|December 7, 2004
2 C.I.A. Reports Offer Warnings on Iraq's Path
By DOUGLAS JEHL
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/07 (must register to view original article)
WASHINGTON, Dec. 6 - A classified cable sent by the Central Intelligence Agency's station chief in Baghdad has warned that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating and may not rebound any time soon, according to government officials.
The cable, sent late last month as the officer ended a yearlong tour, presented a bleak assessment on matters of politics, economics and security, the officials said. They said its basic conclusions had been echoed in briefings presented by a senior C.I.A. official who recently visited Iraq.
The officials described the two assessments as having been "mixed," saying that they did describe Iraq as having made important progress, particularly in terms of its political process, and credited Iraqis with being resilient.
But over all, the officials described the station chief's cable in particular as an unvarnished assessment of the difficulties ahead in Iraq. They said it warned that the security situation was likely to get worse, including more violence and sectarian clashes, unless there were marked improvements soon on the part of the Iraqi government, in terms of its ability to assert authority and to build the economy.
Together, the appraisals, which follow several other such warnings from officials in Washington and in the field, were much more pessimistic than the public picture being offered by the Bush administration before the elections scheduled for Iraq next month, the officials said. The cable was sent to C.I.A. headquarters after American forces completed what military commanders have described as a significant victory, with the retaking of Falluja, a principal base of the Iraqi insurgency, in mid-November.
The American ambassador to Iraq, John D. Negroponte, was said by the officials to have filed a written dissent, objecting to one finding as too harsh, on the ground that the United States had made more progress than was described in combating the Iraqi insurgency. But the top American military commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., also reviewed the cable and initially offered no objections, the officials said. One official said, however, that General Casey may have voiced objections in recent days.
The station chief's cable has been widely disseminated outside the C.I.A., and was initially described by a government official who read the document and who praised it as unusually candid. Other government officials who have read or been briefed on the document later described its contents. The officials refused to be identified by name or affiliation because of the delicacy of the issue. The station chief cannot be publicly identified because he continues to work undercover.
Asked about the cable, a White House spokesman, Sean McCormack, said he could not discuss intelligence matters. A C.I.A. spokesman would say only that he could not comment on any classified document.
It was not clear how the White House was responding to the station chief's cable. In recent months, some Republicans, including Senator John McCain of Arizona, have accused the agency of seeking to undermine President Bush by disclosing intelligence reports whose conclusions contradict the administration or its policies. But senior intelligence officials including John E. McLaughlin, the departing deputy director of central intelligence, have disputed those assertions. One government official said the new assessments might suggest that Porter J. Goss, the new director of central intelligence, was willing to listen to views different from those publicly expressed by the administration.
A separate, more formal, National Intelligence Estimate prepared in July and sent to the White House in August by American intelligence agencies also presented a dark forecast for Iraq's future through the end of 2005. Among three possible developments described in that document, the best case was tenuous stability and the worst case included a chain of events leading to civil war.
After news reports disclosed the existence of the National Intelligence Estimate, which also remains classified, President Bush initially dismissed the conclusions as nothing more than a guess. Since then, however, violence in Iraq has increased, including the recent formation of a Shiite militia intended to carry out attacks on Sunni militants.
The end-of-tour cable from the station chief, spelling out an assessment of the situation on the ground, is a less-formal product than a National Intelligence Estimate. But it was drafted by an officer who is highly regarded within the C.I.A. and who, as station chief in Baghdad, has been the top American intelligence official in Iraq since December 2003. The station chief overseas an intelligence operation that includes about 300 people, making Baghdad the largest C.I.A. station since Saigon during the Vietnam War era.
The senior C.I.A. official who visited Iraq and then briefed counterparts from other government agencies was Michael Kostiw, a senior adviser to Mr. Goss. One government official who knew about Mr. Kostiw's briefings described them as "an honest portrayal of the situation on the ground."
Since they took office in September, Mr. Goss and his aides have sought to discourage unauthorized disclosures of information. In a memorandum sent to C.I.A. employees last month, Mr. Goss said the job of the intelligence agency was to "provide the intelligence as we see it" but also to "support the administration and its policies in our work."
"As agency employees we do not identify with, support or champion opposition to the administration or its policies," Mr. Goss said in that memorandum, saying that he was seeking "to clarify beyond doubt the rules of the road." The memorandum urged intelligence employees to "let the facts alone speak to the policy maker."
Mr. Goss himself made his first foreign trip as the intelligence director last week, with stops that included several days in Britain and a day in Afghanistan, but he did not visit Iraq, the government officials said.
At the White House on Monday, President Bush himself offered no hint of pessimism as he met with Iraq's president, Sheik Ghazi al-Yawar. Despite the security challenges, Mr. Bush said, the United States continues to favor the voting scheduled for Iraq on Jan. 30 to "send the clear message to the few people in Iraq that are trying to stop the march toward democracy that they cannot stop elections."
"The American people must understand that democracy just doesn't happen overnight," he said. "It is a process. It is an evolution. After all, look at our own history. We had great principles enunciated in our Declarations of Independence and our Constitution, yet, we had slavery for a hundred years. It takes a while for democracy to take hold. And this is a major first step in a society which enables people to express their beliefs and their opinions."