The CIA had previously released a heavily redacted version of the controversial National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in 2004. Last year, transparency advocate John Greenwald made another FOIA request and received a declassified version of the document, which Vice News published this Thursday.
RAND Corporation, a government-connected think tank, also had access to the NIE. In a report published in December 2014, RAND analysts noted that the original CIA assessment contained many qualifiers about virtually everything, but as the document went up the chain of command, “the conclusions were treated increasingly definitely.”
Thus, even though the CIA offered guesses based on rumors from Iraqi exiles and unverifiable sources, Bush administration officials claimed with absolute certainty that Iraq was producing chemical and biological agents, and acquiring components for nuclear weapons.
Likewise, the Bush administration asserted a connection between Al-Qaeda and the government in Baghdad even though the CIA report noted that its information was based on “sources of varying reliability,” and that even if the relationship had existed, there was no indication Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein knew about it.
“As with much of the information on the overall relationship, details on training and support are second-hand,” the document, quoted by Vice News, said. “The presence of [Al-Qaeda]...militants in Iraq poses many questions. We do not know to what extent Baghdad may be actively complicit in this use of its territory for safehaven and transit.”
The NIE reveals much of the intelligence concerning allegations that Iraq gave Al-Qaeda instructions on using chemical and biological weapons came from interrogations of alleged terrorists, often under torture.
Last year’s Senate investigation into the CIA torture program revealed that the dubious charges all came from a single source, which the NIE names as Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (“The Libyan”). Al-Libi commanded the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan, shut down by the Taliban before 9/11 because he refused to subordinate to Osama bin Laden. Who exactly tortured the information out of him remains redacted, but the Senate report noted that Al-Libi recanted his testimony after being turned over to the CIA in February 2003, saying he only told his torturers what they wanted to hear.
Paul Pillar, the former CIA analyst in charge of coordinating the assessment on Iraq and now a visiting professor at Georgetown University, told Vice News that the claims of alleged Iraqi biological weapons – such as the anthrax-laced envelopes sent to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy a week after 9/11 – were based on such sources as Ahmad Chalabi, of the US-backed Iraqi National Congress.
“There was an insufficient critical skepticism about some of the source material,” Pillar said. “I think there should have been agnosticism expressed in the main judgments. It would have been a better paper if it were more carefully drafted in that sort of direction.”