The co-chairmen of President Bush's commission on intelligence said yesterday that John D. Negroponte, the incoming director of national intelligence, should take action against agencies, and perhaps individuals, who were responsible for the worst of the glaring failures to accurately assess prewar Iraq's weapons programs.
"Wrong calls and failures to correct the record we believe were so serious that the DNI ought to look at those institutions and decide specific remedies," said former senator Charles S. Robb (D-Va.), during a joint interview yesterday with his co-chairman, retired appellate court judge Laurence H. Silberman.
Silberman said that he believed the CIA inspector general was looking into the matter. If any actions are taken, he added, "we would hope it would be by the CIA first," and then "believe the DNI would look at them all."
The commission's report, released Thursday, detailed how U.S. intelligence agencies were "dead wrong" in their belief that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. The nine-member panel, appointed by Bush last year to review the nation's intelligence system, concluded that grave shortcomings in those agencies persist and threaten the nation's ability to protect itself.
The commission's report, in a section titled "accountability," singled out three agencies for contributing "crucially to the Iraq WMD debacle." The three made such serious errors -- and then resisted admitting them -- that the commission urged the DNI to consider actions including reconstituting or reorganizing the units.
The three agencies were the Army's National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC), the Pentagon's Defense Humint Service (DHS) -- which specializes in "human intelligence" -- and the CIA's Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control Center, often referred to as WINPAC.
The NGIC, which does intelligence studies on foreign military equipment was "completely wrong" in concluding that aluminum tubes were not useful for rockets, thereby supporting the theory, later discarded, that Iraq acquired them to build uranium centrifuges for a nuclear weapons program. NGIC "did not pursue basic information" that could have prevented the misjudgments, the commission said, even though the subject was "at the core of [its] assigned area of expertise."
The DHS, which handles foreign-agent reports, "inexcusably failed" to rescind information provided by an Iraqi exile after learning he was a "known fabricator," according to the report. DHS then "compounded that error" by failing to notice that the fabricator's information was in Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's February 2003 speech to the U.N. Security Council.
In addition, DHS handled information from another Iraqi defector nicknamed "Curveball," who provided information, later disproved, that Iraq had mobile biological production facilities. DHS disseminated that information "while taking little or no responsibility for checking the accuracy of his reports," which originated with German intelligence, said the commission, which also labeled Curveball a "fabricator." When questioned about Curve Ball's information, DHS called itself a "conduit" for the material and resisted "the idea it had any real responsibility to vet his veracity," the panel said.
WINPAC, which handled all-source analysis on weapons of mass destruction, disseminated what turned out to be inaccurate information on both the aluminum tubes and Curveball's claims about the biological production facilities. WINPAC "showed great reluctance to correct these errors, even long after they had become obvious," the panel said.
The panel found that WINPAC analysts were forced to leave the center after they said reassessments should be circulated as a result of doubts about the accuracy of Curveball's information on Iraq chemical weapons.
An analyst who spoke out about Curveball told the commission he was " 'read the riot act' by his office director, who accused him of 'making waves' and 'being biased,' " according to the panel's report.
The commission was highly critical of the CIA's handling of questions within the agency about Curveball's credibility and why such doubts were not passed on to Powell before his U.N. speech. It disclosed that a division chief had first been told of German intelligence doubts about Curveball in the fall of 2002 and passed them on to other officials.
On the eve of the Powell speech, the division chief told the commission that, in a phone call with then-CIA Director George J. Tenet, he passed on that German intelligence had "problems" with Curveball. Tenet told the panel he does not recall getting that information.
Yesterday, Tenet released a statement disputing the commission's account. He said "nobody came forward" before Powell's speech to tell him "we have been told by the foreign representative of the [intelligence] service handling him that there are worries that he is a 'fabricator.' " What Tenet did recall, he said, is that he spoke to the division chief on the afternoon or early evening before Powell's speech to make certain that the German intelligence liaison officer in Washington had given clearance to use information including Curveball's claims in Powell's speech. The clearance was received "promptly" in a return phone call.
Tenet also said that, if doubts were raised about Curveball , they "should have immediately prompted formal reporting up the chain of command" to him. "It is both stunning and deeply disturbing that this information, if true, was never brought forward to me by anyone."
John E. McLaughlin, who was deputy CIA director at the time, said in a statement yesterday that he was unaware before Powell's speech that Curveball was considered "a likely fabricator," and that "I would never have permitted the use of such material by the secretary had I known this."