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CIA pressured into linking Iraq, terror

TOP DOWN: Analysts claim that the drive from the Bush administration to connect Saddam's regime with al-Qaeda was so great they exaggerated the evidence

Monday, Mar 24, 2003,Page 4

"On topics of very intense concern to the administration of the day, you become less of an analyst and more of a reports officer."

US intelligence official

The recent disclosure that reports claiming Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger were based partly on forged documents has renewed complaints among analysts at the CIA about the way intelligence related to Iraq has been handled, several intelligence officials said.

Some analysts at the agency said they had felt pressured to make their intelligence reports on Iraq conform to Bush administration policies.

For months, a few CIA analysts have privately expressed concerns to colleagues and congressional officials that they have faced pressure in writing intelligence reports to emphasize links between Saddam Hussein's government and al-Qaeda.

As the White House contended that links between Saddam and al-Qaeda justified military action against Iraq, these analysts complained that reports on Iraq have attracted unusually intense scrutiny from senior policy makers within the Bush administration.

"A lot of analysts have been upset about the way the Iraq-al-Qaeda case has been handled," said one intelligence official familiar with the debate.

That debate was renewed after the disclosure two weeks ago by Mohammed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, that the claim that Iraq sought to purchase uranium from Niger was based partly on forged documents. The claim had been cited publicly by US President George W. Bush.

"The forgery heightened people's feelings that they were being embarrassed by the way Iraqi intelligence has been handled," said one government official who said he has talked with CIA analysts about the issue.

The forged documents were not created by the CIA or any other US government agency, and CIA officials were always suspicious of the documents, American intelligence officials said. But the information still ended up being used in public by Bush.

Intelligence officials said there was other information, which was deemed to be credible, that raised concerns about a possible uranium-sale connection between Niger and Iraq.

Several analysts have told colleagues they have become so frustrated that they have considered leaving the agency, according to government officials who have talked with the analysts.

"Several people have told me how distraught they have been about what has been going on," said one government official who said he had talked with several CIA analysts. None of the analysts are willing to talk directly to news organizations, the official said.

A senior official of the agency said no analysts had told CIA management that they were resigning in protest over the handling of Iraqi intelligence. At the US State Department, by contrast, three foreign service officers have resigned in protest over Bush's policies.

The official said some analysts had been frustrated that they had frequently been asked the same questions by officials from throughout the government about their intelligence reports concerning Iraq. Many of these questions concern sourcing, the official said.

The official said that the analysts had not been pressured to change the substance of their reports.

"As we have become an integral component informing the debate for policy-makers, we have been asked a lot of questions," the senior CIA official said. "I'm sure it does come across as a pressured environment for analysts. I think there is a sense of being overworked, a sense among analysts that they have already answered the same questions. But if you talk to analysts, they understand why people are asking, and why policy-makers aren't accepting a report at face value."

Another intelligence official said, however, that many veteran analysts were comparing the current climate at the agency to that of the early 1980s, when some CIA analysts complained that they were under pressure from then president Ronald Reagan's administration to take a harder line on intelligence reports relating to the Soviet Union.

The official said the pressure had prompted the agency's analysts to become more circumspect in expressing their analytical views in the intelligence reports they produced.

"On topics of very intense concern to the administration of the day, you become less of an analyst and more of a reports officer," the official said.

The distinction between an analyst and a reports officer is an important one within the CIA. A reports officer generally pulls together information in response to questions and specific requests for information. An intelligence analyst analyzes the information in finished reports.
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