The Intelligence Agencies Didn’t Get It Wrong, The Bush Administration Did

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"The Intelligence Agencies Didn’t Get It Wrong, The Bush Administration Did"

    The Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing yesterday was the first time a congressional committee held a public hearing on the pre-Iraq War intelligence failure, and the first time any testimony had been taken on postwar intelligence failings. We still do not know for certain why officials were wrong in every one of their claims that Iraq posed such an immediate threat. But the available evidence strongly points towards a systematic campaign by senior officials to manipulate the intelligence. I explained why to the DPC panel yesterday:

    If it’s true that [the intelligence failures] were the fault of some “group think,” as the Senate Intelligence Committee said, or some “systemic weaknesses,” then surely the evidence of that would have showed up immediately after 1998, when the original UNSCOM inspectors were kicked out. But we found that when you look at the intelligence assessments from ’99, 2000, and 2001, you saw a rising level of concern as it became harder and harder for us to ascertain with certainty what Saddam was doing over these programs. But also deep caveats, deep cautions about what we actually knew. No certainty at all in this, and certainly nothing like the definitive answers that suddenly came out of the intelligence agencies in 2002, particularly with the NIE.

    The NIE took a dramatic leap forward that was a complete break with all previous intelligence. This led us to conclude that”¦intelligence failures were due primarily to political pressure brought to bear on the intelligence agencies by senior administration officials. [Video here.]

    Here are three ways that administration officials systematically misled the American people about the nature of the Iraqi threat:

    1. Administration officials repeatedly suggested that Hussein would transfer WMD to terrorist groups such as al Qaeda. There were no intelligence findings to support this claim.

    2. Administration officials routinely dropped caveats and uncertainty present in intelligence assessments. E.g. Cheney said he knew with “absolute certainty” Iraq was developing its nuclear program. Powell said there was “no doubt” that Iraq had biological weapons.

    3. Administration officials misrepresented the findings made by UN inspectors. Bush said prior to the war that U.N. inspectors concluded that Iraq had likely produced two to four times anthrax that had been found, but inspectors never said they actually had produced such materials.

    These false claims have been extensively critiqued elsewhere, including in the Carnegie report, WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications.

    It was not the analysts that killed the intelligence process, it was the politicians. America deserves a comprehensive assessment of the failure, including the operations of White House and Defense Department officials.

    Joseph Cirincione

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