Former CIA Official Says Bush Misled Country to War
By Cam Simpson
Published February 10, 2006, 8:29 PM CST
WASHINGTON -- The former CIA official charged with
managing the U.S. government's secret intelligence
assessments on Iraq says the Bush administration chose
war first and then misleadingly used raw data to
assemble a public case for its decision to invade.
Paul Pillar, who was the CIA's national intelligence
officer for the Middle East and South Asia from 2000
to 2005, said the Bush administration also played on
the nation's fears in the wake of the 2001 terrorist
attacks, falsely linking Al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein's
regime even though intelligence agencies had not
produced a single analysis supporting "the notion of
an alliance" between the two.
Instead, Pillar writes in the upcoming issue of the
journal Foreign Affairs, connections were drawn
between the terrorists and Iraq because "the
administration wanted to hitch the Iraq expedition to
the 'war on terror' and the threat the American public
feared most, thereby capitalizing on the country's
militant post-9/11 mood."
The specific critiques in Pillar's 4,500-word essay,
titled, "Intelligence, Policy and the War in Iraq,"
are not new. But it apparently is the first time such
attacks are being publicly leveled by such a
high-ranking intelligence official directly involved
behind the scenes—before, during and after the
invasion of Iraq nearly three years ago.
Because of his position, Pillar would have had access
to, and likely intimate knowledge about, virtually
every piece of Iraq-related intelligence maintained
across all agencies within the U.S. government.
Pillar also wrote in his essay that the administration
went to war without first considering any
strategic-level intelligence assessments "on any
aspect of Iraq" and that the intelligence community
foreshadowed many post-Hussein woes, though the
findings were largely ignored before the March 2003
Excerpts from Pillar's article were first reported by
The Washington Post on Friday. Foreign Affairs
released a copy of the essay later in the day.
Pillar, a career intelligence official, retired from
the CIA last year and is now a visiting professor at
Georgetown University in Washington.
The White House did not respond specifically to
Pillar's charges Friday, but Frederick Jones, a
spokesman for the National Security Council, did point
to previous administration statements defending its
use of intelligence.
The administration first went on the offensive last
fall in an effort to thwart what President Bush, in a
Veteran's Day speech, called a "deeply irresponsible"
effort "to rewrite the history of how that war began."
Jones said Friday that the administration's prewar
statements "about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein
were based on the aggregation of intelligence from a
number of sources and represented the collective view
of the intelligence community."
But in his essay, the man responsible for coordinating
the intelligence community's collective view of Iraq
directly challenged the notion that the prevailing
wisdom within the nation's spy services supported the
decision to invade. In fact, Pillar wrote, "If the
entire body of official intelligence analysis on Iraq
had a policy implication, it was to avoid war .…"
He also wrote that the Bush administration "used
intelligence not to inform decision-making but to
justify a decision already made"—to topple Hussein's
In making its case, the administration aggressively
promoted pieces of "intelligence to win public support
for its decision to go to war," Pillar said.
He also said: "This meant selectively adducing
data—'cherry-picking'—rather than using the
intelligence community's own analytic judgments."
Pillar's allegations about the public use of selective
intelligence on Iraq comes in the wake of news that
Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's
former chief of staff, told a grand jury that he was
authorized by his bosses to leak classified
information about Iraq in summer 2003 to defend the
administration's case for war. The statement about
Libby's secret testimony was contained in court papers
filed in connection with his obstruction-of-justice
Although he acknowledged the intelligence community
was wrong about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction
capabilities, Pillar said that intelligence "was not
what led to the war." And he saved some of his
sharpest criticisms for the administration's repeated
public statements in 2002 and 2003 about "links"
between Iraq and Al Qaeda—statements that have been
repeated despite findings from the independent
commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks that
there was no collaborative relationship between the
"The issue of possible ties between Saddam and Al
Qaeda was especially prone to the selective use of raw
intelligence to make a public case for war," Pillar
wrote. "In the shadowy world of international
terrorism, almost anyone can be 'linked' to almost
anyone else if enough effort is made … [But] the
intelligence community never offered any analysis that
supported the notion of an alliance between Saddam and
He said the administration constantly pressed for more
data to support the purported link, just one way it
politically influenced the outcome.
"Feeding the administration's voracious appetite for
material on the Saddam-Al Qaeda link consumed an
enormous amount of time and attention at multiple
levels, from rank-and-file counterterrorism analysts
to the most senior intelligence officials," he wrote.
"It is fair to ask how much other counterterrorism
work was left undone as a result."
Although he acknowledged analysts were not
strong-armed by anyone in the administration to
bolster the case for war, Pillar said intelligence
officials were more subtly influenced.
Analysts, who often measure success by the attention
they receive from policymakers, "felt a strong wind
consistently blowing in one direction. The desire to
bend with such a wind is natural and strong, even if
unconscious," he said.
He also said he never received a request from any
administration policymaker for any assessments of Iraq
"until a year into the war."
Nicholas Cullather, the former official historian for
the CIA who now teaches at Indiana University, said
the article represents a defense of the longstanding
tradition within the CIA of maintaining a strict
separation between intelligence analysis and
But Cullather said that tradition has been
aggressively opposed for decades by senior
policymakers in the Bush administration and their
intellectual mentors, who instead subscribe to the
so-called postmodernist view that "there is no such
thing as unvarnished intelligence. All truth is