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Intelligence Failures: Background Report

The Senate Intelligence Committee released a report chiding the CIA and other intelligence agencies for failures in their analysis of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs prior to the U.S.-led invasion last spring. Kwame Holman reviews the committee's report.

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    The evidence most members of Congress reviewed in October 2002 before voting overwhelmingly in support of war against Iraq had been contained in a national intelligence estimate prepared by the CIA. Similar evidence was used by Secretary of State Colin Powell in his presentation to the U.N. Security Council four months later.

    CIA Director George Tenet sat directly behind Powell in an apparent sign of support for the accuracy of that information. Now, however, a one-year investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee released today concludes the CIA'S intelligence was wrong. This morning, Chairman Oat Roberts and vice-chairman Jay Rockefeller summarized the committee's findings.


    First of all, most of the key judgments in the October 2002 national intelligence estimate on Iraq's WMD programs were either overstated or were not supported by the raw intelligence reporting.

    Here are some examples of statements from the key judgments: "Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear program; Iraq has chemical and biological weapons; Iraq was developing an unmanned aerial vehicle, a UAV, probably intended to deliver biological warfare agents; and all key aspects– research and development and production– of Iraq's offensive biological weapons program are active, and that most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War." Now, these are very emphatic statements.

    Simply put, they were not supported by the intelligence which the community supplied to the committee, and they should not have been included in the NIE.


    The committee also concludes the intelligence community offered no explanations for the uncertainties that accompanied the information it gave to Congress and to the Bush administration, that intelligence collectors and analysts suffered from "group think"– they all presumed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and interpreted evidence that way; and that intelligence analysts weren't encouraged to challenge their assumptions or consider alternative arguments.

    The report also points to a significant lack of human intelligence gathering capabilities, that the CIA had no sources inside Iraq looking for evidence of weapons of mass destruction after 1998. But the committee also found no evidence that the president pressured the intelligence community to mischaracterize or exaggerate its information about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities.


    In the end, what the president and the Congress used to send the country to war was information that was provided by the intelligence community, and that information was flawed.


    At CIA headquarters in Virginia, John McLaughlin, who succeeds George Tenet as acting director on Monday, said the agency recognizes the mistakes it made and already has made changes.


    Although we think the judgments were not unreasonable when they were made nearly two years ago, we understand with all that we have learned since then that we could have done better. Some of our judgments have held up; some have been called into serious question.

    One significant error was in allowing the key judgments in our estimate on Iraq — that's the short summary at the front of the estimate — to be published without significant caveats, sufficient caveats and disclaimers, where our knowledge was incomplete. This is particularly unfortunate since the full text of that document, which apparently was not reviewed by all the readers, spells out the uncertainties and dissents much more fully.


    As for the Senate Intelligence Committee, it's working on phase two of its report, examining how the president used the information he was given on Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction capabilities.

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