Senate Report Blasts Intelligence Agencies' Flaws
By William Branigin and Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 9, 2004; 3:42 PM
In a hard-hitting report released today, the U.S. Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence said the CIA and other agencies used unfounded "group think" assumptions to assess the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before last year's U.S. invasion and reached conclusions that were often either "overstated" or "not supported by the underlying intelligence."
"A series of failures, particularly in analytic trade craft, led to the mischaracterization of intelligence" about Iraqi weapons programs, the committee concluded, according to the report.
The 511-page report, the product of the committee's year-long investigation of pre-war intelligence on Iraq, also pointed to severe management problems at the CIA. The agency's director, George J. Tenet, announced his resignation last month for personal reasons and leaves office Sunday.
In accusing the CIA and its top leaders of engaging in a "group think dynamic," the committee said analysts and senior policymakers never questioned their long-held assumption that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. In addition, the committee reported, the CIA had no undercover agents in Iraq since 1998 to help gather reliable information and failed to tell policymakers of "the uncertainties of both the reliability of some key sources and of intelligence judgments."
Reacting to the report, CIA Deputy Director John E. McLaughlin told reporters this afternoon, "My first message to you is a very simple one: We get it."
In a briefing at CIA headquarters in Northern Virginia, he said, "Although we think the judgments were not unreasonable when they were made nearly two years ago, we understand with all we have learned since then that we could have done better."
Asked if anyone at the agency would be fired over the intelligence failure, McLaughlin said the CIA must not be "risk averse." He added, "I can think of nothing that would be more effective in generating aversion to risk than to hold an individual personally accountable for a mistake that might have been made by hundreds of people around the world. . . ."
President Bush called the report "useful" and said he looked forward to working with Congress on reforming the intelligence community.
"The idea that the Senate has taken a hard look to find out where the intelligence-gathering services went short is good and positive," Bush said during a political campaign stop in Kutztown, Pa. "We need to know. I want to know. I want to know how to make the agencies better, to make sure that we're better able to gather the information necessary to protect the American people."
Bush said that among the needed reforms were measures to "bolster human intelligence," make better use of technology and improve coordination among intelligence-gathering agencies.
While the committee's nine Republicans and eight Democrats voted unanimously to release the report, they expressed some differences about whether the Bush administration exerted undue political pressure on the intelligence community to provide assessments that supported a decision to go to war in Iraq. And Democrats lamented that a second phase of the committee's investigation -- into how the administration used the intelligence it received -- will not be completed until well after the November elections.
"Now it's important that we stop pointing fingers and we get to the bottom of the fact, to make sure we don't do this again," said Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, in an interview on CNN after the report was released.
In a joint news conference to present the report, the committee's Republican chairman and Democratic vice chairman agreed that the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies had suffered a massive intelligence failure in assessing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs in Iraq before the March 2003 U.S. invasion.
"The debate over many aspects of the U.S. liberation of Iraq will likely continue for decades," said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the chairman of the committee. "But one fact is now clear: before the war, the U.S. intelligence community told the president, as well as the Congress and the public, that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and, if left unchecked, would probably have a nuclear weapon during this decade. Today we know these assessments were wrong."
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