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Profile: Paul R. Pillar

Positions that Paul R. Pillar has held:

  • CIA national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia

Related Entities:

Quotes

May 4, 2006

“There was an organised campaign of manipulation… That would be the proper way to define [the Bush administration’s prewar allegations concerning Iraq]… [The decision to invade Iraq was decided] for other reasons and did not depend on weapons of mass destruction or the results of United Nations inspections. As far as weapons of mass destruction were concerned, there was a generally false perception in the American, British and other intelligence services that Iraq possessed these. We were wrong. The problem was the wider message, the attempt to spread the impression that there was a terrorist alliance between Iraq and Al-Qaeda.… The administration’s voracious appetite to obtain material about this non-existent alliance cost a great deal of time and work to senior intelligence staff and the most highly experienced analysts in the CIA.” [Agence France-Presse, 5/4/2006; El Pais, 5/4/2006]

Associated Events

Paul R. Pillar was a participant or observer in the following events:

President Bush says, “Never (in) anybody’s thought processes… about how to protect America did we ever think that the evil doers would fly not one but four commercial aircraft into precious US targets… never.” [US President, 9/24/2001] A month later, Paul Pillar, the former deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, will say, “The idea of commandeering an aircraft and crashing it into the ground and causing high casualties, sure we’ve thought of it.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001]

Entity Tags: Paul R. Pillar, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Tyler Drumheller, CIA chief in Europe.Tyler Drumheller, CIA chief in Europe. [Source: PBS]Tyler Drumheller, the head of CIA spying in Europe, calls the German Intelligence (BND) station chief at the German embassy in Washington hoping to obtain permission to interview Curveball. Over lunch at a restaurant in Georgetown, the two discuss the case and the German officer tells Drumheller that Curveball is “crazy” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] and that the BND questions “whether Curveball [is] actually telling the truth.” [Washington Post, 5/21/2005]
Germans Confirm Curveball a Likely Fabricator - Author Craig Unger will write: “Curveball was a proprietory source of the BND, which passed its information from him to the Pentagon’s Defense HUMINT Service. In other words, even though the United States had no direct access to Curveball, [CIA Director George] Tenet was so anxious to please the White House (see September 2002) that he had given the Senate the explosive, but unsubstantiated revelation (see September 24, 2002). But now, with the crucial Senate vote over the war imminent (see October 10, 2002), Tenet had to make sure Curveball was for real. Not long after the meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee, Tenet asked [top CIA official] Tyler Drumheller to get direct access to Curveball.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 247] In 2009, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer will recall: “I was astonished that the Americans used Curveball, really astonished. This was our stuff. But they presented it not in the way we knew it. They presented it as a fact, and not as the way an intelligence assessment is—could be, but could also be a big lie. We don’t know.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009] The Germans respond that Curveball is “probably a fabricator.” They also inform Drumheller that the BND will not give in to CIA requests to gain access to Curveball.
Violent Opposition to Characterization among CIA Officials - After the meeting, Drumheller and several aides get into bitter arguments with CIA analysts working on the Curveball case. “The fact is, there was a lot of yelling and screaming about this guy,” James Pavitt, chief of clandestine services, will later tell the Los Angeles Times. “My people were saying, ‘We think he’s a stinker.’” But CIA analysts remain supportive of Curveball’s account. In one meeting, the chief CIA analyst argues that material she found on the Internet corroborates Curveball’s account, to which the operations group chief for Germany retorts, “That’s where he got it too.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] Drumheller will later recall his astonishment at the violence of the reaction among CIA officials. “People were cursing,” he will recall. “These guys were absolutely, violently committed to it [relying on Curveball as a primary source of intelligence].” Drumheller is unaware that a draft National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) has already been written, and that it relies heavily on Curveball’s intelligence. When Drumheller tells Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin that Curveball may be a fabricator, McLaughlin replies, “Man, I really hope not, because this is really the only substantive part of the NIE.” Drumheller now realizes what has escaped him before—Curveball is the only source the US has for its explosive claims about Iraq’s bioweapons labs, claims being used to justify a war. He tells his group chief that he had assumed the CIA had other sources to validate Curveball’s data. “No,” she says. “This is why they’re fighting so ferociously to validate this source.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 247-248]
Politicization of Intelligence - Paul Pillar, the CIA’s former national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, will later tell a PBS reporter: “Politicization, real politicization, rarely [takes the form of] blatant, crude arm twisting.… It’s always more subtle.… Intelligence assessments that conform with what is known to be the policy [have] an easier time making it through.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 249]

Entity Tags: Joschka Fischer, Tyler Drumheller, George J. Tenet, James Pavitt, ’Curveball’, Bundesnachrichtendienst, Central Intelligence Agency, Paul R. Pillar

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

CIA Director George Tenet appears before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in a secret session to discuss the agency’s intelligence on Iraq. He tells the senators that agency analysts have concluded that Saddam Hussein is rebuilding his nuclear arsenal and that there are about 550 sites in Iraq where chemical and biological weapons are being stored. He adds that the regime has developed drones capable of delivering these weapons, perhaps even to the US mainland. When Tenet finishes his briefing, senators Bob Graham (D-FL) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) ask to see the agency’s latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq. Tenet replies that the CIA has not prepared one. “We’ve never done a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, including its weapons of mass destruction.” The Democrats find this revelation “stunning.” Recalling the matter in a 2006 interview, Graham tells PBS Frontline: “We do these on almost every significant activity—much less significant than getting ready to go to war.… We were flying blind.” [PBS Frontline, 1/20/2006]
Democrats Insist on NIE; CIA, White House Resistant - The Democrats on the committee begin pressing for a new NIE on Iraq. They want it completed before they vote on a resolution that would authorize the use of force against Iraq. [Independent, 11/3/2003; New York Times, 10/3/2004] Tenet trys to resist the senators’ call, saying that the agency is “doing a lot of other things” and “is stretched thin.” [PBS Frontline, 1/20/2006] The White House does not want a National Intelligence Estimate, because, according to one senior intelligence official, it knows “there [are] disagreements over details in almost every aspect of the administration’s case against Iraq.” The president’s advisers, according to the official, do not want “a lot of footnotes and disclaimers.” [Washington Post, 8/10/2003] Graham tells Tenet: “We don’t care. This is the most important decision that we as members of Congress and that the people of America are likely to make in the foreseeable future. We want to have the best understanding of what it is we’re about to get involved in.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 245-246] Tenet will finally give into the senators’ request on September 11 after Graham insists on a new NIE in a classified letter. [Washington Post, 8/10/2003; Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
NIE Finished in Three Weeks - Though NIEs usually take months, sometimes even years, to prepare, US intelligence services will finish the report in three weeks (see October 1, 2002). [Independent, 11/3/2003; New York Times, 10/3/2004; PBS Frontline, 1/20/2006] Former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang will later write: “It is telling that, in the more than two-year run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, nobody in the Bush administration sought to commission a National Intelligence Estimate… on Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs. Perhaps it is unsurprising that they did not want such an estimate. An estimate, if conducted over a period of months, would undoubtedly have revealed deep skepticism about the threat posed by Saddam’s weapons program. It would have exposed major gaps in the intelligence picture, particularly since the pullout of UN weapons inspectors from Iraq at the end of 1998, and it would have likely undercut the rush to war.… The report was to be rushed to completion in three weeks, so it could reach the desks of the relevant Congressional committee members before a vote on war-powers authorization scheduled for early October, on the eve of the midterm elections. As the NIE went forward for approval, everyone knew that there were major problems with it.” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Hubris, Failure to Consider Consequences behind Failure to Seek NIE - Reflecting on the administration’s reluctance to seek an NIE on Iraq before invading it, Paul Pillar, currently the CIA’s National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia, will say: “The makers of the war had no appetite for and did not request any such assessments. Anybody who wanted an intelligence community assessment on any of this stuff would’ve come through me, and I got no requests at all. As to why this was the case, I would give two general answers. Number one was just extreme hubris and self-confidence. If you truly believe in the power of free economics and free politics, and their attractiveness to all populations of the world, and their ability to sweep away all manner of ills, then you tend not to worry about these things so much. The other major reason is that, given the difficulty of mustering public support for something as extreme as an offensive war, any serious discussion inside the government about the messy consequences, the things that could go wrong, would complicate even further the job of selling the war.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Defense Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), George J. Tenet, Patrick Lang, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Paul R. Pillar, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

UNSCOM photo of an Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicle.UNSCOM photo of an Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicle. [Source: CIA]The National Intelligence Council, a board of senior analysts that prepares reports on crucial national security issues, completes a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq. The purpose of an NIE is to provide policy-makers with an intelligence assessment that includes all available information on a specific issue so they can make sound policy decisions. The formal document is supposed to be the result of a collaborative effort of the entire intelligence community and is supposed to be untainted by political interests. The decision to produce the assessment on Iraq followed criticisms that the administration had already made a decision to invade Iraq without having thoroughly reviewed all available intelligence on Iraq. Congress wanted the NIE completed prior to voting on a bill authorizing the president to use force against Iraq (see September 5, 2002). NIEs such as this usually take months to prepare, however this document took a mere three weeks. The person in charge of preparing the document was weapons expert Robert Walpole. According to the Independent of London, Walpole has a track record of tailoring his work to support the biases of his superiors. “In 1998, he had come up with an estimate of the missile capabilities of various rogue states that managed to sound considerably more alarming than a previous CIA estimate issued three years earlier,” the newspaper later reports. “On that occasion, he was acting at the behest of a congressional commission anxious to make the case for a missile defense system; the commission chairman was none other than Donald Rumsfeld….” [Independent, 11/3/2003; New York Times, 10/3/2004]
Summary of NIE Conclusions - The NIE says there are potentially links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, but uses cautionary language and acknowledges that its sources—Iraqi defectors and captured al-Qaeda members—have provided conflicting reports. The sections dealing with weapons of mass destruction are also filled with caveats and nuanced statements. In the second paragraph of its “key judgment” section, the NIE states that US intelligence lacks “specific information” on Iraq’s alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. And while the NIE says that Iraq probably has chemical and biological weapons, it also says that US intelligence analysts believe that Saddam Hussein would only launch an attack against the US if he felt a US invasion were inevitable. It also concludes that Saddam would only provide terrorists with chemical or biological agents for use against the United States as a last resort in order to “exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 10/1/2002; Washington Post, 6/22/2003; Agence France-Presse, 11/30/2003]
Reconstituted nuclear weapons programs - According to the NIE, “most” of the US’ six intelligence agencies believe there is “compelling evidence that Saddam [Hussein] is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program.” The one agency that disagrees with this conclusion is the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), which says in its dissenting opinion: “The activities we have detected do not, however, add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing what INR would consider to be an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons. Iraq may be doing so, but INR considers the available evidence inadequate to support such a judgment. Lacking persuasive evidence that Baghdad has launched a coherent effort to reconstitute its nuclear weapons programs, INR is unwilling to… project a timeline for the completion of activities it does not now see happening.” It is later learned that nuclear scientists in the Department of Energy’s in-house intelligence office were also opposed to the NIE’s conclusion and wanted to endorse the State’s alternative view. However, the person representing the DOE, Thomas Ryder, silenced them and inexplicably voted to support the position that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program (see Late September 2002). The DOE’s vote was seen as critical, since the department’s assessment was supposed to represent the views of the government’s nuclear experts. [Central Intelligence Agency, 10/1/2002; Washington Post, 7/19/2003; Knight Ridder, 2/10/2004; Knight Ridder, 2/10/2004]
Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium from Africa - According to the NIE, Iraq is “vigorously trying” to obtain uranium and “reportedly” is working on a deal to purchase “up to 500 tons” of uranium from Niger. It reads: “A foreign government service reported that as of early 2001, Niger planned to send several tons of ‘pure uranium’ (probably yellowcake) to Iraq. As of early 2001, Niger and Iraq reportedly were still working out arrangements for this deal, which could be for up to 500 tons of yellowcake. We do not know the status of this arrangement. Reports indicate Iraq also has sought uranium ore from Somalia and possibly the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” But the alternative view—endorsed by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR)—says that it is doubtful Iraq is trying to procure uranium from Africa. ”(T)he claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR’s assessment, highly dubious,” it reads. [Central Intelligence Agency, 10/1/2002; Washington Post, 7/19/2003]
Iraqi attempts to obtain aluminum tubes - The NIE says that most “agencies believe that Saddam’s personal interest in and Iraq’s aggressive attempts to obtain high-strength aluminum tubes for centrifuge rotors—as well as Iraq’s attempts to acquire magnets, high-speed balancing machines, and machine tools—provide compelling evidence that Saddam is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program.” To support its analysis of the tubes, it includes a chart which compares the dimensions of the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq with those that would be needed for a “Zippe-type” centrifuge. The chart’s comparison of the tubes makes it appear that the tubes are similar. But the NIE neglects to say that the aluminum tubes are an exact match with those used in Iraq’s 81-millimeter rocket. The estimate also claims that the tubes are not suitable for rockets. The assertion ignores the fact that similar tubes are used in rockets from several countries, including the United States. [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 84; New York Times, 10/3/2004] It does note however that the 900 mm tubes ordered by Iraq would have to have been cut in half to make two 400 mm rotors, and that the tubes would have needed other modifications as well in order to be used in centrifuge rotors. [The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission'), 3/31/2005] The NIE’s conclusion about the tubes is challenged by two US intelligence agencies, the DOE’s in house intelligence agency, and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. In its dissenting opinion, the DOE says, “It is well established in open sources that bare aluminum is resistant to UF6 and anodization is unnecessary for corrosion resistance, either for the aluminum rotors or for the thousands of feet of aluminum piping in a centrifuge facility. Instead, anodization would likely introduce uncertainties into the design that would need to be resolved before a centrifuge could be operated.” The DOE’s dissenting opinion—written mainly by nuclear physicist William Domke at the Energy Department’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and nuclear physicist Jeffrey Bedell at the Los Alamos National Laboratory—also notes that anodization is a standard practice in missile construction for environmental protection. The Energy Department’s centrifuge physicists suggested more than a year before that the tubes were meant to serve as casings for conventional rockets (see May 9, 2001), but CIA analysts held fast to their theory. [Washington Post, 7/19/2003; USA Today, 7/31/2003; Washington Post, 10/26/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 59] Years later a DOE intelligence analyst will tell two journalists, “[The DOE’s nuclear scientists] are the most boring people. Their whole lives revolve around nuclear technology. They can talk about gas centrifuges until you want to jump out of a window. And maybe once every ten years or longer there comes along an important question about gas centrifuges. That’s when you should really listen to these guys. If they say an aluminum tube is not for a gas centrifuge, it’s like a fish talking about water.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 40] The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, similarly writes in its dissenting footnote: “In INR’s view Iraq’s efforts to acquire aluminum tubes is central to the argument that Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program, but INR is not persuaded that the tubes in question are intended for use as centrifuge rotors. INR accepts the judgment of technical experts at the US Department of Energy (DOE) who have concluded that the tubes Iraq seeks to acquire are poorly suited for use in gas centrifuges to be used for uranium enrichment and finds unpersuasive the arguments advanced by others to make the case that they are intended for that purpose. INR considers it far more likely that the tubes are intended for another purpose, most likely the production of artillery rockets. The very large quantities being sought, the way the tubes were tested by the Iraqis, and the atypical lack of attention to operational security in the procurement efforts are among the factors, in addition to the DOE assessment, that lead INR to conclude that the tubes are not intended for use in Iraq’s nuclear weapon program.” [Washington Post, 7/19/2003; USA Today, 7/31/2003]
Chemical and Biological Weapons - On the question of chemical and biological weapons, the NIE says: “We judge Iraq has some lethal and incapacitating BW agents and is capable of quickly producing and weaponizing a variety of such agents, including anthrax, for delivery by bombs, missiles, aerial sprayers, and covert operatives.” But the document also highlights the belief that it is unlikely that Iraq has any intention to use these against the US. “… Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW [Chemical/Biological Weapons] against the United States, fearing that exposure of Iraqi involvement would provide Washington with a stronger case for making war.” Iraq would probably only use such weapons against the United States if it “feared an attack that threatened the survival of the regime were imminent or unavoidable, or possibly for revenge.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 10/1/2002]
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles - Citing defectors and exiles, the NIE states that Iraq possesses unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) which can be used to deploy biological and chemical weapons. But the document includes a dissenting opinion by the Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center. The center, which controls most of the US military’s UAV fleet, says there is little evidence that Iraq’s drones are related to the country’s suspected biological weapons program. Current intelligence suggests that the drones are not capable of carrying much more than a camera and a video recorder. The Air Force believes that Iraq’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are for reconnaissance, like its counterparts in the US. The dissenting opinion reads: “… The Director, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, US Air Force, does not agree that Iraq is developing UAVs primarily intended to be delivery platforms for chemical and biological warfare (CBW) agents. The small size of Iraq’s new UAV strongly suggests a primary role of reconnaissance, although CBW delivery is an inherent capability.” [Associated Press, 8/24/2003; Washington Post, 9/26/2003; Knight Ridder, 2/10/2004] Bob Boyd, director of the Air Force Intelligence Analysis Agency, will tell reporters in August 2003 that his department thought the allegation in the NIE “was a little odd,” noting that Air Force assessments “all along” had said that reconnaissance, not weapons delivery, was the purpose of Iraq’s drones. “Everything we discovered strengthened our conviction that the UAVs were to be used for reconnaissance,” he will explain. “What we were thinking was: Why would you purposefully design a vehicle to be an inefficient delivery means? Wouldn’t it make more sense that they were purposefully designing it to be a decent reconnaissance UAV?” [Associated Press, 8/24/2003; Washington Post, 9/26/2003] The NIE also says that Iraq is attempting to obtain commercially available route-planning software that contains topographic data of the United States. According to the NIE, this data could facilitate targeting of US sites. But Air Force analysts were not convinced by the argument, noting that this sort of information could easily be retrieved from the Internet and other highly accessible sources. “We saw nothing sinister about the inclusion of the US maps in route-planning software,” Boyd will tell reporters. [Washington Post, 9/26/2003] Analysts at the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency are said to back the Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center’s position. [Associated Press, 8/24/2003]
Appendices - Most of the caveats and dissents in the NIE are relegated to a variety of appendices at the end of the document. [Unger, 2007, pp. 266]
Aftermath - After the completion of the National Intelligence Estimate, the Bush administration will continue to make allegations concerning Iraq’s weapons capabilities and ties to militant Islamic groups, but will include none of the qualifications and nuances that are present in the classified NIE. After excerpts from the classified version of the NIE are published in the press in July of 2003 (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), administration officials will claim that neither Bush, Rice, nor other top officials were informed about the alternative views expressed by the DOE, INR, and the Air Force intelligence agency. They will also assert that the dissenting views did not significantly undermine the overall conclusion of the NIE that Iraq was continuing its banned weapons program despite UN resolutions. [Washington Post, 7/19/2003; New York Times, 7/19/2003; Washington Post, 7/27/2003] But this claim is later disputed in an article by the Washington Post, which reports: “One person who has worked with Rice describes as ‘inconceivable’ the claims that she was not more actively involved. Indeed, subsequent to the July 18 briefing, another senior administration official said Rice had been briefed immediately on the NIE—including the doubts about Iraq’s nuclear program—and had ‘skimmed’ the document. The official said that within a couple of weeks, Rice ‘read it all.’” [Washington Post, 7/27/2003] The official’s account, will in fact be confirmed by Rice herself, who reportedly tells Gwen Ifill at the National Association of Black Journalists Convention in Dallas on August 7, 2003: “I did read everything that the CIA produced for the president on weapons of mass destruction. I read the National Intelligence Estimate cover to cover a couple of times. I read the reports; I was briefed on the reports. This is—after 20 years, as somebody who has read a lot of intelligence reports—this is one of the strongest cases about weapons of mass destruction that I had ever read.” [Daily Howler, 8/11/2003]
Conclusions 'Overstated' - George Bush is also provided with a summary of the NIE’s dissenting views. According to the Robb-Silberman report, released in early 2005, the president’s summary of the NIE notes that “INR and DOE believe that the tubes more likely are intended for conventional weapon uses.” [The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission'), 3/31/2005] Additionally, senior CIA analyst Stuart Cohen, the acting chairman of the National Intelligence Council at this time, who helped write the document, will tell the Agence France-Presse, “Any reader would have had to read only as far as the second paragraph of the Key Judgments to know that as we said, ‘we lacked specific information on many key aspects of Iraq’s WMD program.’” The Key Judgments section is also where INR’s detailed dissent on the aluminum tubes allegation was located. [Agence France-Presse, 11/30/2003] A Senate Intelligence Committee investigation will determine in July 2004 that “most of the major key judgments in the Intelligence Community’s October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction, either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 59] And in 2006, one of the report’s authors, CIA senior analyst Paul Pillar, will admit the NIE had been written with the intent of “strengthen[ing] the case of going to war with the American public.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]
NIE 'Distorted' Due to Political Pressures, Author Claims - In 2007, author Craig Unger will write, “At the time, to virtually everyone in Congress, the NIE was still sacrosanct. It was still the last word in American intelligence. Yet it had been distorted thanks to political pressures from the neocons and the White House. If one took it seriously, the Niger documents were real. Curveball had credibility. And the aluminum tubes were part of Saddam’s nuclear program. Only one conclusion could be drawn: Saddam Hussein post an extraordinarily grave threat.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 266]

Entity Tags: Bob Boyd, Condoleezza Rice, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Paul R. Pillar, US Congress, Jeffrey Bedell, Stuart Cohen, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Paul Pillar.Paul Pillar. [Source: PBS]Deputy Director of the CIA John McLaughlin asks veteran CIA analyst Paul Pillar to prepare a declassified version of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq. A public version of the document was requested by senators Bob Graham and Carl Levin (see October 2, 2002) who want the dissenting opinions expressed in the document to be aired in public. Pillar is told to use a white paper that had been commissioned by the White House in May as his starting point, and then update it with material from the NIE. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 138-139]

Entity Tags: Paul R. Pillar, John E. McLaughlin

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The CIA releases a 25-page declassified version of its October 1 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) and posts it on the agency’s website for public viewing. [Washington Post, 6/22/2003; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 281] The document, titled “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs,” presents a very different assessment of the threat posed by Iraq than the original document. Printed on slick glossy magazine-style paper, and full of colorful maps, graphs, tables, and photos, the document contains few of the caveats and nuances that are in the classified version. Nor does it include the dissenting opinions of the Energy Department’s in-house intelligence agency, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, or the Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center. [Central Intelligence Agency, 10/4/2002 pdf file; Washington Post, 2/7/2003; Knight Ridder, 2/10/2004] Paul Pillar, the principal author of the paper, will later admit, “In retrospect, we shouldn’t have done that white paper at all.” Instead of intelligence analysis, the “paper was policy advocacy,” he admits. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 138-139]

Entity Tags: Paul R. Pillar, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Senior CIA analyst Paul Pillar produces a high-level report on the potential challenges US forces will experience in post-Hussein Iraq. Pillar’s paper argues that imposing democracy on Iraq will not be easy. He warns that the country may fracture along ethnic and religious lines and explode into violence. He also says that the US will not be able to finance reconstruction with Iraq’s oil revenue. The report is sent to the office of CIA Director George Tenet and forwarded to the White House and Pentagon. An administration official tells him that his paper is “too negative.” “You guys just don’t see the possibilities,” Pillar later recalls the official saying. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 198]

Entity Tags: Paul R. Pillar, US Department of Defense, George J. Tenet, White House

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

In an article published in Foreign Affairs magazine, former CIA senior analyst Paul Pillar says that prewar-intelligence was misused by the administration to support its case for war. Pillar, the CIA’s national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, writes: “In the wake of the Iraq war, it has become clear that official intelligence analysis was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made.” The administration “went to war without requesting—and evidently without being influenced by—any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq.” According to Pillar, it was not until a year after the invasion that he first received a request for such an assessment. He also says that there was pressure on intelligence analysts to make their assessments conform to the administration’s policy, a claim that several others have made as well (see September 11, 2001-March 17, 2003; September 11, 2001-March 17, 2003). He describes a “poisonous atmosphere,” which “reinforced the disinclination within the intelligence community to challenge the consensus view about Iraqi WMD programs; any such challenge would have served merely to reaffirm the presumptions of the accusers.” Pillar also rejects the view that the administration went to war because of Iraq’s presumed ties to al-Qaeda. Rather the White House “hitch[ed] the Iraq expedition to the ‘war on terror’ and the threat the American public feared most, thereby capitalizing on the country’s militant post-9/11 mood.” Pillar suggests that the decision to go to war was instead driven by the idea that shaking up the Middle East would hasten the “spread of more liberal politics and economics in the region.” [CNN, 2/10/2006; Foreign Affairs, 3/2006]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Paul R. Pillar

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Two former CIA officials directly involved in producing intelligence estimates on Iran’s nuclear program (see August 2, 2005) say that the Bush administration’s policy of threatening to use military force against Iran is a driving force behind that nation’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran is fearful of such an attack, the two officials say, and therefore wants nuclear weapons as a way to divert such a threat. Paul Pillar, who managed the writing of all NIEs on Iran from 2000 through 2005 as the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, says, “Iranian perceptions of threat, especially from the United States and Israel, were not the only factor, but were in our judgment part of what drove whatever effort they were making to build nuclear weapons.” Had the US tried to reassure Iran on its security fears, Pillar says, that would have had a significant effect on Iranian policies. Iran has made several diplomatic overtures to the US since 2003 (see May 4, 2003), Pillar says, that have not been reciprocated by the Bush administration. While Iran wishes to be the “dominant regional superpower” in the Middle East, the NIEs state, it is not pursuing that aspiration by means that would jeopardize the possibility of thawed relations with the US. According to Ellen Laipson, who managed several NIEs on Iran as national intelligence officer for the Near East from 1990 through 1993, and closely followed others as vice-chair of the National Intelligence Council from 1997 to 2002, says the Iranian fear of a US attack has long been “a standard element” in NIEs on Iran. Laipson is “virtually certain the estimates linked Iran’s threat perceptions to its nuclear program.” The 1991 Gulf War heightened fears of US attacks on Iran, Laipson says, and the recent belligerence of the Bush administration have again agitated Iran’s rulers. Iran’s 2002 listing as one of seven countries that might be targeted by US nuclear weapons, and President Bush’s 2002 naming of Iran as a member of the so-called “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002), further heightened Iranian fears of a US strike. In return, Iran has tried to counterbalance that threat with the threat of its own nuclear weapons as well as attempts to shore up relations with the US. Non-proliferation expert Joseph Cirincione says that US attempts to ease Iran’s fears would go a long way to convincing Iran to give up its nuclear program. “No nation has ever been coerced into giving up a nuclear program,” Cirincione says, “but many have been convinced to do so by the disappearance of the threat.” He cites the examples of three former Soviet republics, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, and Libya as nations who gave up their nuclear ambitions after fundamental international or internal changes eliminated the security threats that were driving their nuclear weapons programs. [Inter Press Service, 2/10/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Ellen Laipson, Paul R. Pillar, Joseph Cirincione, National Intelligence Council

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais, former CIA senior analyst Paul Pillar says the Bush administration’s prewar allegations concerning Iraq were part of an “organized campaign of manipulation.” This was especially the case with the administration’s claims that Iraq was working with al-Qaeda, he says. “It was this that most strongly affected public opinion in the United States, and which would keep alive the images of September 11, 2001. The administration’s voracious appetite to obtain material about this non-existent alliance cost a great deal of time and work to senior intelligence staff and the most highly experienced analysts in the CIA.” Pillars also tells the newspaper the decision to invade Iraq was made “for other reasons and did not depend on weapons of mass destruction or the results of United Nations inspections.” [Agence France-Presse, 5/4/2006; El Pais, 5/4/2006]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Paul R. Pillar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

According to Time magazine, the CIA produces a report saying that Osama bin Laden has long-term kidney disease and may only have months to live. Time cites as its source “two US officials familiar with the report.” Allegedly, the CIA managed to get the names of some of the medications bin Laden is taking. How this was done is unclear. One of the sources says the report concluded, “Based on his current pharmaceutical intake, [we] would expect that he has no more than six to 18 months to live and impending kidney failure.” However, some observers will dispute the alleged report’s apparent claims. Paul Pillar, a former deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, will say, “It’s trying to make a diagnosis from thousands of miles away with only fragments of the medical chart.” Former Bush administration official Frances Fragos Townsend will add: “I’ve read all the same conflicting reports [on bin Laden’s health] that people have talked to you about. I never found one set of reporting more persuasive than another.” When Time breaks the story the next year, the CIA will even disavow the claims attributed to the report. “I have found no one here familiar with this alleged report or the analytic line it supposedly conveys,” says CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano. “The fact that anonymous sources attribute views to the CIA is not, by itself, reason to believe the agency actually holds those views.” [Time, 6/30/2009]

Entity Tags: Frances Townsend, Central Intelligence Agency, Paul Gimigliano, Paul R. Pillar, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

CIA Director Leon Panetta is informed by the agency’s Counterterrorist Center that it has a program to assassinate or capture al-Qaeda leaders. The program was established shortly after 9/11, but has never become operational (see Shortly After September 17, 2001). Panetta immediately cancels the program. [New York Times, 7/14/2009] CIA spokesman George Little says the decision was “clear and straightforward,” as Panetta “knew it [the program] hadn’t been successful.” [Washington Post, 8/20/2009] There is no resistance inside the CIA to this decision, apparently because the program is not fully operational and has not yet been briefed to Congress. [New York Times, 7/12/2009]
CIA Was Reviewing Program - It is unclear why Panetta is informed of the program at this time. However, the Counterterrorist Center has recently conducted a review of it, so he may learn of its existence due to the review, which will be presented to the White House and the Congressional intelligence committees. [New York Times, 8/20/2009]
Why Was Panetta Not Told Before? - It is also unclear why Panetta, who was confirmed as CIA director four months ago, was not told of the program earlier. One explanation is that it is because the program was not operational. “It’s a capability that wasn’t being used, so it wasn’t a front-burner issue,” says one unnamed official. Another retired official familiar with the program’s details says, “It would have been a big deal if it was operational, but since it was not, it’s not a big deal.” However, several former CIA officers and intelligence experts find this explanation unconvincing. According to Time magazine, “For one thing, they say, the mere fact that the program apparently merited [former Vice President Dick] Cheney’s close attention should have been a red flag.” A former operations expert says, “Even if the program was dormant, the top officials would have known about Cheney’s instructions, and they should have told Panetta right away.” Another retired senior official puts it more bluntly, saying, “[Given Cheney’s interest,] I don’t know why the program was not on the new director’s desk within his first two weeks on the job.” He adds, “The speed of Panetta’s actions when he was informed tells me that the program was pretty important.” Paul Pillar, a former deputy director of the Counterterrorist Center, comments, “In retrospect, the [Cheney] angle ought to be sufficient grounds for someone to think, this does deserve the boss’s attention.” [New York Times, 7/14/2009]

Entity Tags: Leon Panetta, Central Intelligence Agency, Counterterrorist Center, Paul R. Pillar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties, War in Afghanistan

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