in the runup to the Iraq war. It’s fairly weak on the subject of WMD, which he admits everyone in the intelligence community believed in, but much stronger on the administration’s cynical manipulation of supposed ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda:

In the shadowy world of international terrorism, almost anyone can be “linked” to almost anyone else if enough effort is made to find evidence of casual contacts, the mentioning of names in the same breath, or indications of common travels or experiences. Even the most minimal and circumstantial data can be adduced as evidence of a “relationship,” ignoring the important question of whether a given regime actually supports a given terrorist group and the fact that relationships can be competitive or distrustful rather than cooperative.

…. The Bush team approached the community again and again and pushed it to look harder at the supposed Saddam-al Qaeda relationship….The process did not involve intelligence work designed to find dangers not yet discovered or to inform decisions not yet made. Instead, it involved research to find evidence in support of a specific line of argument ? that Saddam was cooperating with al Qaeda ? which in turn was being used to justify a specific policy decision.

….The issue became even more time-consuming as the conflict between intelligence officials and policymakers escalated into a battle, with the intelligence community struggling to maintain its objectivity even as policymakers pressed the Saddam-al Qaeda connection. The administration’s rejection of the intelligence community’s judgments became especially clear with the formation of a special Pentagon unit, the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group. The unit, which reported to Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, was dedicated to finding every possible link between Saddam and al Qaeda, and its briefings accused the intelligence community of faulty analysis for failing to see the supposed alliance.

I continue to think that the issue of Iraq’s WMD is a difficult one. As I’ve noted before, there’s no question that the administration manipulated the WMD intelligence. At the same time, though, it also seems clear that they, along with the intelligence community, really did believe Iraq was actively producing chemical and biological weapons. (Not nukes, though. The “mushroom cloud” talk was pretty clearly just for show.)

But the Saddam-al-Qaeda connection is entirely different. Not only did the Bush administration manipulate the intelligence, but I don’t think they even believed in it themselves. It was pure pretense from start to finish.

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