The office of special spin

By DALE McFEATTERS

Unhappy with the intelligence it was getting from established spy agencies, the Bush administration set up a special intelligence shop under then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, one of the architects of the Iraq war.

Specifically, the administration was irritated that the CIA and others were unable to establish a clear connection between Iraq and al Qaeda. The special office provided one, citing “a mature and symbiotic relationship” between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda that subsequently turned out never to have existed.

Even so, that supposed connection, a mutual pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, became one of the justifications for the war.

Now comes a critical report on the operation by the Pentagon’s acting inspector general, Thomas Gimble, saying that Feith’s office relayed to President Bush and Vice President Cheney conclusions “not fully supported by the available intelligence” and “inconsistent with the consensus of the intelligence community.”

This is a bureaucratically polite way of saying “wrong and misleading,” but given the predisposition of the Bush administration for war with Iraq, welcome even so.

The White House says that whatever problems were caused by what Gimble called assessments evolving from “policy to intelligence products” in Feith’s operations have been solved by the creation of a director of national intelligence.

Defenders of Feith’s policy shop and the Pentagon under former Secretary Donald Rumsfeld note that while the actions were “inappropriate,” they were both legal and authorized. This is hardly an exacting standard for drawing conclusions that could — and did — lead to war.

Critics charged at the time that this Office of Special Plans operating outside normal channels was intended to cherry-pick and spin intelligence to support the White House case for war with Iraq, and nothing in the inspector general’s report much disputes that judgment.