WASHINGTON (AFP) -The Central Intelligence Agency warned US President George W. Bush before the Iraq war that it had reliable information the government of Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, a retired CIA operative disclosed.
But the operative, Tyler Drumheller, said top White House officials simply brushed off the warning, saying they were “no longer interested” in intelligence and that the policy toward Iraq had been already set.
The disclosure, made in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” program due to be broadcast late Sunday, adds to earlier accusations that the Bush administration used intelligence selectively as it built its case for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam’s regime.
The administration claimed in the run-up to the war that Baghdad had extensive stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and was working clandestinely to build a nuclear arsenal, therefore, presenting a threat to the world.
An extensive CIA-led probe undertaken after the US military took control of Iraq failed to turn up any such weapons. But Bush and other members of his administration have blamed the fiasco on a massive intelligence failure and vehemently denied manipulating information they had been provided.
However, Drumheller, who was a top CIA liaison officer in Europe before the war, insisted Bush had been explicitly warned well before an invasion order was given that the United States may not find the suspected weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
The information about the absence of the suspected weapons in Iraq, according to excerpts of Drumheller’s remarks, was clandestinely provided to the United States by former Iraqi foreign minister Naji Sabri, who doubled as a covert intelligence agent for Western services.
Then-CIA director George Tenet immediately delivered this report to Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other high-ranking administration officials, but the information was dismissed, Drumheller said.
“The group that was dealing with preparation for the Iraq war came back and said they were no longer interested,” the former CIA official recalled. “And we said ‘Well, what about the intel?’ And they said ‘Well, this isn’t about intel anymore. This is about regime change.'”
Drumheller said the White House did not want any additional data from Sabri because, as he pointed out, “the policy was set.”
“The war in Iraq was coming and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy,” he argued.
The CIA declined to comment on the disclosure.
Drumheller admitted that Sabri was just one source, but pointed out that the administration would not shy away from other single-source information if it suited its policy goals.
“They certainly took information that came from single sources on the yellowcake story and on several other stories with no corroboration at all,” he complained.
The White House had embraced a British report that Iraq had purchased 500 tons of uranium from the African nation of Niger, allegedly to restart its nuclear weapons program.
A special CIA envoy Joseph Wilson, who made a secret trip to Niger in late 2002 to verify the report, dismissed it as unfounded — much to the displeasure of the White House.
Drumheller, who retired from the agency last year, is the second high-ranking ex-CIA official to criticize the administration’s use of intelligence in months leading up to the war.
Paul Pillar, who was the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, wrote in the March-April issue of Foreign Affairs magazine that the White House was “cherry-picking” information and that “intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made.”
There was no immediate reaction from the White House to the latest charges.