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C.I.A. Warning to the U.S. Senate Regarding War with Iraq
C.I.A. Letter to Senate on Baghdad's Intentions
The Letter | EPIC Analysis

The following letter was sent on Oct. 7 to Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), former chairman of the Senate's Intelligence Committee, by George J. Tenet, director of central intelligence, about decisions to declassify material related to the debate about Iraq. This letter is the result of a highly politicized process. For over a year, the CIA has been under tremendous pressure to manufacture intelligence (bad or good) to back claims that Iraq is developing new weapons of mass destruction and is cooperating with al-Qaeda. Despite this, Tenet's letter admits that the CIA lacks reliable evidence and expresses concern that an attack on Iraq would make America less safe. EPIC agrees. Surrounded by U.S. forces and under the tight scrutiny of United Nations inspections, Saddam Hussein is effectively contained and deterred from using non-conventional weapons. Once a war is launched to remove him, however, all bets are off. A U.S. invasion of Iraq may in fact trigger the regime to use the very weapons the UN is seeking to destroy. For more analysis, see the EPIC brief below. The letter follows:

In response to your letter of 4 October 2002, we have made unclassified material available to further the Senate's forthcoming open debate on a Joint Resolution concerning Iraq.

As always, our declassification efforts seek a balance between your need for unfettered debate and our need to protect sources and methods. We have also been mindful of a shared interest in not providing to Saddam a blueprint of our intelligence capabilities and shortcomings, or with insight into our expectation of how he will and will not act. The salience of such concerns is only heightened by the possibility of hostilities between the U.S. and Iraq.

These are some of the reasons why we did not include our classified judgments on Saddam's decision-making regarding the use of weapons of mass destruction (W.M.D.) in our recent unclassified paper on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction. Viewing your request with those concerns in mind, however, we can declassify the following from the paragraphs you requested:

Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or C.B.W. against the United States.

Should Saddam conclude that a U.S.-led attack could no longer be deterred, he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions. Such terrorism might involve conventional means, as with Iraq's unsuccessful attempt at a terrorist offensive in 1991, or C.B.W..

Saddam might decide that the extreme step of assisting Islamist terrorists in conducting a W.M.D. attack against the United States would be his last chance to exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him.

Regarding the 2 October closed hearing, we can declassify the following dialogue:

Senator Levin: . . . If (Saddam) didn't feel threatened, did not feel threatened, is it likely that he would initiate an attack using a weapon of mass destruction?

Senior Intelligence Witness: . . . My judgment would be that the probability of him initiating an attack — let me put a time frame on it — in the foreseeable future, given the conditions we understand now, the likelihood I think would be low.

Senator Levin: Now if he did initiate an attack you've . . . indicated he would probably attempt clandestine attacks against us . . . But what about his use of weapons of mass destruction? If we initiate an attack and he thought he was in extremis or otherwise, what's the likelihood in response to our attack that he would use chemical or biological weapons?

Senior Intelligence Witness: Pretty high, in my view.

In the above dialogue, the witness's qualifications — "in the foreseeable future, given the conditions we understand now" — were intended to underscore that the likelihood of Saddam using W.M.D. for blackmail, deterrence, or otherwise grows as his arsenal builds. Moreover, if Saddam used W.M.D., it would disprove his repeated denials that he has such weapons.

Regarding Senator Bayh's question of Iraqi links to Al Qaeda. Senators could draw from the following points for unclassified discussions:

Our understanding of the relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda is evolving and is based on sources of varying reliability. Some of the information we have received comes from detainees, including some of high rank.

We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda going back a decade.

Credible information indicates that Iraq and Al Qaeda have discussed safe haven and reciprocal nonaggression.

Since Operation Enduring Freedom, we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of Al Qaeda members, including some that have been in Baghdad.

We have credible reporting that Al Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire W.M.D. capabilities. The reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to Al Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs.

Iraq's increasing support to extremist Palestinians coupled with growing indications of relationship with Al Qaeda. suggest that Baghdad's links to terrorists will increase, even absent U.S. military action.

EPIC brief on Above Letter

An EPIC brief (excerpted from "The Pentagon Muzzles the CIA: Devising bad intelligence to promote bad policy" by Robert Dreyfuss, American Prospect, 12/16/02)

Recently declassified, CIA Director George Tenet's letter to Congress (above) innappropriately overstates the CIA's case of an Iraq-al-Qaeda link. Sent to Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) on October 7, 2003, who at the time was chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the letter put the CIA on record for the first time as saying that there have been "high-level contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda going back a decade"; that Iraq and Osama bin Laden's gang have "discussed safe haven"; that members of al-Qaeda have been present in Baghdad; and that Iraq has "provided training to al-Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases."

Tenet's statement on Iraq and al-Qaeda was a significant departure from the consensus view among intelligence professionals. Since September 11, many of them, inside government and out, have pooh-poohed the notion that Iraq has provided support to al-Qaeda, and they continue to do so. Daniel Benjamin, co-author, with Steven Simon, of The Age of Sacred Terror, was director of counterterrorism at the National Security Council (NSC) in the late 1990s, and he oversaw a comprehensive review of Iraq and terrorism that came up empty. "In 1998, we went through every piece of intelligence we could find to see if there was a link [between] al-Qaeda and Iraq," says Benjamin. "We came to the conclusion that our intelligence agencies had it right: There was no noteworthy relationship between al-Qaeda and Iraq. I know that for a fact. No other issue has been as closely scrutinized as this one." The State Department's annual review of state-sponsored terrorism hasn't mentioned any link, either.

A sign of how the Iraq-al-Qaeda issue is roiling the agency is how Tenet himself qualified the analysis. In his letter, addressed to Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Tenet wrote: "Our understanding of the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda is evolving and is based on sources of varying reliability." Benjamin, along with other analysts, points out that the CIA's letter seemed to strain to make the connection, noting that the phrase "sources of varying reliability" is "a way of saying that there isn't much evidence."

But if after failing to find links between Iraq and al-Qaeda for years the CIA is suddenly discovering a connection between the two, some analysts believe that it is Tenet, the CIA director, playing politics and arranging to tell the Pentagon what it wants to hear. "[The CIA] is giving Bush what he wanted on Iraq and al-Qaeda," says Melvin Goodman of the Center for International Policy, who is also a former CIA Soviet expert and a fierce critic of politicized intelligence. "Tenet is playing the game, to a certain extent." Goodman, who has maintained contacts inside the agency, says that the CIA's key intelligence analysts are upset with Tenet and concerned that he will frame their conclusions in a way that kowtows to the Pentagon's preconceived view. "There's a lot of anger and questions about whether Tenet will hold off this pressure," Goodman says. "[The CIA analysts are] worried, and they don't have a lot of confidence in him. But the analytical core is holding fast to the evidence, and the evidence doesn't show that link."

However, the intense pressure from the Pentagon seems to be having an effect. Tenet is, after all, a politician, not a CIA veteran. After serving as staff director for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Tenet moved over to the CIA itself and was named to the director's job by President Clinton. But he took pains to ingratiate himself with the Bushes, pre et fils. He quickly acted to name the CIA headquarters after former President Bush in 1998, organized a major intelligence conference at the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University -- itself headed by Robert Gates, a former CIA director -- and personally briefed then-Texas Gov. Bush during the 2000 election campaign. Tenet's quiet politicking was enough to persuade Bush to keep him on at the CIA, and the director's recent actions signal that he doesn't intend to buck the drive toward war.

"It's demoralizing to a number of the analysts," says Cannistraro. "The analysts are human, and some of them are also ambitious. What you have to worry about is the 'chill factor.' If people are ignoring your intelligence, and the Pentagon and NSC keep telling you, 'What about this? What about this? Keep looking!' -- well, then you start focusing on one thing instead of the other thing, because you know that's what your political masters want to hear."

CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL ARTICLE - The Pentagon Muzzles the CIA - by Robert Dreyfuss - American Prospect (12/16/02) -


  • Split at CIA and FBI on Iraqi Ties to Al Qaeda - NYT (registration req'd, 2/2/03) http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/02/international/middleeast/02INTE.html
  • Mullah denies Iraq al-Qaeda link - BBC (1/31/03) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/2713749.stm
  • U.S. Renews Claims of Hussein-Al Qaeda Link - LA Times (registration req'd, 1/30/03) http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-intel30jan30004439,0,2814639.story?coll=la%2Dheadlines%2Dworld
  • Blair: Iraq Has Links to al-Qaida - AP (1/29/03) http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20030129/ap_on_re_eu/britain_iraq_6