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Dissent on Intelligence Is Critical, Report Says

Commission's Ideas Diverge From Planned Centralization

By Walter Pincus and Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Page A01

A presidential commission assigned to look into the intelligence failures leading up to the Iraq war will recommend a series of changes intended to encourage more dissent within the nation's spy agencies and better organize the government's multi-tentacled fight against terrorism, officials said yesterday.

In a report to be made public tomorrow, the officials said, the panel will propose more competitive analysis and information-sharing by intelligence agencies, improved tradecraft training, more "devil's advocacy" in the formation of national intelligence estimates and the appointment of an intelligence ombudsman to hear from analysts who believe their work has been compromised.

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The report will also suggest the creation of a new national nonproliferation center to coordinate the fight against weapons of mass destruction, according to officials who have read the 700-page classified version of the report and declined to be identified because it has not been released. But unlike the trend toward greater centralization enshrined in a new intelligence law signed by President Bush, the report envisions the center as a facilitating body and urges the government to keep its specialists dispersed in various intelligence agencies.

The net result, according to officials, would be to move away from the intelligence community's tradition of searching for consensus, in favor of opening up internal debate and including a more diverse spectrum of views. The goal is to provide policymakers a fuller understanding of the state of the government's knowledge.

Bush appointed the panel, officially known as the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, in February 2004 after initially resisting any further examination of the assessments that preceded his decision to invade Iraq.

Like other studies, the commission report offers a scathing review of the CIA for concluding that Saddam Hussein had secret weapons that ultimately were never found, while also taking aim at the FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and other agencies, according to officials. In addition, it examines the performance of intelligence agencies in Iran, North Korea, Libya and Pakistan, but the Iran and North Korea sections remain classified.

The White House, while refusing to disclose the contents of the report, embraced it as the authoritative account of what went wrong in Iraq. Bush was briefed on the report yesterday by aides who have reviewed it. The president will meet with the panel's co-chairmen, Senior U.S. Appeals Court Judge Laurence H. Silberman and former senator Charles S. Robb (D-Va.), at the White House tomorrow and then join the two at a briefing for reporters.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan praised the report as "a very thorough job" and suggested that Bush would adopt many, though not necessarily all, of its ideas. "We will carefully consider the recommendations and act quickly on the recommendations, as well," he told reporters at his daily briefing. "They build upon the steps we've already taken to improve our intelligence-sharing and -gathering."

But McClellan offered no second thoughts about the Iraq war despite the intelligence failures documented in the commission report. "Saddam Hussein's regime was creating instability in the region, and we are better off with his regime out of power," he said.

In analyzing the preparation of Iraq intelligence, the commission singled out case studies that demonstrated faulty conclusions. Among those highlighted was the allegation that Iraq had built unmanned aerial vehicles that could be loaded with weapons of mass destruction and sent to attack the United States. The report noted that Air Force analysts expressed serious doubts about such a scenario, but were disregarded.

The panel also dissected the use of information from an Iraqi exile nicknamed "Curve Ball," a German intelligence source who was never questioned by the CIA but provided information on Iraq's supposed mobile biological weapons production facilities. Curve Ball's assertions provided the basis for some statements by then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to the U.N. Security Council, but the information was later questioned by the Germans and eventually by U.S. intelligence.

The panel's conclusions and recommendations will be made public in a declassified version of the report that runs over 500 pages and is summarized in a 40-page overview, all of which will be posted on the Internet tomorrow, officials said. Some findings were reported yesterday in the New York Times.

The commission's plan for remedying the problems it found follows a reorganization of the intelligence community that Bush signed into law in December, a move also motivated by dissatisfaction with the misjudgments on Iraq. The legislation led to the recent nomination of longtime diplomat John D. Negroponte as the first director of national intelligence, charged with coordinating the government's 15 disparate intelligence agencies, and the commission offers him guidance on how to proceed once he assumes the job.

Among other things, the panel plans to recommend that the FBI move more quickly to modernize its computer systems and broaden access to its security information, and that the Justice Department create a new national security division, according to officials.

The changes to intelligence-gathering were meant to emphasize improving the quality of the analysis, officials said. Government specialists should be left in their jobs rather than moved to other fields, and intelligence analysis should be made into more of a career track, the panel concluded. Rather than smothering disagreement, analysts would be encouraged to explain why they reached different conclusions.

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