News and events revolving around the ousting of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Friday, October 28, 2005 - At Root of Leak Probe Is Prewar Dispute

CIA-White House Clash Over Intelligence
Set Stage for Fitzgerald's Investigation
October 28, 2005

WASHINGTON -- At the root of the investigation into the leaking of the identity of a CIA operative is a feud between the Central Intelligence Agency and the White House over whether top administration officials politicized intelligence information in the buildup to the Iraq war.

With charges likely to be filed as early as today, the ripple effects of that feud are still being felt. The same tension over prewar intelligence that led to the leaking of a CIA operative's identity also led to finger-pointing between the agency and the White House and contributed to a decision to reorganize the intelligence community and put the CIA under new White House oversight. Dozens of senior CIA analysts and covert operatives, including the No. 2 at the Directorate of Operations -- the agency's clandestine network -- have in recent months left the Langley, Va., offices, often to higher wages in the private sector.

Now some intelligence professionals think indictments might help clear the air by effectively penalizing administration aides for intruding into intelligence matters and prompting the White House to tread more carefully. And that, say current and former intelligence officials, might embolden the CIA to be more forceful in its analysis, without fearing information would be twisted.

Any indictments would be a "huge deal ... because they will help restore hope that the system works," said Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst and counterterrorism official at the State Department.

Pressed by Congress to revamp the nation's intelligence agencies after the 2001 terrorist attacks, Mr. Bush this year created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, putting intelligence agencies under one roof. The director, John Negroponte, has been stripping out some units of the CIA and placing them under his direct control. He has also been seeking to institute standard procedures across the intelligence community, such as ways to handle clandestine agents.

The White House says the new structure will allow the nation's intelligence bodies to better share information and assist law-enforcement agencies. Administration officials also say it has better positioned the U.S. government to gather intelligence overseas and at home.

On Wednesday, Mr. Negroponte announced new strategic guidelines for America's 15 intelligence agencies, stressing the need to spread democracy to combat terrorism. "Our feeling is that we must change the way we do business," Mr. Negroponte said in a briefing.

Still, some inside the intelligence community see the changes as unwarranted attacks on their operations. They also see it as adding another level of bureaucracy that impairs quick response to terrorist threats.

"There's been a huge wedge between what the analysts think and what the Bush administration wants them to say," said Michael Scheuer, who headed the CIA's special unit targeting Osama bin Laden before quitting in 2004.

Some in the intelligence community have criticized Mr. Bush's promotion of Porter Goss, a former congressman and CIA official, to oversee the restructuring of the CIA. Critics say Mr. Goss brought senior-level aides and an aloof management style that didn't mesh with the CIA's culture, and failed to restore the confidence of the U.S.'s principal intelligence body.

Resentment between the CIA and the White House, though, goes back to the earliest days of the Bush administration. The White House -- and some members of Congress -- blamed U.S. intelligence agencies for al Qaeda's Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But even before those strikes, a number of senior White House officials sought to brand the CIA as soft in its analysis and unwilling to offer more clear-cut views on the threats to America.

The leak case grew out of tensions within the CIA itself, and between the CIA and other parts of the Bush administration, over whether intelligence showed Iraq had or was seeking weapons of mass destruction. The administration used that specter in its justification for invading Iraq. George Tenet, then director of the CIA, in some cases helped assure the White House there was a good case that Iraq had such a weapons program, but some of his own analysts had different conclusions. The dissenting views within the CIA frustrated officials in the Pentagon and White House and led to a feeling during the lead-up to the war that agency analysts were too skeptical of evidence of Iraqi wrongdoing.

At the time, some foreign intelligence reports suggested Iraq had tried to acquire uranium yellowcake, an essential ingredient in nuclear weapons, in Africa. Mr. Cheney and others in his office, including Mr. Libby, wanted more information from the CIA about the veracity of the reports. Mr. Cheney's request for details led the CIA to dispatch former diplomat Joseph Wilson, husband of CIA operative Valerie Plame, to Niger to investigate the claims. It was the leaking of Ms. Plame's identity in July 2003 that led to the current probe.

Some in the intelligence community predict that any initial indictments will snowball into broader investigations of the alleged mishandling of intelligence information by the White House and Pentagon. Recent probes into the government's intelligence failures -- such as the 9/11 Commission's and the Silbermann-Robb investigation into Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons-of-mass-destruction programs -- discounted political pressure as a root cause. But some retired intelligence operatives say the special prosecutor's report may cause these assumptions to be re-examined.

"Many people will feel vindicated," said Patrick Lang, a former head of human intelligence collection at the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, who has regular contact with many active analysts and agents. "There's a deep sense of satisfaction among those who were pressured [on intelligence issues] but were told not to say they were pressured."


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