"Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the guy was not only making it up, but by February of 2002, the government knew he was making it up. Al-Libi was the first al Qaeda big get, arrested in Afghanistan back in November 2001.
Under interrogation, he reportedly told agents that al Qaeda was training in Iraq. In 2004, he recanted. He admitted he had made that up. But far earlier, the Defense Intelligence Agency had already figured out that his information was bogus, two years before his confession.
According to a newly declassified document, the DIA warned that the fact al-Libi didn‘t share any specifics about al Qaeda in Iraq had to have meant one of two things. Quote, “It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers. Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest.”
That‘s called telling them what you think they want you to hear. The document goes on to note that Saddam Hussein‘s regime was wary of extremist Islamic groups, and that his government was, quote, “unlikely to provide assistance to a group it cannot control.”
The DIA assessment was made available to several agencies, including the CIA, the Pentagon, and the White House.
Yet eight months later, in October 2002, the president used al-Libi‘s information to lay out an al Qaeda link in his speech at Cincinnati, and five months after that, February 2003, the information was still being treated as credible, most notably by then-secretary of state Colin Powell, when he made his case for war to the U.N.
We‘ll examine the politics of this with the assistant managing editor of “TIME” magazine, Michael Duffy, in a moment.
First, the spycraft. Let‘s bring in Colonel Patrick Lang, the head of Middle East intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency during the first Gulf War.
Colonel Lang, thanks for your time tonight.
COL. PATRICK LANG (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Hello, Keith.
OLBERMANN: How likely is all this to have been a mistake, a good-faith misinterpretation, even a different viewpoint between different intelligence organizations?
LANG: Well, I think you know that it‘s not at all unusual that DIA would have taken a skeptical look at this guy and drawn the obvious conclusions from the data and decided that he was bogus. And this report would have gone to a couple of hundred different people by message and hard copy around town and across the world.
The fact that DIA had a different opinion from CIA in this is not unusual. Different people can look at material and come to a different conclusion, at least for a while.
But I think it‘s an interesting coincidence that right after this, the Office of Special Plans was set up in the Office of the Secretary of Defense to look at the same data, and they came to radically different conclusions.
OLBERMANN: The two newspaper stories, the ones in “The New York Times” and “The Los Angeles Times,” and Senator Carl Levin, who had released part of that DIA declassified memo, says, or the headlines do, the administration would have gotten a report about al-Libi and his dubiousness. One headline had it as, the Bush team would have gotten it.
But nowhere does it say specifically who or what offices in the White House. Who would have read this? Who would have said, No, no, this is not true, this guy is the real deal, anyway?
LANG: Well, I was the authorizing authority for issuance of all documents in this area of knowledge in DIA for many years. And this document would have had a distribution list around town that would have listed 50, 60 different offices in each of a number of large places like the State Department, the White House, the National Security Council, the Office of the Vice President, and all over the Pentagon.
So it went to lots and lots of people. This is not a really extremely compartmented kind of document. A lot of people would have gotten it.
OLBERMANN: What, under those circumstances, has to happen, either deliberately or due to incompetence, or due to turf wars, or due simply to honest disagreement, for the following scenario to play out with this? The DIA sends a memo out on February of 2002 saying this guy is probably making this up. And in February 2003, a full year later, the secretary of state is virtually quoting the same man to the U.N. Security Council to justify a war.
LANG: Yes. Well, I think what happened there is that after this information got massaged around in various places in Washington, it was interpreted in a different kind of way, one which was more amenable to the picture of the world that the Bush administration had. And by the time it got to Secretary Powell, it was presented as a matter of fact. I think that‘s the way he received this information.
OLBERMANN: The final point, I guess, here is that there‘s been so much scattershot questioning about the prewar intelligence. Between this news about al-Libi and what we already knew about the guy called Curveball, who gave all the sour information about biological weapons labs on wheels, to say nothing of Ahmed Chalabi, is it now time to look at the intelligence on which this country went to war, and to stop asking what part of it was wrong, and instead, to start asking, was any of it right?
LANG: Yes, I think you ought to do that. You ought to start over from scratch and ask, Was any of this correct? The right question is, after the raw information got run through the mill of everybody‘s opinions and preconceptions of things, was any of it right? And to what extent were policy considerations the driving force?
OLBERMANN: The former head of Middle East intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Colonel Patrick Lang. Great thanks for your insight, great thanks for your time tonight.
LANG: My pleasure."