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Ex-CIA official: WMD evidence ignored

(CNN) — A retired CIA official has accused the Bush administration of ignoring intelligence indicating that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and no active nuclear program before the United States-led coalition invaded it, CBS News said Sunday.

President Bush awards a medal to ex-CIA boss George Tenet in 2004 as retired Gen. Tommy Franks looks on.
President Bush awards a medal to ex-CIA boss George Tenet in 2004.

Tyler Drumheller, the former highest-ranking CIA officer in Europe, told “60 Minutes” that the administration “chose to ignore” good intelligence, the network said in a posting on its Web site.

Drumheller said that, before the U.S.-led attack on Iraq in 2003, the White House “ignored crucial information” from Iraq’s foreign minister, Naji Sabri, that indicated Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.

Drumheller said that, when then-CIA Director George Tenet told President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other high-ranking officials that Sabri was providing information, his comments were met with excitement that proved short-lived.

“[The source] told us that there were no active weapons of mass destruction programs,” Drumheller is quoted as saying. “The [White House] group that was dealing with preparation for the Iraq war came back and said they were no longer interested. And we said ‘Well, what about the intel?’ And they said ‘Well, this isn’t about intel anymore. This is about regime change.’ ”

Drumheller said the administration officials wanted no more information from Sabri because: “The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming, and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy.”

CBS said the White House declined to respond to the charge and that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said Sabri was just one source and therefore not reliable.

But Drumheller said it was not unusual for the administration to rely on single-source stories when those stories confirmed what the White House wanted to hear.

He cited a report the CIA received in late 2001 that alleged Iraq had bought 500 tons of uranium-containing compounds from Africa.

“They certainly took information that came from single sources on the yellowcake story and on several other stories with no corroboration at all,” he said.

Bush included the reference, which was attributed to the British and turned out to be false, in his 2003 State of the Union Address.

The CIA in 2002 had sent former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate the claims, and he went public in July 2003 criticizing the Bush administration’s case for going to war in Iraq. The subsequent publication of his wife’s identity as a CIA employee spawned an investigation that resulted in the indictment of Cheney’s chief of staff and is still ongoing. (Full story)

“It just sticks in my craw every time I hear them say it’s an intelligence failure,” Drumheller told CBS’ Ed Bradley. “This was a policy failure. I think, over time, people will look back on this and see this is going to be one of the great, I think, policy mistakes of all time.”

The White House earlier this month reacted angrily to a report that Bush had cited trailers suspected as biological weapons labs as proof of the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after intelligence officials knew that the trailers were not part of a WMD program. (Full story)

“I cannot count how many times the president has said the intelligence was wrong,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.

He added that the administration has implemented reforms to make sure that “the executive branch and the Congress have the best possible intelligence as they move forward to deal with the threats that face this country and face this world.”

Another retired CIA official in February said the Bush administration disregarded the expertise of the intelligence community, politicized the intelligence process and used unrepresentative data in making the case for war.

In an article published in the journal Foreign Affairs, Paul R. Pillar, the CIA’s national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, called the relationship between U.S. intelligence and policymaking “broken.” (Full story)

In November 2005, CNN obtained a 2003 CIA report that raised doubts about a claim that al Qaeda sent operatives to Iraq to acquire chemical and biological weapons — assertions that were repeated later by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United Nations in making the case for the invasion of Iraq. (Full story)

A day after that report surfaced, Bush gave a speech on Veteran’s Day in which he accused critics of the Iraq war of distorting the events that led to the U.S. invasion.

Bush said that “intelligence agencies from around the world agreed with our assessment of Saddam Hussein” and that a Senate Intelligence Committee report issued in July 2004 “found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community’s judgments.” (Full story)

The Silberman-Robb commission, which was appointed by Bush, also found no evidence that political pressure skewed the intelligence. But neither that commission nor the Senate panel addressed how the administration made its case for war.

Senate Democrats have pressured the Intelligence Committee to complete a second phase of its report that would focus on how the prewar intelligence was used by the administration, rather than how it was produced.