President Bush today welcomed the "unvarnished" look at intelligence failures leading up to the Iraq war produced by a special panel he appointed, asserting that "the central conclusion is one that I share: America's intelligence community needs fundamental change."
The panel, chaired by senior U.S. Appeals Court Judge Laurence H. Silberman and former senator Charles S. Robb (D-Va.), was direct and unsparing in its conclusions, saying the intelligence community was not a community at all but a fragmented collection of rival bureaucracies that were consistently and unfailingly "wrong" on almost every point with regard to Iraq.
Transcript: The Post's Dana Priest discusses the WMD commission's report.
Video: President Bush discusses the release of the commission's report.
Transcript: Text of Bush's Thursday press conference with commission co-chairs.
_____White House Briefing_____
Columnist Dan Froomkin's report about the WMD Commission.
More broadly, it said, the intelligence agencies have become obsolete, technologically backward and "increasingly irrelevant" to the new challenges confronting the United States since the end of the Cold War.
It recommended a host of significant changes designed to produce a more flexible, more responsive and more integrated approach to gathering and using intelligence.
While the report dealt at length with how the United States overestimated the threat from former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Bush focused his response on the need to avoid underestimating threats.
Intelligence collection and analysis will "never be perfect," Bush said. "But in an age where our margin for error is getting smaller, the consequences of underestimating a threat could be tens of thousands of lives."
Bush, appearing with Silberman and Robb, called the report "a sharp critique of the way intelligence has been collected and analyzed against some of the most difficult intelligence targets, especially Iraq. . . . We will correct what needs to be fixed," Bush said. "We have had some successes . . . and we must work to replicate these successes in other areas."
Noting that he has already accepted recommendations from previous panels to establish a director of national intelligence, he conceded that more needs to be done. "We need to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on the weapons of mass murder they would like to use against our citizens. . . . America needs to know much more about intentions of our most dangerous adversaries"
The report said that U.S. intelligence is now "unable to gather intelligence on the very things we care the most about," and is too willing to accept the gaps in its knowledge without telling decision makers "just how limited" the knowledge really is.
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 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. 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 study did not deal with how policymakers used the information they were given by the intelligence agencies.
The report said the panel did examine "the possibility that intelligence analysts were pressured by policymakers to change their judgements" about Iraq's capabilities. It found that "the analysts who worked Iraqi weapons issues universally agreed that in no instance did political pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgements."
The report added, however, that "it is hard to deny the conclusion that intelligence analysts worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom."
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld issued his own statement on the report as well today but made no promises of change.
"I have asked that DoD officials responsible for intelligence activities review the report with care, undertake a systematic review of the commission's recommendations, and make suggestions to me for improvements," he said in a written statement.
"Intelligence will continue to be a critical underpinning for U.S. national security capabilities. As the circumstances in the world continue to evolve, the US intelligence community must have insights into the challenges and continue to strengthen and improve the way intelligence is collected and analyzed."