Analysts Behind Iraq Intelligence Were Rewarded

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 28, 2005

Two Army analysts whose work has been cited as part of a key intelligence failure on Iraq -- the claim that aluminum tubes sought by the Baghdad government were most likely meant for a nuclear weapons program rather than for rockets -- have received job performance awards in each of the past three years, officials said.

The civilian analysts, former military men considered experts on foreign and U.S. weaponry, work at the Army's National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC), one of three U.S. agencies singled out for particular criticism by President Bush's commission that investigated U.S. intelligence.

The Army analysts concluded that it was highly unlikely that the tubes were for use in Iraq's rocket arsenal, a finding that bolstered a CIA contention that they were destined for nuclear centrifuges, which was in turn cited by the Bush administration as proof that Saddam Hussein was reconstituting Iraq's nuclear weapons program.

The problem, according to the commission, which cited the two analysts' work, is that they did not seek or obtain information available from the Energy Department and elsewhere showing that the tubes were indeed the type used for years as rocket-motor cases by Iraq's military. The panel said the finding represented a "serious lapse in analytic tradecraft" because the center's personnel "could and should have conducted a more exhaustive examination of the question."

Pentagon spokesmen said the awards for the analysts were to recognize their overall contributions on the job over the course of each year. But some current and former officials, including those who called attention to the awards, said the episode shows how the administration has failed to hold people accountable for mistakes on prewar intelligence.

Despite sharp critiques from the president's commission and the Senate intelligence committee, no major reprimand or penalty has been announced publicly in connection with the intelligence failures, though investigations are still underway at the CIA. George J. Tenet resigned as CIA director but was later awarded the Medal of Freedom by Bush.

The president's commission urged the Bush administration to consider taking action against the agencies, and perhaps the individuals, responsible for the most serious errors in assessing Iraq's weapons program.

Washington lawyer Richard Ben-Veniste, who was a member of the Sept. 11 commission and whose government experience goes back to service as a Watergate prosecutor, said it is important for the administration to hold the intelligence community accountable for mistakes.

"It matters whether it was carelessness or tailoring [of intelligence], whether it was based on perceived wants of an administration or overt requests . . . It is time now to demonstrate the need for the integrity of the process," Ben-Veniste said.

In its report, the commission, chaired by former appellate judge Laurence H. Silberman and former senator Charles S. Robb (D-Va.), said "reform requires more than changing the community's systems: it also requires accountability."

One step, the commission said, could be for the new director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, to "hold accountable the organizations that contributed to the flawed assessments of Iraq's WMD program."

With regard to the NGIC and two other agencies that committed errors -- the Defense Humint Service, which specializes in "human intelligence," and the CIA's Weapons Intelligence Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Center, or WINPAC -- the commission said Negroponte should give "serious consideration to whether each of these organizations should be reconstituted, substantially reorganized or made subject to detailed oversight."

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