CIA pushed to inflate Iraqi threat
Bush camp reportedly leaning on analysts to build support for war
WASHINGTON – Senior Bush administration officials are pressuring CIA analysts to tailor their assessments of the Iraqi threat to help build a case against Saddam Hussein, intelligence and congressional sources said.
In what sources described as an escalating "war," top officials at the Pentagon and elsewhere have bombarded CIA analysts with criticism and calls for revisions on such key questions as whether Iraq has ties to the al-Qaeda terrorist network, sources said.
The sources stressed that CIA analysts – who are supposed to be impartial – are fighting the pressure. But they said analysts are increasingly resentful of what they see as efforts to contaminate the intelligence process.
"Analysts feel more politicized and more pushed than many of them can ever remember," said an intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The guys at the Pentagon shriek on issues such as the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. There has been a lot of pressure to write on this constantly, and to not let it drop."
Evidence of the differences between the agency and the White House surfaced this week when CIA Director George Tenet sent a letter to lawmakers saying that Mr. Hussein was unlikely to strike the United States unless provoked.
That was at odds with statements from President Bush and others that Iraq poses an immediate threat. In a speech Monday in Cincinnati, Mr. Bush said the danger Iraq poses to the United States "is already significant, and it only grows worse with time."
Several lawmakers voiced frustration with the way intelligence is being used in the debate on Iraq.
Classified material provided recently by the CIA on Iraq's capabilities and intentions "does not track some of the public statements made by senior administration officials," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who echoed complaints of other members that the administration has been selective in the intelligence it cites.
Outside experts say they, too, see growing cause for concern.
"The intelligence officials are responding to the political leadership, not the other way around, which is how it should be," said Joseph Cirincione, nonproliferation expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "The politics are driving our intelligence assessments at this point."
Mr. Tenet rejected assertions that the agency is being unduly influenced.
"The president of the United States would never tolerate anything other than our most honest judgment," Mr. Tenet said in a written statement late Thursday. "Our credibility and integrity are our most precious commodities. We will not let anyone tell us what conclusions to reach."
But, he said, it was "healthy" for policymakers to challenge analysts and ask tough questions.
But intelligence sources say the pressure on CIA analysts has been unrelenting in recent months, much of it coming from Iraq hawks including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top deputy, Paul Wolfowitz.
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