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Context of 'November 16-17, 2004: CIA Director Warns Employees Not to Leak Information to Press; Warning Leaked to Press'

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Representatives Porter Goss (R-FL) and Jane Harman (D-CA) of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence send a letter to CIA Director George Tenet, criticizing his agency for providing poor intelligence on Iraq during the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq. They were prompted to write the letter after spending “four months combing through 19 volumes of classified material” and discovering how poorly the evidence supported the White House’s assertions about Iraq. Bush administration officials downplay the charges. In the letter, they say the CIA provided intelligence based on “circumstantial,” “fragmentary,” and ambiguous evidence. “Thus far, it appears that these judgments were based on too many uncertainties,” they note in their letter. [Washington Post, 9/28/2003; Reuters, 9/29/2003]
Outdated, 'Piecemeal' Intelligence Used - They also accuse the CIA of using intelligence that was outdated, including assessments dating back to 1998 when the UN was forced to leave Iraq ahead of US bombing. Evidence that was recent often consisted of “piecemeal” intelligence. “Intelligence assessments that Iraq continued to pursue chemical and biological weapons… were long-standing judgments,” which “remained constant and static over the past ten years,” they complain in the letter. [Washington Post, 9/28/2003; Reuters, 9/29/2003]
'Absence of Proof' - Another criticism they have is that the intelligence agency sometimes drew conclusions based on faulty logic. “The absence of proof that chemical and biological weapons and their related development programs had been destroyed was considered proof that they continued to exist,” they say. [Washington Post, 9/28/2003; Reuters, 9/29/2003]
Dubious Sources - Lastly, they complain that the CIA uncritically accepted claims from dubious sources. In the agency’s assessments, it failed to clarify which reports “were from sources that were credible and which were from sources that would otherwise be dismissed in the absence of any other corroborating intelligence.” [Washington Post, 9/28/2003]
No 'Definitive' Intelligence - Significantly, the authors assert, “We have not found any information in the assessments that are still classified that was any more definitive.” [Washington Post, 9/28/2003]
White House Ignores Criticism - The White House dismisses the criticisms.

Entity Tags: Jane Harman, George J. Tenet, Porter J. Goss

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

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

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

A former CIA officer will tell New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh that, in mid-2004, the White House began putting pressure on CIA analysts “to see more support for the administration’s political position.” But after Porter Goss becomes the new CIA director (see September 24, 2004) and the November 2004 election passes, a “political purge” of employees who have written papers that dissent with Bush policies begins. One former official notes that only “true believers” remain. [New Yorker, 1/24/2005]
'Creeping Politicization' - An anonymous former CIA official tells Newsday: “The agency is being purged on instructions from the White House. Goss was given instructions… to get rid of those soft leakers and liberal Democrats.” [Newsday, 11/14/2004] In 2007, CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson will write, “Employees’ worst fears about the creeping politicization of the CIA” are confirmed when Goss issues the memo about the agency supporting the administration. She will observe: “Although a CIA spokesman explained the memo as a statement of the agency’s nonpartisan nature, it appeared to be just the opposite. It had a kind of creepy Orwellian Ministry of Truth ring to it—further dismaying CIA staffers who believed the agency was rapidly losing credibility and power as partisan politics began to degrade its work product.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 212] Days after the November 2004 presidential election, Goss circulates an internal memorandum to all CIA employees, telling them their job is to “support the administration and its policies in our work.” [New York Times, 11/17/2004] The memo also contains a caveat that they should “let the facts alone speak to the policymaker.” However, an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times calls this mere “lip service,” and says the memo leaves “the impression that in the second Bush administration, the White House will run the CIA.… Goss has confirmed the worst fears of critics who warned he was too partisan when Bush appointed him.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/21/2004]
Morale 'Dangerously Low,' Many Senior Officials Leave - Plame Wilson will recall hearing from her colleagues throughout August, while she was on leave, “that morale was dangerously low, and there was a spirit of outright revolt towards Porter Goss and his ‘Gosslings.’ Everyone was calculating the benefits of staying or jumping from the fast-sinking ship.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 213] Such new policies inspire more employees to leave. By the time the purge is completed in early 2005, about 20 senior CIA officials will have resigned or retired. Only one member of the leadership team from George Tenet’s tenure will remain. [Washington Post, 1/6/2005] Newsweek says the “efforts at cleaning house may have only thrown the spy agency into deeper turmoil.” [Newsweek, 2/21/2005] Plame Wilson will write: “At least one thousand years of hard-earned operational experience walked out when our country’s national security needs were greatest. It was devastating.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 213]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Porter J. Goss, Valerie Plame Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections

CIA Director Porter Goss, known for being dogmatically loyal to the White House (see September 25, 2003 and November-December 2004), responds to the recent spate of leaked CIA memos (see September 16, 2004, September 28, 2004, and October 4, 2004) by issuing a memo reminding agency staff that they should “scrupulously honor our secrecy oath.” The memo is leaked to the press the next day. Goss says, “Intelligence-related issues have become the fodder of partisan food fights and turf-power skirmishes.” Goss warns that agency officials must publicly support Bush administration policies: “As agency employees we do not identify with, support or champion opposition to the administration or its policies,” Goss writes. His intention is, he writes, “to clarify beyond doubt the rules of the road.” Goss’s words may indicate that CIA employees must conform with administration policies and goals, but he also writes, “We provide the intelligence as we see it—and let the facts alone speak to the policymaker.” Many critics of the agency and its leadership say that Goss’s memo is part of his attempt to squelch dissent within the agency’s ranks. “If Goss is asking people to color their views and be a team player, that’s not what people at CIA signed up for,” says a former intelligence official. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says that “on issue after issue, there’s a real question about whether the country and the Congress are going to get an unvarnished picture of our intelligence situation at a critical time.” [New York Times, 11/17/2004; Roberts, 2008, pp. 153]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Porter J. Goss, Senate Intelligence Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Ron Wyden

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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