Senate Intelligence chairman quietly 'fixed' intelligence, and diverted blame from White House over Iraq
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush issued an order to the Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Defense, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department, and his cabinet members that severely curtailed intelligence oversight by restricting classified information to just eight members of Congress.
"The only Members of Congress whom you or your
expressly designated officers may brief regarding
classified or sensitive law enforcement information,"
he writes, "are the Speaker of the House, the
House Minority Leader, the Senate Majority and Minority
Leaders, and the Chairs and Ranking Members of the
Intelligence Committees in the House and Senate."
The order is aimed at protecting "military security"
and "sensitive law enforcement."
But what was said to be an effort to protect the United States became a tool by which the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Pat Roberts (R-KS) ensured there was no serious investigation into how the administration fixed the intelligence that took the United States to war in Iraq or the fabricated documents used as evidence to do so.
Coupled with limited access to intelligence documents, RAW STORY has found that Roberts and a handful of other strategically-placed Washington players stymied all questions into pre-war intelligence on Iraq and post-invasion cover-ups, including the outing of a CIA covert agent, by using targeted leaks and artfully deflecting blame from the White House.
The Senate and House intelligence committees were created in the 1970s after a series of congressional investigations found that the CIA had acted like a "rogue elephant" carrying out illegal covert action abroad.
By the late 1990s, members of the committees and their staffs were seeing more than 2,200 CIA reports and receiving more than 1,200 substantive briefings from agency officials each year to assist them in their role of providing proper oversight.
But the little-reported 2001 Bush directive changed
that, ensuring that only two members of each committee
received full briefings on intelligence operations,
and preventing committee staffs from carrying out
Tom Reynolds, spokesman for the ranking Democrat
on the House Select Committee on Intelligence, Jane
Harman (D-CA), downplayed the significance of the
order, saying members continued to have access. He
acknowledged, however, that the "gang of eight"
had higher-level clearances.
The spokesman for the Senate Intelligence Committee deferred comment to the White House; the White House did not return requests for comment.
At the time of the order, Rep. Porter Goss (R-FL) chaired the House Intelligence Committee. His counterpart in the Senate was Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), whom Sen. Roberts replaced in 2003.
Chairman Pat Roberts
In a sense, the pre-invasion of Iraq and the post-invasion intelligence blame game can be seen through the lens of a chess game, with the pieces in place well before any troops set foot on the ground.
Roberts appears to become an extension of the White House in selling the war beginning in January 2003. That month, he is appointed to chair the Senate Intelligence Committee, picking up one of the eight coveted clearances.
By the end of the month, Roberts is convinced that Saddam is harboring both al Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction. Much of what convinces Roberts is a series of briefings organized by then-Deputy National Security Advisor, Stephen Hadley. Hadley led a White House team to help sift through CIA intelligence, filtering information for Congressional briefings.
Roberts embraces a larger pro-war role. His voice is joined by Vice President Dick Cheney and then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
Their calls align with President Bush in his State
of the Union address, in which he declares, "The
British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein
recently sought significant quantities of uranium
Shortly thereafter, the Administration hits a snag: Documents alleging Iraq’s intention to reconstitute its nuclear program by purchasing uranium from Niger are publicly acknowledged to be forgeries.
Background on the Niger forgeries
The Administration asserts that they didn't hear
the documents were forgeries until after the speech.
But the U.S Embassy in Rome has already had the Niger forgeries for three months.
British intelligence say they passed
the documents to Vice President Dick Cheney's office
in early 2002. The Vice President subsequently makes
several visits to the CIA with "questions"
about recent Niger to Iraq uranium sales.
The International Atomic Energy Agency questions
the Niger claim in December after the National Security
Agency issues a fact
sheet on Iraq's weapons omissions to the UN Security
Council. As NSA deputy, Hadley may have already had
the documents as well.
The IAEA, however, is not given the documents until the end of February 2003, a year after the U.S. first acquires them. Once acquired, they determine the documents are fakes within several hours.
John Pike, director of the Washington military watchdog
GlobalSecurity.org, says the Administration's line
on the Niger documents raises questions.
"The thing that was so embarrassing about the
episode was not simply that the documents were forgeries,
but that they were clumsy forgeries, as was so quickly
determined by the IAEA," he told RAW
STORY. "It is one thing to be taken
in, but to be so easily taken in, suggested either
bewildering incompetence or intentional deception,
or possibly both."
Roberts blocks Niger questions
Whether Roberts actually saw the Niger forgeries
during Hadley’s briefings is unclear. What is clear
is that by March of 2003, the Intelligence chairman
was in a position to head off any serious investigation
into concerns raised by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV),
the committee's ranking Democrat and vice-chair.
Rockefeller has grave concerns about deceptive intelligence, so serious that he pens a formal letter to FBI director Robert Mueller.
Rockefeller urges Mueller to investigate the Niger
forgeries as part of what he feared to be "…a
larger deception campaign aimed at manipulating public
opinion and foreign policy regarding Iraq," writes
the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh.
Roberts declines to sign the Rockefeller letter,
seeing the involvement of the FBI as inappropriate.
As a result, Rockefeller's letter falls on deaf ears.
On July 11, 2003, faced with public pressure to investigate the Niger forgeries, Roberts blames the CIA and defends the White House.
"Sen. Rockefeller and I are committed to continue
our close examination of all of the issues surrounding
the Niger documents," the Kansas senator declares.
"So far, I am very disturbed by what appears
to be extremely sloppy handling of the issue from
the outset by the CIA."
More astonishing is that CIA spokesman William Harlow
that the agency had not obtained the Niger documents
until "after the President's State of the Union
speech and after the congressional briefings, and
therefore had been unable to evaluate them."
Roberts blocks WMD questions
Roberts also figures prominently in warding off bipartisan efforts to investigate WMD in Iraq - the reason given by the Bush administration for going to war.
As pressure heats up, Chairman of the Senate Armed
Services Committee John Warner (R-VA) says he would
support joint hearings with Roberts on "the issue"
and that Roberts "had been receptive to the idea."
That sentiment changes, however, after Roberts meets
with Senate GOP leadership and Vice President Dick
Cheney. The Kansas senator then says
talk of hearings is "premature."
Roberts soon announces he will hold a closed-door review of intelligence documentation and the lead-up to war. He begins to spin questions and skeptics of the war as politically motivated.
"I will not allow the committee to be politicized
or to be used as an unwitting tool for any political
strategist," he says.