- The Washington Times - Monday, January 2, 2006

Debate over intelligence manipulation by the Bush administration to justify U.S. action in Iraq in March 2003 needs to be focused directly on the intelligence originators.

At the eleventh hour, U.S. intelligence officials brushed off Iraq’s unconditional terms for peace to avert U.S. action.

A spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency was quoted as saying the Iraqis should be told the United States will “see them in Baghdad.” The spokesman added the CIA was to have had a meeting three months earlier with Iraqis to discuss similar terms but Iraqi participants never showed up.

New evidence, however, reveals a meeting occurred in 2002 on similar unconditional terms, which the CIA rejected. The Office of then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz insists the terms never were known prior to late February 2003.

Iraq’s six unconditional terms were channeled through this writer to Defense Department policymakers. Those terms were:

• Full support of America’s Arab-Israeli peace process.

• Support for U.S. strategic interests in the region.

• Priority to the United States for Iraqi oil.

• Elections within two years under U.N. auspices.

• Disarmament — direct U.S. involvement in disarming Iraq.

• Full cooperation in the war on terror — hand over Abdul Rahman Yasin, who was involved in the 1993 bombing of New York City’s World Trade Center.

It would have taken days — not months — to determine their validity, particularly on the issues of disarmament and the handing over of the WTC terrorist. Yet, they were well known to the CIA in late 2002. If Iraq had met its conditions, this would have been enough time to reverse the U.S. buildup.

White House and Defense Department officials insist there was follow-up with all reasonable overtures but the February 2003 Iraqi initiative was “neither credible nor legitimate.”

In a Nov. 6, 2003, New York Times story about the unconditional terms, a senior U.S. intelligence official was quoted as saying, “Signals came via a broad range of foreign intelligence services, other governments, third parties, charlatans and independent actors. Every lead that was at all plausible, and some that weren’t, were followed up.”

This may explain why a CIA spokesman at the time brushed off this particular appeal by saying CIA “did not want to pursue this channel, and indicated they [CIA] had already engaged in separate contacts with Baghdad.”

Nevertheless, following publication of the New York Times story, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared: “The American people can take comfort in knowing that their country has done everything humanly possible to avoid war and to secure Iraq’s peaceful disarmament.”

Upon learning of the unconditional terms through the Defense Department channel in February 2003, the CIA was informed the appeal for their consideration originated with a prominent Syrian through a Lebanese-American intermediary. The prominent Syrian was Mohammed Nassif, top adviser to Syrian President Bashar Assad. Given its relationship with Syria at the time, the CIA would have known the request for consideration of the unconditional terms came from a serious level.

Indeed, Mr. Nassif sought a “back-channel” arrangement with Defense Department policymakers just prior to a request for U.S. consideration of the Iraqi unconditional terms. The back-channel issue was taken so seriously in the Defense Department that it was brought to Mr. Rumsfeld’s attention.

Through the Defense Department channel, the Syrians were asked if Iraq had stashed its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Syria. Mr. Nassif said Syria officially would deny that, but would have “much to talk about” via a quiet back channel.

The CIA also was advised of this. Nevertheless, it prompted anonymous CIA sources to launch through the press an erroneous diatribe that I and others were trying to set up a “rogue” operation within the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy to bypass the CIA.

Ironically, Syria had offered to stage some 5,000 U.S. troops to go into Iraq under the unconditional terms to search for WMD. U.S. troops could have walked into Iraq without firing a shot.

These developments may explain CIA efforts to portray as a “rogue” operation the effort to bring the Iraqi terms to the attention of Defense policymakers. The terms came through a channel over which CIA had no control, though many of the CIA’s own sources were involved.

Authorities who know Middle East methods are very aware of similar back channels. The New York Times reported, “Many Arab leaders have traditionally placed a high value on secret communications, though such informal arrangements are sometimes considered suspect in Washington.”

It is hard to understand why Washington would be suspicious of such an approach. In October 1962, for example, the Soviets worked through an unofficial intermediary, John Scali of ABC News, to resolve the Cuban missile crisis.

All this may strongly suggest the CIA manipulated the information that led the United States into war with Iraq.

Former CIA Director George Tenet first briefed President Bush in December 2002 on Iraq’s WMD program. When Mr. Bush expressed skepticism over the analysis, Mr. Tenet said the evidence was a “slam dunk.”

This statement followed a September 2002 CIA National Intelligence Estimate saying the same thing. Until then, the concern about Iraq centered on its support for terror.

Given his trust of Mr. Tenet, Mr. Bush shifted the basis for war with Iraq from terrorist support to WMD.

Numerous published accounts attest to the CIA’s opposition to U.S. action in Iraq. Given that opposition, CIA undertook to see the Bush administration fail.

The CIA willfully disseminated bad information about Iraq’s WMD program. It also undermined back-channel opportunities to avert war in an effort to discredit the Bush administration with which it by then had declared open political warfare.

F. Michael Maloof is a former senior security policy analyst in the Office of the Defense Secretary.

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