Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told Congress yesterday that creating a new national intelligence director could guard against the type of faulty intelligence that led him to tell the United Nations in February 2003 that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Appearing before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, Powell also said it is "unlikely that we will find any stockpiles" of chemical or biological weapons in Iraq, and he offered a strong criticism of the intelligence community's performance before the war in concluding that those weapons were there. Powell said he relied on those assessments in preparing the U.N. speech, which he now considers flawed.
Powell's testimony yesterday, delivered as congressional committees consider reorganization of the nation's intelligence system, contained some of his most extensive comments to date on the failures of the CIA and other intelligence agencies. It also struck a more pessimistic tone than President Bush has about the chances that continued searching will uncover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Bush has said he is awaiting final reports of U.S. weapons inspectors.
Powell told the committee that over the past year he had found "that some of the sourcing that was used to give me the basis upon which to bring forward that judgment to the United Nations were flawed, were wrong." Moreover, he said the sources "had not been vetted widely enough across the intelligence community," and said he was "distressed" because some in the community "had knowledge that the sourcing was suspect and that was not known to me."
Powell said creating a national intelligence director -- one of the key recommendations of the Sept.11 commission -- would ensure that all the intelligence was brought together and evaluated for officials who make decisions on it, and would guarantee that "what one person knew, everyone else knew." With an "important, empowered national intelligence director, you are less likely to have those kinds of mistakes made," he said.
In testimony, Powell and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge expressed support for appointment of a national intelligence chief, though each said there are still details to be worked out in the approach that will be supported by Bush.
Their comments came as several congressional panels wade through proposals of the Sept. 11 commission -- many of which Bush has endorsed, at least in part. The commission urged appointment of a national intelligence director to coordinate the activities of the CIA and more than a dozen intelligence agencies at the Defense Department and elsewhere in government. Among the details to be worked out by Congress is how much authority to give the new intelligence chief to direct spending and personnel decisions at those agencies.
The commission -- which concluded that a lack of coordination among those agencies failed to prevent the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- also recommended creation of a national counterterrorism center, a clearinghouse for counterterrorism information.
Ridge cautioned that the proposed counterterrorism center should not be given roles his department is already playing, such as providing terrorism data to state and local entities. "We don't want to start building up independent lines of communications," Ridge said.
Powell also indicated that the White House has still not determined just where the national intelligence director, or NID, will fit bureaucratically in the government. "We still have to look at exactly how the NID is placed organizationally within the executive branch," Powell said, noting that Bush had "made clear" it would not be in the executive office of the president, as the Sept. 11 commission recommended.
Powell also appeared to take issue with a suggestion by former CIA director Robert M. Gates that the new national intelligence chief have the CIA director as his deputy so that he is directly associated with one of the agencies in the intelligence community. The new intelligence chief, if divorced from any of the 15 agencies in the community, would be "in a more powerful position to question any of the information or judgments that he is being given from any one of the organizations of government," Powell said.
Senate confirmation hearings begin today for Bush's nominee to be CIA director, Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.).