In a recent interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith attacked Paul Pillar, a 28-year veteran of the CIA who specialized in counterterrorism, for claiming that al Qaeda was not working with Saddam Hussein’s secular regime:
FEITH: I think that there were people, there were people in the CIA who had a theory that the Baathist secularists would not cooperate with the religious extremists in al Qaeda. And because they had that theory, when they looked at information that was, that showed, or that suggested that there was cooperation, they were inclined not to believe that information. [...]
One of the main people who was propounding that theory…that the Baathists wouldn’t deal with the jihadists is now out in the private sector, and he’s actually been quite vocal, and has written articles, and his name is Paul Pillar.
Pillar was right; Feith was wrong. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s Phase II report noted that Saddam Hussein “issued a general order that Iraq should not deal with al Qa’ida.”
Asked to respond to Feith’s attack, Pillar told ThinkProgress:
It is hogwash that community analysts, as Feith alleges, were peremptorily dismissing, or “suppressing,” reporting based on some bias on their part about what was or was not possible in Baathist-jihadi relations. In fact, I can’t think of any recent issue on which the intelligence community has exhaustively devoted more scrutiny — at great expenditure of senior as well as working-level time and attention–than this one of Iraqi-al-Qa’ida relations. I can say that confidently, based on intelligence assessments I read and meetings I attended.
Pillar told ThinkProgress that Feith’s office recommended that the CIA’s assessment on Iraq-al Qaeda relations “be ignored. Not challenged, not made the subject of a critical dialogue between policymakers and analysts, but ignored.” Pillar described how he personally witnessed Feith’s dismissive attitude towards intelligence professionals in one White House meeting in the fall of 2002:
When an intelligence officer responsible for counterterrorism politely pointed out that something Feith had just said (and was recommending as a public talking point) about Iraqi-al-Qa’ida relations was not supported by the intelligence, Feith dismissed my colleague’s point as “nit-picking” and quickly went on to the next subject. It was a don’t-bother-us-with-the-facts- we-have-a-war-to-sell approach.