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Context of 'October 2, 2004: Tensions between CIA, White House Spilling into Public View'

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Two classified intelligence reports prepared for President Bush by the National Intelligence Council warn of the potential costly and bloody consequences of a US-led invasion of Iraq. The reports will be leaked to the press in September 2004 (see September 28, 2004). The assessments both predict that such an invasion will increase support for radical Islam, and deepen already-sharp societal divisions in Iraq to the point where violent internal strife is a strong likelihood. The assessments warn of a possible insurgency, either against the new Iraqi government, the US occupation forces, or both, and predict that “rogue elements” from the Saddam Hussein government may either join with existing terrorist organizations or begin independent insurgent operations. And, the assessments add, war and subsequent occupation is likely to increase sympathy across the Islamic world for some terrorist objectives, at least for a time. It is unlikely that Iraq will actually split into two or three disparate regions, the reports say, but violence between various ethnic and religious groups is almost inevitable unless the occupation forces prevent it. One assessment says that any efforts to build democracy in Iraq will be long, difficult, and potentially turbulent, with the nation always threatening to backslide into authoritarianism, Iraq’s traditional political model. [New York Times, 9/28/2004]

Entity Tags: National Intelligence Council, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The New York Times reports on the recent issuance of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq by the US intelligence community. It is the first NIE to be issued since before the invasion (see October 1, 2002). The report was leaked to the Times by unnamed government officials.
Civil War a Strong Possibility - The NIE’s findings are grim. Civil war is a strong possibility, the NIE finds. Even the best-case scenario is an Iraq whose political, economic, and national security stability is tenuous and fragile. One government official says of the report, “There’s a significant amount of pessimism.” This NIE was initiated by the National Intelligence Council under the aegis of then-CIA Director George Tenet, who has since resigned. Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin approved the final report. The NIE stands in contrast to recent pronouncements by White House officials, who have insisted that the situation in Iraq is improving daily.
Critics 'Pessimists and Hand-Wringers' - The day before the NIE was released, White House press secretary Scott McClellan called critics of the occupation “pessimists and hand-wringers” who are being “proven… wrong.” [New York Times, 9/16/2004]
White House Ignores NIE - The NIE was prepared in July 2004 and not circulated until August, indicating that the White House had little use for the document. “It was finished in July, and not circulated by the intelligence community until the end of August,” one senior administration official says. “That’s not exactly what you do with an urgent document.” [New York Times, 9/28/2004]
This NIE Closer to CIA's Own Assessments than Earlier Report - Senior CIA analyst Paul Pillar will later say that the agency’s own prewar assessments “foretold a long, difficult, and turbulent transition,” assessments more in line with the current NIE than with the 2002 estimate (see January 2003 and September 28, 2004). “It projected that a Marshall Plan-type effort would be required to restore the Iraqi economy, despite Iraq’s abundant oil resources. It forecast that in a deeply divided Iraqi society, with Sunnis resentful over the loss of their dominant position and Shi’ites seeking power commensurate with their majority status, there was a significant chance that the groups would engage in violent conflict unless an occupying power prevented it. And it anticipated that a foreign occupying force would itself be the target of resentment and attacks—including by guerrilla warfare—unless it established security and put Iraq on the road to prosperity in the few weeks or months after the fall of Saddam” Hussein. The NIE, and the White House’s blase response to it (see September 21-23, 2004), will deepen the tension and distrust between the White House and the CIA. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 153, 244]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, John E. McLaughlin, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), National Intelligence Council, New York Times, Paul R. Pillar, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Responding to the leaked National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) warning of a possible civil war in Iraq (see September 16, 2004), President Bush dismisses the report, saying the CIA in particular is “just guessing” about conditions in that country. Bush says that the report provides “several scenarios that said, life could be lousy, life could be okay, or life could be better, and they were just guessing as to what the conditions might be like.” Two days later, after senior CIA official Paul Pillar and others lambast Bush for his cavalier dismissal of the report, Bush backs away from his original description, calling it “unfortunate” and saying he should have used the word “estimate” rather than “guess.” The entire imbroglio prompts conservative columnist Robert Novak to write that the White House and the CIA “are at war with each other.” [New York Times, 9/28/2004; Roberts, 2008, pp. 153] Novak also blasts Pillar and other intelligence officials for daring to criticize the Bush administration. [New York Times, 9/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Paul R. Pillar, Central Intelligence Agency, Robert Novak, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Days after the New York Times receives leaked information about the classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see September 16, 2004), two more classified intelligence summaries are also leaked to the Times, both supporting the assessment that civil war is increasingly likely in Iraq. The reports date from 2003, and predicted that a US invasion would bolster Islamist radicals and precipitate violent internal conflicts (see January 2003). [New York Times, 9/28/2004; Roberts, 2008, pp. 153]

Entity Tags: National Intelligence Council

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The fractious and contentious relationship between the White House and the CIA, never good since planning began for the Iraq war (see January 2003), has boiled over into the public eye in recent days, according to a New York Times report. James Pavitt, the former head of the CIA’s Clandestine Service, says he has never seen anything approaching “the viciousness and vindictiveness” of the relationship between the White House and the CIA. In recent days, numerous classified assessments have been leaked to the press by people sympathetic to the CIA (see September 16, 2004, September 28, 2004, and October 4, 2004), “to the considerable embarrassment of the White House.” The White House, in turn, has called the authors of the assessments “pessimists and naysayers,” and dismissed a recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq as based on guesswork (see September 21-23, 2004). Some Republican partisans claim that the CIA is waging an “insurgency” or “vendetta” against the White House, an idea that both White House and CIA officials officially reject. “Wars bring things out in people that sometimes other disputes don’t,” says James Woolsey, a neoconservative and former CIA director who is a strong supporter of the administration’s Iraq and terrorism policies. “But even with the passions of war, I think you ought to keep it within channels.” Another former intelligence official is more critical of the agency: “The agency’s role is to tell the administration what it thinks, not to criticize its policies.” CIA defenders say it is important to set the record straight by revealing the agency’s warnings about the possible dire consequences of an Iraq occupation, warnings which the White House either ignored or mocked. “There was nothing in the intelligence that was a casus belli for war,” Pavitt says, noting that while the CIA might have been wrong about Iraq and WMD, it was much closer to the mark in its prewar warnings about the obstacles that an American occupying force would face in postwar Iraq. But, Pavitt, notes, “[t]he agency is not out to undermine this president.” [New York Times, 10/2/2004] Conservative defenders of the administration angrily attack the CIA for “insubordination” and betrayal, leaving liberals and progressives in the unusual position of defending the agency. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 153]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, James Woolsey, James Pavitt, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Knight Ridder Newspapers reports on a leaked CIA assessment that undercuts the White House claim of links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. The assessment, requested some months ago by Vice President Cheney, finds no evidence to show that Saddam’s regime ever harbored Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an independent colleague of Osama bin Laden (see April 2002), and finds no evidence of any “collaborative relationship” between the former Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda (see October 2, 2002). In February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations Security Council that al-Zarqawi went to Baghdad for medical treatment and, while there, helped establish a terrorist base in Baghdad (see February 5, 2003). The assessment now shows that claim was incorrect. So was the administration’s claim that al-Zarqawi received safe haven from Hussein. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who in September 2002 called the evidence of links between Hussein and al-Qaeda “bulletproof” (see September 26, 2002), now says, “To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two.” Rumsfeld continues, “I just read an intelligence report recently about one person [al-Zarqawi] who’s connected to al-Qaeda who was in and out of Iraq and there’s the most tortured description of why he might have had a relationship and why he might not have had a relationship.” In June 2003, President Bush called al-Zarqawi “the best evidence of connection” between Iraq and al-Qaeda; after the assessments are leaked, Bush insists that al-Zarqawi “was in and out of Baghdad,” apparently continuing to press the idea that Saddam and al-Qaeda were connected. Al-Zarqawi did spend a lot of time in Iraq, but almost always in the northern sections of Iraq where Saddam’s control did not reach. [Knight Ridder, 10/4/2004] The day after the Knight Ridder report, Vice President Cheney will say during a debate with vice-presidential opponent John Edwards (D-NC) that al-Zarqawi was based in Baghdad both before and after the March 2003 invasion, a claim that is demonstrably false (see October 5, 2004).

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Bush administration (43), Knight Ridder Newspapers, Saddam Hussein, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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