Panel Condemns Iraq Prewar Intelligence
Senate Report Faults 2002 Estimate Sent To Hill, Accuses the CIA of 'Group-Think'
By Dana Priest and Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 10, 2004; Page A01
The U.S. intelligence community gave lawmakers debating whether to wage war on Iraq a deeply flawed and exaggerated assessment of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, according to the results of a year-long, bipartisan Senate investigation released yesterday.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said either the intelligence community "overstated" the evidence that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons and was actively reconstituting its nuclear program, or that the claims were "not supported by the underlying intelligence."
The report refutes every major weapons assessment laid out in a key 2002 intelligence estimate provided to lawmakers before the war and cited by Bush administration officials to justify publicly the case for an invasion. The findings also offer a broad indictment of the way the CIA carried out its core mission, accusing the agency's leadership of succumbing to "group- think," of being too cautious to slip spies into Iraq and of failing to tell policymakers how weak their information really was.
Asked yesterday if he believes Congress would have supported the use of force if it had been aware of this information before lawmakers voted, committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said, "I don't know." He said he would have voted for war on humanitarian grounds and would have considered it more "like Bosnia and Kosovo." U.S. ground troops did not fight in those conflicts.
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (W.Va), the committee's ranking Democrat, was more emphatic. "We in Congress would not have authorized that war, in 75 votes, if we knew what we know now," he said. U.S. standing in the world "has never been lower, and as a direct consequence our nation is more vulnerable today than ever before."
In a 440-page report that came to 117 conclusions, the committee said the intelligence community correctly determined that "there were likely several instances of contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda throughout the 1990s, but that these contacts did not add up to an established formal relationship." The panel also concurred with the CIA's conclusion that "there was no evidence proving Iraqi complicity or assistance in an al Qaeda attack," including the Sept. 11, 2001, strikes at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The committee also concluded that the CIA overstated what it knew about Iraq's attempts to procure uranium in the African nation of Niger, and that it delayed for months examining documents that would prove to be forgeries, resulting in reports to policymakers that were "inconsistent and at times contradictory." No one at the CIA told the National Security Council of concerns about the credibility of the Niger intelligence as President Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech was drafted, contrary to officials' previous assertions, the report said.
In evaluating the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, the committee blamed intelligence leaders who "did not encourage analysts to challenge their assumptions, fully consider alternative arguments, accurately characterize the intelligence reporting, or counsel analysts who lost their objectivity."
Senate aides, who conducted hundreds of interviews with intelligence officials throughout the government as well as with United Nations weapons inspectors and others, said they found no evidence that junior or senior officials knowingly distorted or withheld information to make a particular case. Nor did they find evidence of undue political pressure by policymakers. But they did conclude that contradictory information was often ignored or dismissed.
Acting CIA Director John E. McLaughlin defended the agency in a rare news conference yesterday. "I don't think there is a broken corporate culture here at all," he said, adding that outgoing CIA director George J. Tenet had admitted "serious flaws" months ago and has remedied most of them.
"We get it," McLaughlin said, noting that caveats to key judgments were buried in the body of the October 2002 intelligence document, but from now on will be given equal weight. He added that, in the future, estimates and assumptions will be tested by "devil's advocates" from the agency as well as outside experts.
The Senate report is one of four major government inquiries into intelligence failures on Iraq and the Sept. 11 attacks.
As part of an agreement reached six months ago between Republicans and Democrats, the Roberts committee will investigate the administration's use of intelligence on Iraq. Critics have accused Bush, Vice President Cheney and other senior officials of exaggerating Iraq's links to al Qaeda and repeatedly suggesting that Iraq was involved in the terrorist attacks.
A Shortage of Spies
The Senate panel found "significant shortcomings in almost every aspect" of human intelligence that it said could not be blamed on a lack of funding or lack of qualified clandestine operatives, as the agency frequently suggests. Rather, it blamed "a broken corporate culture and poor management."
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