WASHINGTON – A Pentagon (search) official accused by a leading Senate Democrat of deceiving Congress about intelligence on Iraq's pre-war links to the Al Qaeda (search) terrorist network says the dispute is based on a misunderstanding that could have been avoided if he had been asked to explain.
In a letter to Sen. Carl Levin (search) of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Douglas Feith laid out in detail his handling of CIA reports on the Iraq-Al Qaeda relationship and denied that he ignored corrections requested by the CIA when he gave a summary of the reports to Congress in January 2004.
Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, is Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's (search) top policy adviser.
The Associated Press was provided a copy Saturday night of Feith's letter, which was sent to Levin on Oct. 20, the day before Levin released a report arguing that Feith and other Pentagon officials exaggerated the available intelligence on links between Iraq and Al Qaeda in order to bolster the Bush administration's case for removing then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
The White House denies that intelligence was misused or manipulated in the run-up to the war. Republican senators noted this week that Levin's report was issued just before the Nov. 2 elections.
In his report, Levin said the CIA requested corrections to a memo written by Feith and provided to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in October 2003, before the memo could be distributed widely to the Senate Armed Services Committee and other congressional panels two months later.
But, Levin's report says, important changes requested by CIA were not made, including adequate alterations to information about the credibility of a source who provided raw intelligence on the Iraq-Al Qaeda link. Levin suggested that the changes would have weakened evidence of a link.
Feith disputed this in his letter. He wrote that the CIA asked that he delete reference to a "raw intelligence report" — meaning a report whose information had not yet been fully verified — because it contradicted one of the points made in Feith's original report on the Iraq-Al Qaeda relationship.
Feith said he did so.
"The CIA did not ask us to make any specific changes to our text, but pointed out that the earlier raw report contradicted one of our comments, which was, however, supported by the later products that we cited," Feith wrote. The "products" he referred to were finished, rather than raw, CIA reports.
Feith wrote that he made all the changes requested by the CIA when he submitted the materials to the Senate Armed Services Committee and other panels that requested them.
In his letter to Levin, Feith also expressed apparent frustration at being accused of misleading Congress on this matter.
"Your allegations have an accusatory tone," he wrote. "If you had called me or asked to meet and discuss these matters, we could have cleared up the misunderstandings that underlie your allegations."