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White House Pressures CIA Analysts To Help Build Case Against Saddam

By Greg Miller and Bob Drogin
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

Senior Bush administration officials are pressuring CIA analysts to tailor their assessments of the Iraqi threat to help build a case against Saddam Hussein, intelligence and Congressional sources said.

In what sources described as an escalating “war,” top officials at the Pentagon and elsewhere have bombarded CIA analysts with criticism and calls for revisions on such key questions as whether Iraq has ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network, sources said.

The sources stressed that CIA analysts -- who are supposed to be impartial -- are fighting to resist the pressure. But they said analysts are increasingly resentful of what they perceive as efforts to contaminate the intelligence process.

“Analysts feel more politicized and more pushed than many of them can ever remember,” said an intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The guys at the Pentagon shriek on issues such as the link between Iraq and al-Qaida. There has been a lot of pressure to write on this constantly, and to not let it drop.”

The pressure has intensified in the weeks leading up to this week’s debate in the Senate on a resolution granting President Bush to pursue a military invasion of Iraq.

Evidence of the differences between the agency and the White House surfaced publicly this week when CIA Director George J. Tenet sent a letter to lawmakers saying that Saddam was unlikely to strike the United States unless provoked.

That was at odds with statements from President Bush and others that Iraq poses an immediate threat. In a speech Monday in Cincinnati, President Bush said the danger Iraq poses to the United States “is already significant, and it only grows worse with time.”

Several lawmakers voiced frustration with the way intelligence is being used in the debate on Iraq.

“I am concerned about the politicization of intelligence,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who echoed complaints of other members that the administration has been selective in the intelligence it cites, overstating its case in many instances.

Classified material provided recently by the CIA on Iraq’s capabilities and intentions “does not track some of the public statements made by senior administration officials,” Feinstein said.

Outside experts say they too see growing cause for concern.

“The intelligence officials are responding to the political leadership, not the other way around, which is how it should be,” said Joseph Cirincione, nonproliferation expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The politics are driving our intelligence assessments at this point.”