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U.S.: Ex-CIA Official Publicly Challenges Pre-War Iraq Assessment

John Negroponte laughed after the man questioned Bush's misuse of intelligence data (file photo) (AFP) A member of the audience at a public speech given in Washington today identified himself as a retired intelligence analyst with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA, and challenged the reasons President George W. Bush used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The confrontation occurred during a question-and-answer session after a speech by U.S. National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.

WASHINGTON, 17 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Negroponte's speech was promoted as an outline of the reforms he's instituted in the U.S. intelligence community.

Many have complained that the CIA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, should have anticipated the attacks of 11 September 2001 and inaccurately concluded that Saddam Hussein's Iraq had an arsenal of illegal weapons.

More recently, the government has been criticized for failing to foresee the election of Mahmud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran, the victory of Shi'ite parties in Iraq's recent elections, and the landslide vote for the militant group Hamas for the Palestinian legislature.

"What sort of safeguards, if any, have you introduced to protect the integrity of the intelligence process and product from being bastardized and prostituted by policy-makers to promote a predetermined policy?"

In his speech today, Negroponte said very little about the steps he's taken to reform the various intelligence agencies under his authority. Instead, he spoke mostly of the political and military challenges the West faces in the Middle East and the larger Muslim world.

Negroponte volunteered nothing about the suspicion, held by many, that in the months before the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration selectively used the information it received from the U.S. intelligence community to bolster its argument that war was the only way to disarm Hussein.

What About The ‘Disinformation Campaign?’

But after the speech, a man brought up the subject in a provocatively-phrased question.

"What sort of safeguards, if any," he asked, "have you introduced to protect the integrity of the intelligence process and product from being bastardized and prostituted by policymakers to promote a predetermined policy, as was the case with the disinformation campaign that George W. Bush and his henchmen launched to lie this country into its present disastrous war of aggression in Iraq?"

Negroponte was silent for a few seconds, then joined the audience in resigned laughter. Finally, he replied that the U.S. intelligence community began reforming itself immediately after it failed to anticipate the attacks of 11 September 2001.

Among these reforms, Negroponte said, was to encourage alternative analyses and to ensure that the president's daily briefing includes contributions from several intelligence agencies. He said his office has installed an official whose job is to challenge analyses to ensure that the intelligence community isn't misled by complacency.

"I honestly believe we've done a lot to ensure the integrity of our product,” said Negroponte. “We won't rest on our laurels. We'll continue to strive to improve in that area, but I think we've done a lot."

A Warning To Whistleblowers

Negroponte also was asked about another issue that has plagued the Bush administration: the public disclosure of alleged wrongdoing by the government -- a practice known as "whistle-blowing."

U.S. Attorney General Albert Gonzales this month at a Congressional hearing on Bush's domestic spying program (epa)

"The New York Times" newspaper reported in December that the administration was pursuing a program under which the super-secret National Security Agency, or NSA, was permitted to intercept electronic communications in the United States without first obtaining the legally required warrants from a special court with jurisdiction over domestic surveillance.

Many members of Congress, including members of Bush's own Republican Party, have criticized the practice and some have praised "The Times" for publishing the story. The Bush administration, however, is investigating how the newspaper got the information and says it will prosecute whoever leaked the story.

One questioner asked Negroponte about this controversy. The intelligence director said whistle-blowing is important in a democracy, but said there are limits to its value and legality.

"There are some things that are defined as whistle-blowing that are tantamount to -- or are -- outright, unauthorized, improper, and possibly illegal leaking of classified national security information to the press,” he said. “And that's not proper and not appropriate, and if somebody commits those kinds of offenses, they deserve to be punished for that."

Rather than leak the information to the press, Negroponte said, a concerned government employee should follow accepted procedures, such as speaking with his agency's inspector general.

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