Hoping to fill the post left vacant for the past two months, President George Bush on Tuesday named Congressman Porter Goss, the chairman of the House intelligence committee and a former operative, to take charge of the much-troubled Central Intelligence Agency.

The nomination comes at a particularly difficult time for the Bush administration's relationship with the country's leading spy agency, having defended itself against persistent accusations that the intelligence used to justify the Iraq war had been false, misrepresented and based on dubious sources.

The agency has been without a chief at the helm since George Tenet unexpectedly resigned on 3 June. The agency's deputy director of operations, James Pavitt, resigned the next day.

In a particular twist of fate, the CIA nomination comes on the heels of an Iraqi judge's warrant calling for the arrest of Iraqi opposition figure and former US ally, Ahmed Chalabi, who provided US intelligence agencies with what later turned out to be erroneous information from sources that were suspect.

In February 2004, Chalabi admitted to false intelligence claims. "We are heroes in error," he said.

Chalabi was later accused by several US intelligence services of passing on sensitive information to Iraq's neighbour, Iran - a charge he has denied.

WMD and Axis of Evil

In his State of the Union address in January 2002, Bush touted Iraq as a battleground for good and evil, with the West taking on the "dictator Saddam Hussein" who together with Iran and North Korea formed the "axis of evil". 

Bush brought up the issue of
aluminium tubes in January 2003

In his 5 February 2003 speech to the UN Security Council, US Secretary of State Colin Powell provided what he termed "irrefutable evidence" of Iraq's possession of an active weapons of mass destruction programme - everything from anthrax, ricin, smallpox and nerve gas to nuclear and radiological weapons - and its collusion with "terrorist" affiliates, notably al-Qaida.

The evidence presented was based on reports compiled from CIA intelligence on Iraq.

A central piece in the Powell report focused on aluminium tubes Iraq admitted to having imported in September 2002. The Bush administration alleged the tubes were a crucial part of manufacturing centrifuges key to any nuclear weapons programme.

But just a week prior to the Powell appearance at the UN, IAEA head Muhammad al-Baradai had publicly dispelled notions that the tubes were destined for a clandestine nuclear weapons programme.

"From our analysis to date, it appears that the aluminum tubes would be consistent with the purpose stated by Iraq and unless modified would not be suitable for manufacturing centrifuges. However, we are still investigating this issue," al-Baradai reported to the UN on 27 January 2003.

Blistering Senate report

On 9 July this year, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a blistering report on the investigation into pre-war claims of Iraq’s capacity to wage war against its neighbours and develop weapons of mass destruction.

At the heart of the investigation was the persistent claim that Iraq had established, maintained and nurtured ties with al-Qaida and was ready to transfer its weapons expertise to the rogue organisation.

The Senate Intelligence Committee
said the CIA was poorly managed

The report stated that the intelligence used to justify the war on Iraq was inaccurate, unsubstantiated, unwarranted, out-of-date, negligently analysed and misrepresented, thereby exhibiting "a broken corporate culture and poor management".

Several senators said that, had they known the truth, they would never have voted for the authorisation Bush needed to invade Iraq.

"On Iraq, it appears to have been hallucinating," The Economist said of the CIA in its 17 July 2004 issue.

'Outing' of agent

In addition to erroneous information in the prelude to the Iraq invasion, the CIA has been rocked by the scandal of the media's outing of one of its top operatives in Africa.

On 6 July, former US ambassador to Iraq, Joseph Wilson, wrote in The New York Times that he had been dispatched to Niger in February 2002 to investigate intelligence claims that the African nation was selling uranium yellowcake to Iraq.

As a former diplomat to Niger, Wilson had many contacts and was able to determine that Niger had not sold such material to Iraq and any intelligence claiming otherwise was fraudulent.

Wilson wrote in his op-ed piece that he was surprised that the intelligence claim made it intact into Bush's 2003 State of the Union address.

US arms expert David Kay says
Iraqi WMD do not exist

On 14 July, syndicated columnist Robert Novak wrote: "Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report."

The column caused a fury among intelligence officials as it outed one of their top Africa CIA operatives, placing her operation - and life - in danger.

On 17 July, Time magazine made the same charge - claiming administration officials had leaked Plame's name.

White House leak

Wilson charged that the White House had leaked the information in retribution for his op-ed declaration that the Bush administration "twisted [intelligence] to exaggerate the Iraqi threat".

A special prosecutor - Patrick Fitzgerald - has been assigned to uncover the identities of Novak's senior administration sources.

On 10 July, a federal judge held Time reporter Matthew Cooper in contempt and threatened him with jail if he did not produce the names of the administration officials cited in his - and Novak's - articles.