A Pentagon investigation into the handling of prewar intelligence has criticized civilian Pentagon officials for conducting their own intelligence analysis to find links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, but said the officials did not violate any laws or mislead Congress, according to congressional officials who have read the report.
The long-awaited report by the Pentagon’s acting inspector general, Thomas F. Gimble, was sent to Congress on Thursday. It is the first major review to rebuke senior officials working for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for the way intelligence was used before the invasion of Iraq early in 2003.
Working under Douglas J. Feith, who at the time was undersecretary of defense for policy, the group “developed, produced and then disseminated alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and al-Qaida relationship, which included some conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus of the Intelligence Community, to senior decision-makers,” the report concluded. Excerpts were quoted by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who has long been critical of Feith and other Pentagon officials.
The report, and the dueling over its conclusions, shows that bitter divisions over the handling of prewar intelligence remain even after many of the substantive questions have been laid to rest and the principal actors have left the government.
In a rebuttal to an earlier draft of Gimble’s report, Eric S. Edelman, the undersecretary of defense, said the group’s activities were authorized by Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz. They did not produce formal intelligence assessments, and they were properly shared, the rebuttal said.
In a statement issued Thursday, Feith, who left the Pentagon in 2005, made similar points.
According to congressional officials, Feith’s statement and the policy office’s rebuttal, the report concluded that none of the Pentagon’s activities were illegal and that they did not violate Defense Department directives.
But the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., said in a statement that because the inspector general considered the work of Feith’s group to be “intelligence activities,” the committee would investigate whether the Pentagon violated the National Security Act of 1947 by failing to notify Congress about the group’s work.
Levin, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the report a “very strong condemnation” of the Pentagon’s activities.
“I think they sought this kind of intelligence. They made it clear they wanted any kind of possible connections, no matter how skimpy, and they got it,” he said.
Feith and other officials in his Pentagon office have been accused by critics of the administration of distorting intelligence data to justify the invasion of Iraq. When Democrats were in the minority in Congress, Levin conducted an inquiry and issued a report excoriating Feith and others at the Pentagon for their conduct.