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CIA Reassigns 2 Top Iraq Analysts but Denies the Move Is Punitive

June 14, 2003|Greg Miller | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The CIA has reassigned two senior officials who oversaw its analysis on Iraq and the deposed regime's alleged banned weapons, a move that a CIA spokesman said was routine but that others portrayed as an "exile."

The officials served in senior positions in which they were deeply involved in assembling and assessing the intelligence on Iraq's alleged stocks of chemical and biological arms.

U.S. search teams have yet to find conclusive evidence that Iraq had such weapons in the months before the war -- an assertion that was the Bush administration's principal justification for the March invasion.

One of the officials was reassigned last week to the CIA's personnel department after spending the last several months heading the Iraq Task Force, a special unit set up to provide 24-hour support to military commanders during the war.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday June 21, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 3 inches; 104 words Type of Material: Correction
CIA jobs -- A front-page article on June 14 about the CIA's decision to reassign two Iraq analysts described their duties imprecisely. The story said the two oversaw the CIA's analysis on Iraq and its alleged banned weapons and were deeply involved in assembling and assessing intelligence about any such weapons. In fact, their roles differed from each other's: One was in charge of the agency's analysis of Iraq. The other managed the dissemination of intelligence on Iraq during the war. Both handled intelligence on Iraq's alleged banned weapons, but neither was directly in charge of the CIA's assessments on weapons of mass destruction.

The other, a longtime analyst who had led the agency's Iraq Issue Group, was dispatched on an extended mission to Iraq. The group is responsible for the core analysis of all the intelligence the United States collects on Iraq.

CIA spokesman Bill Harlow said Friday that the changes were routine, and that it is "absolutely wrong to think this is somehow punitive or negative or indicative of anything other than a normal rotation." Citing security concerns, he asked that neither employee be identified by name.

But other intelligence sources offered a different account.

"Two of the key players on this problem have essentially been sent into deep exile," said one agency official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official added that the changes seemed designed to show the administration that "we're being responsive to charges that we did not perform well."

The failure so far to find banned weapons in Iraq has raised questions about whether the prewar intelligence was flawed or shaded to support the White House's desire to present a compelling case for war.

The agency's personnel moves come as congressional committees are reviewing the prewar intelligence, with some Democrats pushing for public hearings and a full-scale investigation.

Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee signed a letter this week seeking a meeting with the panel chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), in an effort to pressure him to drop his opposition to a full investigation.

Meanwhile, staffers on the House and Senate Intelligence committees are already poring over thousands of pages of prewar intelligence documents turned over by the CIA in recent days.

One Capitol Hill aide who has reviewed the material said there are troubling contradictions in the documents and statements. In some cases, records show officials reaching one conclusion on Iraq's weapons, only to offer a contradictory conclusion a few months later.

The aide declined to discuss specifics but said the tangled nature of the material is likely to add fuel to the controversy.

"It's all fodder for the Democrats," the aide said. "What they'll find is people having said things that aren't consistent with what they're saying now."

An intelligence official familiar with the Iraq assessments said congressional investigators are not likely to find documented proof that analysts were pressured to tailor their assessments.

"They'll be hard-pressed to find any kind of smoking gun, a case of somebody coming in and saying, 'I wrote it this way and it came back from the 7th floor telling me to write it another way,' " the official said, referring to the location at CIA headquarters where Director George J. Tenet and other top officials have offices.

Instead, the official compared the pressure analysts faced in the months preceding the war to that applied by lawyers "badgering the witness -- asking the question over and over and over again to the point where people get worn down."

Much of this pressure, the official said, came from top officials at the Pentagon, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Pentagon officials have repeatedly denied seeking to influence the intelligence on Iraq.

Tenet is said to have called a special meeting with the CIA's Iraq analysts on June 5, a session one source described as an attempt to clear the air at a time when top officials have been alarmed by anonymous complaints showing up in the press.

It is not clear whether the meeting came before or after the two senior officials were reassigned. Several intelligence sources said it was unusual for employees in such key assignments to move on to positions of equal or lesser prestige.

The woman who led the Iraq Issue Group had been there for less than a year, a relatively short stint. That sort of job has traditionally been a launching pad to higher rank. Winston P. Wiley, who went on to head the Directorate of Intelligence, had held a similar position during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

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