CIA Skewed Iraq Reporting, Senate Says
By Dafna Linzer and Barton Gellman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 11, 2004; Page A19
Last August, a small team of Senate investigators trying to determine how U.S. intelligence assessments of Iraq had failed went looking for answers in a place where the Bush administration believed there were not any: the offices of U.N. nuclear inspectors in Vienna. The inspectors had determined, before the war, that Iraq did not have a nuclear weapons program.
During the secret, day-long meeting at the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the congressional sleuths focused on aluminum tubes the CIA had said Iraq was seeking to develop a nuclear weapon. It was that claim that led the CIA to conclude that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program.
The U.N. teams had investigated and rejected that claim, much to the anger of the White House. But others, it turned out, had rejected it, too. When the Senate investigators left Vienna that day, they took back to Washington the names of U.S. intelligence community analysts who never agreed with the CIA's claims and, in many cases, refuted them.
The information, some of which is included in the extraordinary critique of U.S. prewar intelligence efforts released Friday by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, reveals the extent of the CIA's determination to keep alive the Iraqi nuclear issue long after it had been thoroughly rebutted both inside and outside the agency. The report also exposed the true nature of the CIA's relationship with U.N. inspectors whose determinations about Iraq's nuclear programs ultimately prevailed.
Contrary to public statements from outgoing CIA Director George J. Tenet and other senior officials, the CIA had not provided U.N. weapons inspectors with all of the best information it had on possible weapons locations in the run-up to war, according to the report.
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice told Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), a member of the intelligence committee, two weeks before the U.S. attacked Iraq in March 2003, that "United Nations inspectors have been briefed on every high- or medium-priority weapons of mass destruction, missile, and UAV-related site the U.S. Intelligence Community has identified."
The committee report characterized that statement and others as "factually incorrect." Of the 148 suspect sites identified by the CIA before the war, 67 were shared with the United Nations.
Not only was the CIA keeping information from the inspectors -- whose reports on Iraq's weapons would greatly influence international support for the war -- its rationale for deciding what information to share with them was "subjective, inconsistently applied and not well-documented," according to the Senate report .
The teams led by Hans Blix, director of the U.N. effort to find chemical, biological and missile programs, were stunned by how little the CIA seemed to know about suspected sites, according to a Senate source familiar with the investigation. Senate investigators interviewed Blix and the head of intelligence analysis for the U.N. inspection teams whose headquarters were in New York.
Among the details that have not surfaced in the report but were shared with Senate investigators, was that requests by the U.N. teams to interview Iraqi defectors who were providing public accounts of Iraq's weapons programs were flatly denied, according to foreign diplomats associated with the investigation. Also, nuclear inspectors were not given information on any new sites at all -- mostly because the aluminum tubes made up the extent of the CIA's nuclear case.
The CIA was convinced the tubes were to be used in centrifuges that could enrich uranium for use in a nuclear weapon. But other U.S. intelligence analysts and the IAEA produced substantial evidence that the tubes were for conventional rockets that Iraq was allowed to possess under U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The Senate report shows that when the CIA put together its intelligence on the tubes, it withheld some evidence that did not accord with its conclusions, circulated other data in ways the Senate said was "at minimum, misleading," and tried to tilt ostensibly independent consulting reports toward the conclusion that the tubes were evidence of a nascent Iraqi nuclear program.
Speaking Friday, John E. McLaughlin, the acting CIA director, said the agency's error was to write reports "without sufficient caveats and disclaimers where our knowledge was incomplete."
The bipartisan Senate report, however, depicted something more troubling: an agency that knowingly skewed its reports to fit its convictions about an Iraqi nuclear threat.
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