Saturday 22 April 2006
Washington - The CIA had evidence Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction six months before the 2003 US-led invasion but was ignored by a White House intent on ousting Saddam Hussein, a former senior CIA official said according to CBS.
Tyler Drumheller, who headed CIA covert operations in Europe during the run-up to the Iraq war, said intelligence opposing administration claims of a WMD threat came from a top Iraqi official who provided the US spy agency with other credible information.
The source "told us that there were no active weapons of mass destruction programs," Drumheller said in a CBS interview to be aired on Sunday on the network's news magazine, "60 Minutes."
"The (White House) group that was dealing with preparation for the Iraq war came back and said they were no longer interested," he was quoted as saying in interview excerpts released by CBS on Friday.
"We said: 'Well, what about the intel?' And they said: 'Well, this isn't about intel anymore. This is about regime change'," added Drumheller, whose CIA operation was assigned the task of debriefing the Iraqi official.
He was the latest former US official to accuse the White House of setting an early course toward war in Iraq and ignoring intelligence that conflicted with its aim.
CBS said the CIA's intelligence source was former Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri and that former CIA Director George Tenet delivered the information personally to President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other top White House officials in September 2002. They rebuffed the CIA three days later.
"The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy," the former CIA agent told CBS.
US allegations that Saddam had WMD and posed a threat to international security was a main justification for the March 2003 invasion.
A 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, to which the CIA was a major contributor, concluded that prewar Iraq had an active nuclear program and a huge stockpile of unconventional weapons.
No such weapons have been found, however, and US assertions that they existed are now regarded as a hugely damaging intelligence failure.
But Drumheller, co-author of a forthcoming book entitled "On the Brink: How the White House Has Compromised American Intelligence," rejects the notion of an intelligence failure.
"It just sticks in my craw every time I hear them say it's an intelligence failure," he told CBS. "This was a policy failure."