Book Review: One Expert's Verdict: The CIA Caved Under Pressure

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The Bush hard-liners had long believed that stability could come to the Middle Eastand Israel--only if Saddam Hussein was overthrown and Iraq converted into a stable democracy. Led by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, they were installed at various national-security choke points in the government, and nothing moved without their O.K. Bamford comes very close to stating that the hard-liners were wittingly or unwittingly acting as agents of Israel's hard-line Likud Party, which believed Israel should operate with impunity in the region and dictate terms to its neighbors. Such a world view, Bamford argues, was simply repotted by the hard-liners into U.S. foreign policy in the early Bush years, with the war in Iraq as its ultimate goal. Bamford asserts that the backgrounds, political philosophies and experiences of many of the hard-liners helped to hardwire the pro-Israel mind-set in the Bush inner circle and suggests that Washington mistook Israel's interests for its own when it pre-emptively invaded Iraq last year.

The result was a war built on sand--and a CIA that lacked the will to take on its masters. Douglas Feith, a senior Pentagon official, set up several secret offices in the Pentagon that received data from Israel's own intelligence teams and coordinated its findings with them, partly as a way to get around CIA caution in the region. Bamford reveals that the original source of the spurious allegation that Saddam harbored "mobile biological-weapons labs" did not come from the brother of a top aide to Ahmad Chalabi whose code name was Curveball, but from an Israeli tip going back to 1994. Bamford quotes anonymous CIA agents who say that they suspected that much of the hard-liners' intelligence on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was bogus but there was pressure from within and without to shut up about it.

Bamford implies that Tenet, the ultimate staff guy, is partly to blame for this failure of nerve. When Secretary of State Colin Powell was putting together his now discredited speech to the U.N. last year about Saddam's WMD program, he stood virtually alone against the hard-liners, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy Stephen Hadley, all of whom seemed keen to pump up the Secretary's talking points. Cheney's staff handed Powell a 50-page draft of allegations; the Secretary rejected most of them as unsupportable, with the hard-liners, Rice and even Tenet fighting him every step of the way during run-through sessions at CIA headquarters. And as it turned out, Powell didn't fight hard enough.

Could Tenet have stopped the rush to war? Bamford suggests he could have. "Off on the sidelines, George Tenet was one of the few who knew the truth," he writes, adding that Tenet preferred to work behind the scenes on minor disagreements about the data "instead of speaking out" against the grand scheme. That's a harsh indictment of the man who kept America's secrets under two Presidents. But one of Tenet's colleagues was even less generous, saying simply, "We caved."

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