- The Washington Times - Friday, March 12, 2004

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday defended the work of a small team of analysts who wrote a report outlining years of reported contacts between Saddam Hussein’s regime and Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terror network.

The two-person team began reviewing existing intelligence reports of such contacts shortly after September 11. Scanning a secure computer, the team gleaned scores of reports of Iraqi officials visiting bin Laden’s headquarters in Sudan and Afghanistan. The reports suggested that Saddam’s bomb-makers lent their expertise to al Qaeda operatives.

The Pentagon team’s work has been condemned by liberal journalists and Democrats for, in their view, going outside the Central Intelligence Agency.

The team’s report became the brunt of criticism this week at a Senate hearing, as Democratic Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Carl Levin of Michigan grilled CIA Director George J. Tenet on pre-war intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

But to Mr. Rumsfeld, the team’s work was routine.

“They were asked to review intelligence reports on a certain subject, which they did, which is perfectly proper thing for policy people to do,” he said at a Pentagon “Town Hall” meeting. “We do it all the time. There’s nothing new about that. You’re not creating intelligence. You’re not gathering intelligence. You’re reviewing intelligence that already exists, so that you can support your superiors in the policy shop. That is what that was about.”

Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy and the team’s supervisor, eventually provided the secret report to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The office of Vice President Dick Cheney also received a briefing.

Pentagon sources told The Washington Times, which first reported the group’s existence in 2002, that Mr. Feith’s advisers believed the CIA downplayed links between Baghdad and al Qaeda. They wanted to do their own intelligence analysis to show links the CIA ignored or did not believe existed, the defense sources said.

But some CIA analysts viewed the work as encroaching on their turf. Mr. Tenet has stated he does not agree with all the Pentagon’s conclusion on al Qaeda-Baghdad ties.

Mr. Rumsfeld yesterday defended his team’s work as “not only not a bad thing, it’s a good thing.”

“We briefed the vice president. We briefed the DCI [director of Central Intelligence]. We briefed the secretary of state,” he said.

Mocking critics and their “conspiratorial view,” Mr. Rumsfeld adjusted his voice into a whisper. “Why did they do that?”

Then he answered his critics: “They did it because they wanted to be briefed.”

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