Report Says CIA Distorted Iraq Data
Senate Panel Cites Exaggerations in Paper Made Public in 2002
By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 12, 2004; Page A01
In the only comprehensive assessment of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction released to the public before the war, the CIA exaggerated and distorted the evidence it had given Congress just days earlier, according to the Senate intelligence committee's report released last week.
The White Paper, released Oct. 4, 2002, and based on a classified assessment given to Congress, was the public's only look at the intelligence that policymakers used to decide whether Iraq posed enough of a threat to warrant immediate military action.
Yet the 28-page public document turned estimates into facts, left out or watered down the dissent within the government about key weapons programs, and exaggerated Iraq's ability to strike the United States, the investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found.
The heavily redacted White Paper section of the Senate report amounts to a pointed critique of the CIA's willingness to present an unbiased and objective account of the Iraqi threat to the American public.
It also raises questions about the CIA's selective declassification of material, a critique that was made by last year's joint Sept. 11 congressional inquiry and by the subsequent independent Sept. 11 commission.
In one case cited in the Senate report, a "key judgment" in the public document asserted that Iraq could quickly produce and weaponize "lethal and incapacitating biological weapons agents," including anthrax bacteria, "for delivery by bombs, missiles, aerial sprayers, and covert operations, including potentially against the U.S. Homeland."
The statement, the report said, "conveyed a level of threat to the United States homeland inconsistent with the classified National Intelligence Estimate."
The classified version, the Senate report noted, asserted that Iraq would try such attacks "if Baghdad feared an attack that threatened the survival of the regime were imminent or unavoidable, or possibly for revenge," and that such attacks would be carried out by special Iraqi forces or intelligence operatives.
Three days after the public document was released, President Bush said in a major speech to the nation in Cincinnati: "Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists. Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints."
The report also notes that the White Paper dropped such qualifiers as "we judge" and "we assess," making best estimates appear as fact.
Thus the classified report's language, "We assess that Baghdad has begun renewed production of mustard, sarin, cyclosarin, and VX . . . " became "Baghdad has begun renewed production . . . "
Also, the words "we have little specific information on Iraq's CW [chemical weapons] stockpile" were removed from the unclassified paper.
"Removing caveats such as 'we judge' and 'we assess' changed many sentences in the unclassified paper to statements of fact rather than assessments," the report noted. In doing so, the White Paper "misrepresented [the intelligence community's] judgments to the public," the Senate panel concluded.
The national intelligence officer who wrote the White Paper told the committee that dropping "we judge" and "we assess" from the public version was done for stylistic reasons. At the time the White Paper was written, he told the panel, he was unsure whether it would be released by the intelligence community or by the U.S. government, in which case using "we" would not make sense.
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