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Profile: Sarah Little

Sarah Little was a participant or observer in the following events:

Pat Roberts during a July 9, 2004 interview on PBS.Pat Roberts during a July 9, 2004 interview on PBS. [Source: PBS]The Senate Intelligence Committee releases the 511-page Senate Report on Iraqi WMD intelligence, formally titled the “Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence on the US Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004; CNN, 7/9/2004] All nine Republicans and eight Democrats signed off on the report without dissent, which, as reporter Murray Waas will write, is “a rarity for any such report in Washington, especially during an election year.” [National Journal, 10/27/2005]
Report Redacted by White House - About 20 percent of the report was redacted by the White House before its release, over the objections of both Republicans and Democrats on the committee. Some of the redactions include caveats and warnings about the reliability of key CIA informants, one code-named “Red River” and another code-named “Curveball” (see Mid- and Late 2001). The source called “Red River” failed polygraph tests given to him by CIA officers to assess his reliability, but portions of the report detailing these and other caveats were redacted at the behest of Bush administration officials. [New York Times, 7/12/2004; New York Times, 7/18/2004]
Widespread Failures of US Intelligence - The report identifies multiple, widespread failures by the US intelligence community in its gathering and analysis of intelligence about Iraq WMD, which led to gross misunderstandings and misrepresentations about Iraq’s WMD programs to the American public by government officials. Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), who has previously attempted to shift blame for the intelligence misrepresentations away from the Bush administration and onto the CIA (see July 11, 2003 and After), says that intelligence used to support the invasion of Iraq was based on assessments that were “unreasonable and largely unsupported by the available intelligence.” He continues: “Before the war, the US intelligence community told the president as well as the Congress and the public that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and if left unchecked would probably have a nuclear weapon during this decade. Today we know these assessments were wrong.” Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the 18-member panel that created the report, says “bad information” was used to bolster the case for war. “We in Congress would not have authorized that war with 75 votes if we knew what we know now,” he says (see October 10, 2002). “Leading up to September 11, our government didn’t connect the dots. In Iraq, we are even more culpable because the dots themselves never existed.” Numerous assertions in an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE—see October 1, 2002) were “overstated” or “not supported by the raw intelligence reporting,” including:
bullet Claims that Iraq was rebuilding its nuclear weapons program;
bullet Claims that Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons;
bullet Claims that Iraq was developing an unmanned aerial vehicle that could be used to deliver chemical and/or biological weapons payloads onto distant targets;
bullet The so-called “layering effect,” where “assessments were based on previous judgments, without considering the uncertainties of those judgments” (Roberts calls it an “assumption train”);
bullet The failure to explain adequately the uncertainties in the October 2002 NIE to White House officials and Congressional lawmakers;
bullet Reliance on claims by “Curveball,” noting that the use of those claims “demonstrated serious lapses in handling such an important source”;
bullet Use of “overstated, misleading, or incorrect” information in helping then-Secretary of State Colin Powell present the administration’s case to the United Nations in February 2003 (see February 5, 2003); and
bullet The failure of the CIA to share significant intelligence with other agencies. [CNN, 7/9/2004; Cybercast News Service, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
“One fact is now clear,” Roberts says. “Before the war, the US intelligence community told the president as well as the Congress and the public that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and if left unchecked, would probably have a nuclear weapon during this decade. Well, today we know these assessments were wrong.” [Cybercast News Service, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004] Rockefeller says the intelligence community failed to “accurately or adequately explain the uncertainties behind the judgments in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate to policymakers.” The community’s “intelligence failures” will haunt America’s national security “for generations to come,” he says. “Our credibility is diminished. Our standing in the world has never been lower,” he says. “We have fostered a deep hatred of Americans in the Muslim world, and that will grow. As a direct consequence, our nation is more vulnerable today than ever before.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
'Group Think' and 'Corporate Culture' - Roberts says the report finds that the “flawed” information used to send the nation to war was the result of “what we call a collective group think, which led analysts and collectors and managers to presume that Iraq had active and growing WMD programs.” He says this “group think caused the community to interpret ambiguous evidence, such as the procurement of dual-use technology, as conclusive evidence of the existence of WMD programs.” Roberts blames “group think” and a “broken corporate culture and poor management,” which “cannot be solved by simply adding funding and also personnel.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
Lack of Human Intelligence in Iraq - Perhaps the most troubling finding, Roberts says, is the intelligence community’s near-total lack of human intelligence in Iraq. “Most alarmingly, after 1998 and the exit of the UN inspectors, the CIA had no human intelligence sources inside Iraq who were collecting against the WMD target,” he says. [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
No Connection between Iraq, al-Qaeda - Rockefeller says that the administration’s claims of an alliance between Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda had no basis in fact: “[N]o evidence existed of Iraq’s complicity or assistance in al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks, including 9/11.” The report says that intelligence claims of connections between Iraq and some terrorist activities were accurate, though the contacts between al-Qaeda and Iraq from the 1990s “did not add up to an established formal relationship.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
Divided Opinion on Pressure from Bush Administration - Republicans and Democrats on the committee differ as to whether they believe the CIA and other intelligence agencies groomed or distorted their findings as a result of political pressure from the White House. “The committee found no evidence that the intelligence community’s mischaracterization or exaggeration of intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities was the result of politics or pressure,” Roberts says. However, Rockefeller notes that the report fails to explain fully the pressures on the intelligence community “when the most senior officials in the Bush administration had already forcefully and repeatedly stated their conclusions publicly. It was clear to all of us in this room who were watching that—and to many others—that they had made up their mind that they were going to go to war.” The analysts were subjected to a “cascade of ominous statements,” Rockefeller says, that may have pushed them to slant their analyses in the direction the White House indicated it wanted. The report finds that Vice President Dick Cheney and others who repeatedly visited intelligence agencies (see 2002-Early 2003) pressured intelligence analysts or officials to present particular findings or change their views. However, the report notes repeated instances of analysts exaggerating what they knew, and leaving out, glossing over, or omitting dissenting views. According to the report, the intelligence community released a misleading public version of the October 2002 NIE (see October 4, 2002) that eliminated caveats and dissenting opinions, thus misrepresenting “their judgments to the public which did not have access to the classified National Intelligence Estimate containing the more carefully worded assessments.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004; Cybercast News Service, 7/9/2004] In an interview the evening after the report’s release, Rockefeller is asked if the report documents “a failure of a system or is this a failure of a bunch of individuals who just did their jobs poorly?” Rockefeller responds: “This is a failure of a system.… It is not fair to simply dump all of this on the Central Intelligence Agency. The Central Intelligence Agency does not make the decision, and [former Director] George Tenet does not make the decision to go to war. That decision is made at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.… So we went to war under false pretenses, and I think that is a very serious subject for Americans to think about for our future.” Asked “if the president had known then what he knows now, he would have still taken us to war?” Rockefeller answers: “I can’t answer that question. I just ask—the question I ask is, why isn’t he, and maybe he is, why isn’t he as angry about his decision, so to speak his vote on this, as I am about mine?” [PBS, 7/9/2004]
Supporting the Claim of Iraq's Attempt to Purchase Nigerien Uranium - The report states flatly that senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson made the decision to send her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate false claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that nation (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The CIA has demonstrated that Plame Wilson did not make that decision (see February 19, 2002). However, as well as claiming that Plame Wilson sent Wilson to Niger, it claims that Wilson’s report, far from disproving the assertion of an attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium, actually bolstered that assertion. The report states that the question of Iraq’s attempt to buy Nigerien uranium remains “open.” It also says Wilson lied to the Washington Post in June 2004 by claiming that the documents used to support the claim were forgeries (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). “Committee staff asked how the former ambassador could have come to the conclusion that the ‘dates were wrong and the names were wrong’ when he had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports,” the report states. Wilson told committee members he may have been confused and may have “misspoken” to some reporters (see May 2, 2004). The committee did not examine the documents themselves. [Washington Post, 7/10/2009] The committee made similar claims a year before (see June 11, 2003 and July 11, 2003 and After). Progressive reporter and columnist Joshua Micah Marshall disputes the report’s claim that Wilson’s trip to Niger actually helped prove the assertion that Iraq tried to buy Nigerien uranium. The intelligence reports making the assertion are “fruits of the same poison tree” that produced so many other false and misleading claims, Marshall writes, and were based on the assumption that the forged documents were genuine. [Joshua Micah Marshall, 7/10/2004] In 2007, Plame Wilson will write, “What was missing from the [committee] report was just as telling as the distortions it contained. The ‘Additional Views’ section… had concluded” that she was responsible for sending Wilson to Niger. Yet that was contradicted by a senior CIA official over a year before. Plame Wilson will call the “Additional Views” section “a political smear if there ever was one,” crammed with “distortions and outright lies. Yet it continues to be cited today by Joe’s critics as proof of his lack of credibility.” The Wilsons learn months later that committee Democrats decided not to fight against the attacks on Wilson’s integrity; according to one of the senior Democratic senators on the panel, there was simply too much “incoming” from the Republicans for them to fight every issue. There were “far too many serious substantial disputes” that needed solving, and the Democrats chose to allow the attacks on Wilson to proceed without comment. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 187-190]
Portion of the Report Delayed - Roberts and other Republican majority committee members were successful in blocking Democrats’ attempts to complete the second portion of the report, which delineates the Bush administration’s use of the intelligence findings. That report will not be released until after the November 2004 presidential election. Rockefeller says he feels “genuine frustration… that virtually everything that has to do with the administration” has been “relegated to phase two” and will be discussed at another time. The second part of the committee’s investigation will focus on the “interaction or the pressure or the shaping of intelligence” by the Bush administration, Rockefeller says. “It was clear to all of us that the Bush administration had made up its mind to go to war,” he says, and he believes that such a “predetermination” influenced the intelligence community. Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, says she hopes a similar House investigation would address some of those issues. However, she notes, she has been stymied by House Republicans in even launching that investigation. “There has not been the cooperation that there apparently has been on the Senate side,” she says. She has just now managed to wangle a meeting with House Intelligence Committee chairman Porter Goss (R-FL), who is being touted as the next director of the CIA (see September 24, 2004). Harman says, “I would hope we could address [the issues] factually and on a bipartisan basis, but at the moment I don’t have a lot of confidence in it.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; Cybercast News Service, 7/9/2004] Roberts’s spokeswoman Sarah Little later says that the committee has not yet decided whether the second portion of the report will be fully classified, declassified, or even if it will hold hearings. [National Journal, 10/27/2005]
Cheney, Roberts Colluded in Interfering with Report - Over a year later, the media will find that Roberts allowed Cheney and members of his staff to interfere with the committee’s investigation and dramatically limit its scope (see October 27, 2005). Rockefeller will say that he made three separate requests for White House documents during the committee’s investigation, but never received the documents he asked for. “The fact is,” Rockefeller will say, “that throughout the Iraq investigation any line of questioning that brought us too close to the White House was thwarted.” Rockefeller’s spokesperson, Wendy Morigi, will say that Rockefeller will “sadly come to the conclusion that the Intelligence Committee is not capable of doing the job of investigating the fundamental question as to whether the administration has misused intelligence to go to war.” [National Journal, 10/30/2005] Plame Wilson will write: “In the coming months, many reliable sources told us that before the report was issued, there was considerable collusion between the vice president’s office and… Roberts on how to craft the report and its content. So much for checks and balances and the separation of powers.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 192]

Entity Tags: Joshua Micah Marshall, Pat Roberts, Murray Waas, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Valerie Plame Wilson, Porter J. Goss, Joseph C. Wilson, Senate Intelligence Committee, John D. Rockefeller, Central Intelligence Agency, House Intelligence Committee, ’Curveball’, Jane Harman, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Colin Powell, Wendy Morigi, Sarah Little, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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