An under-the-radar Department of Defense (DOD) office produced highly politicized intelligence assessments and promulgated one of the most inaccurate justifications for U.S. invasion of Iraq: that the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein had a working relationship with Al Qaeda. The Office of Special Plans, part of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy led by Douglas Feith, created and provided these assessments to senior U.S. officials. Though neither illegal nor unauthorized, these assessments were, in the view of the DOD inspector general, “inappropriate” and “did not clearly show the variance with the consensus of the Intelligence Community.” A Senate Intelligence Committee report found not only that the work of other intelligence agencies, such as the Central Intelligence Agency, was ignored, but also suggested that the Office of Special Plans shaped intelligence to fit the desires of policymakers — a cardinal sin in the intelligence world. According to several Democratic senators on the intelligence committee, “[C]riticism of the CIA’s analysis was sent by Under Secretary for Policy Feith to Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld.” W. Patrick Lang, the former chief of Middle East intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency, told investigative journalist Seymour M. Hersh, “The Pentagon has banded together to dominate the government’s foreign policy, and they’ve pulled it off.” The 9-11 Commission would later conclude that it found “no credible evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.” A study conducted by a DOD-funded think tank, after a review of captured Iraqi government documents, also found no “direct connection” between Al Qaeda and Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Trumpeted by the White House as a key reason to invade Iraq, the much touted close “relationship” between Al Qaeda and Iraq simply did not exist.
The Office of Special Plans was disbanded, but a substantial percentage of the public still erroneously believes that Iraq was involved with Al Qaeda’s September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The DOD press office did not respond to a request for comment, but now-former Under Secretary Feith said on his website that the DOD Inspector General’s report was “poorly informed and illogical, arguing that policy officials ‘undercut’ the intelligence community by criticizing it, regardless of whether their critique is valid.”