Iraq-Al Qaeda Link Examined

Back in 2003, President Bush said, "Iraq has also provided Al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training."

CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports that this warning – repeated many times by the president and his top aides – was based on a claim made by a captured al Qaeda operative who has since admitted he was lying.

But even at the time the president made the statement, the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency sent out a notice cautioning "it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers."

The CIA noted he "was not in a position to know if any training had actually taken place."

Yet, administration officials continued to report it as fact.

"I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to al Qaeda," Secretary of State Colin Powell said on February 5, 2003.

That speech had been checked for accuracy by the CIA, whose then director George Tenet sat behind Powel as he delivered it. Powell's former chief of staff blames "incompetence" for not weeding out that spurious claim.

On top of what appears to be sloppy work by intelligence experts, there are other instances in which top administration officials seem to have gone beyond what the CIA was telling them.

"You can't distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror," Mr. Bush said on Sept. 25, 2002.

But the CIA did distinguish between them. Saddam and bin Laden "were leery of close cooperation." The relationship "appears to more closely resemble that of two independent actors trying to exploit each other."

The CIA warned its intelligence was "at time contradictory and derived from sources with varying degrees of reliability."

The relationship was, to use the CIA's word, "murky." But the president painted it in black and white.

"We know that Iraq and al Qaeda have had high level contacts that go back a decade," Mr. Bush said on Oct. 7, 2002.

The Senate Intelligence Committee concluded "there was little useful intelligence collected that helped…determine the Iraqi regime's possible links to al Qaeda."

But you would never know that from listening to the president and his aides.