The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating claims that an office run by US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s former policy chief engaged in illegal intelligence activities before the start of the Iraq war.
The investigation into Douglas Feith, which two senators requested two months ago, comes at a particularly contentious point in the political debate over President George Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and the intelligence upon which Bush based his decision.
It extends a controversy that has prominently featured Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Forces Committee. Levin, a vocal critic of Bush’s Iraq policy, has accused Feith of engaging in inappropriate intelligence activities at the Pentagon and of deceiving Congress about intelligence on Iraq’s pre-war links to the al Qaida terror network.
Levin told congressional reporters that Feith provided the White House and its National Security Council with “really erroneous and distorted intelligence” about Iraq and its purported links to terrorist groups.
One of the questions to be probed by the Pentagon inspector general, Levin said, was whether Feith, in his position as undersecretary of defence for policy, “provided a separate channel of intelligence, unbeknownst to the CIA, to the White House – which he did”.
Feith left his Pentagon post this summer.
In a telephone interview last night, Feith dismissed the allegations.
“These matters have been carefully reviewed already,” he said, referring to a bi-partisan congressional inquiry in 2004.
“They concluded that my office worked properly and that it in fact improved the intelligence product by asking good questions. I’m confident the Defence Department inspector general will come to the same conclusion.”
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said a small office that Feith set up before the start of the Iraq war to evaluate intelligence on Iraq, which he called the Office of Special Plans, had been the central focus of numerous inquiries by members of Congress and others who questioned whether it performed improper intelligence functions.
“The Office of Special Plans has been the subject of a high degree of scrutiny over the last several months, and one in which every inquiry into it has yielded no findings of improper or unlawful activity,” Whitman said.
The Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts of Kansas, asked the Pentagon inspector general in early September to investigate what Roberts called “persistent and, to date, unsubstantiated allegations that there was something unlawful or improper about the activities” of Feith’s office.
Roberts wrote in a September 9 letter to the inspector general that Feith had testified before both the Armed Services and Intelligence committees of the Senate, and “I have not discovered any credible evidence of unlawful or improper activity, yet the allegations persist”.
Levin followed with his own letter to the inspector general on September 22 in which he requested a broad probe of Feith’s office.
Among questions he asked be investigated was whether Feith’s office produced its own intelligence analysis of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaida and presented that to the staffs of the National Security Council and the office of Vice President Dick Cheney.
“So the investigation of Doug Feith hopefully will be thorough by the inspector general,” Levin told reporters.