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U.S. Intelligence and Its Prewar Failures

"Spy Panel Condemns Iraq Prewar Intelligence"
Washington Post writer Dana Priest reports on the conclusions of a year-long, bipartisan Senate investigation into the information that the U.S. intelligence community provided to policy-makers leading up to the war in Iraq. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence determined that intelligence agencies such as the CIA provided lawmakers with "a deeply flawed and exaggerated assessment" of the WMD threat and was "`purposefully aggressive in seeking to draw connections' between Iraq and Al-Qaeda.'" It found the CIA to have "`significant shortcomings in almost every aspect' of human intelligence that could not be blamed on a lack of funding or lack of clandestine operatives, as the agency frequently suggests," and that much of the information used as evidence to solidify the case for war was "`at minimum, misleading.'" (July 11, 2004)

"The Stovepipe"
This New Yorker article by Seymour Hersh examines how conflicts between the Bush Administration and the intelligence community marred the reporting on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The article shows that the Bush Administration dismantled "the existing filtering process that […] had been preventing the policymakers from getting bad information," creating "stovepipes to get the information directly to the top leadership." Using the Niger "yellowcake" controversy as a primary example, Hersh shows that this flood of raw data reaching policymakers without proper analysis, coupled with intelligence officials eager to "endear" themselves to the Administration, led to the use of faulty or incomplete information to strengthen the case for war. (October 27, 2003)

"Intelligence Failures"
In this Policy Review article, Richard L. Russell, Ph.D., a professor of national security affairs at the National Defense University's Near East-South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, denounces the recent failures of the U.S. intelligence community, specifically their inability "to disrupt the conspiracy of September 11 and its less-than-stellar performance in assessing Iraqi WMD programs." He focuses on the shortcomings of the CIA, stressing its "ponderous bureaucratic structure that makes it sluggish in response to events," its "onerous security requirements" that discourage potential employees, and its incapacity to satisfactorily train and retain field agents and expert analysts. He calls for a reorganization of the CIA modeled on "the private-information sector" and for a "talent infusion" that would lead the CIA "away from the bulk of its shallow tactical intelligence and toward a professional atmosphere." (February 1, 2004)

"Intelligence, Policy, and the War in Iraq"
In this Foreign Affairs article, former National Intelligence Officer and CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar maintains that the administration's use of intelligence in the run-up to war "turned the entire model upside down. The administration used intelligence not to inform decision-making, but to justify decisions already made." Pillar oversaw the writing of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and the declassified "white paper" on the subject. He also authored a 2004 NIE predicting sectarian turmoil in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq -- a document which was leaked to the press in the midst of that year's presidential campaign. "What is most remarkable about prewar U.S. intelligence on Iraq is not that it got things wrong and thereby misled policymakers; it is that it played so small a role in one of the most important U.S. policy decisions in recent decades." (March/April 2006)

"After 14-Month Inquiry, Many Questions Remain"
Washington Post writer Dana Milbank reports on the findings of the bipartisan, congressionally-appointed Silberman-Robb commission after its 14-month inquiry into U.S. intelligence failures leading up to the war in Iraq. The commission concluded that faulty evidence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was entirely the result of poor quality control among the intelligence community, exonerating the policy-makers. But Milbank considers the commission's political independence suspect, as the commission, despite its "unfettered access to the government's most sensitive documents" and the possibility of interviewing Bush and Cheney, relied on a book by Bob Woodward that "anybody can buy at Border's" for much of its supporting evidence. (April 1, 2005)


Dick Cheney in Profile

"The Quiet Man"
A few months before 9/11, New Yorker writer Nicholas Lemann delved into Vice President Cheney's political and personal life to unravel "Cheney's mystique." In this detailed portrait tracing the conservative leader's path from his days as a Yale University dropout to Washington's inner circles, Lemann depicts him "as a man with powerful anti-charisma" endowed with the gift of making "`powerful people feel comfortable investing in him.'" Though many have described him as a "bland" character "with no political ambition," Lemann uncovers the colorful methods that this understated man of ideas has used to leave his lasting mark on American government and its power players. (May 7, 2001)

"Cheney's Long Path to War"
This Newsweek article tells the inside story of how Vice President Cheney helped persuade a nation to invade Iraq. It reveals that after 9/11 the vice president immediately turned his attention to "the Iraqi threat" and sidestepped established intelligence agencies and procedures when these did not strengthen his case for war or confirm his "dark prognosis" of the world. Though the article clarifies that "Cheney, say those who know him, is in no way cynically manipulative," Newsweek paints a picture of "a vice president that may be too powerful for his own good," as he and his political ally, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, participated in "cherry-picking" intelligence to confirm their "same strategic vision: pessimistic and dark." (November 17, 2003)

"In Cheney's Shadow, Counsel Pushes the Conservative Cause"
A Dana Milbank profile from The Washington Post of David Addington, one of the major players in Dick Cheney's push to expand the powers of the presidency. At the time of the article, Addington served as counsel to the vice president; since then he has been promoted to Cheney's chief of staff, replacing the indicted I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. "Where there has been controversy over the past four years, there has often been Addington," Milbank writes. "He was a principal author of the White House memo justifying torture of terrorism suspects. He was a prime advocate of arguments supporting the holding of terrorism suspects without access to courts." (October 11, 2004)

Cheney In His Own Words
Excerpts from Cheney's writings and statements on presidential power, pre-emptive tactics and covert action that reveal a remarkable consistency over two decades.


George Tenet in Profile

"How George Tenet Brought the CIA Back From The Dead"
A Fortune magazine profile of Tenet by Bill Powell is mostly positive about the director of central intelligence's management style: "Amid controversy and two wars, he's led a classic turnaround by running the Agency like a business." The article lays out the dire state of the CIA when Tenet came on the job; it makes no mention of the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a problem that was beginning to become apparent at the time of the article's publication. (October 12, 2003)

"Intelligence: With Spies Like These ..."
This Newsweek article by Evan Thomas dissects the state of the CIA in the wake of George Tenet's resignation. Thomas sums up Tenet's time at the CIA as follows: "George Tenet's stormy tenure serves as a case study in the vicissitudes of intelligence. Tenet was seen as one of the great Washington survivors, a kind of "Crazy Legs" Hirsh of the bureaucracy, able to nimbly dance past the vicious infighting between his own organization and its rivals at State, Defense, Justice and the White House. But Tenet's buoyant charm concealed a much more serious and desperate struggle: to create an espionage service that could protect the United States from terrorists."


Primary Sources and Government Reports

Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction
The National Security Archive of George Washington University provides an electronic briefing book including "both essential pre-war documentation and documents produced or released subsequent to the start of military action" in Iraq in March 2003. The website provides documents ranging from the major unclassified U.S. and British assessments of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction from the 1980s to the 2000s, to reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to key political speeches. Among the primary sources collected are the controversial "white paper," on Iraq's WMD, declassified portions of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, the forged Niger yellowcake documents, Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations, and speeches by President Bush and former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet.

Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction
The Web site of the so-called Silberman-Robb commission, which "was charged with assessing whether the Intelligence Community is sufficiently authorized, organized, equipped, trained, and resourced to identify and warn in a timely manner of, and to support United States Government efforts to respond to, the development and transfer of knowledge, expertise, technologies, materials, and resources associated with the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, related means of delivery, and other related threats of the 21st Century and their employment by foreign powers (including terrorists, terrorist organizations, and private networks)." Includes the commission's March 31, 2005 final report in html and PDF formats.

Report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence on Iraq
Dated July 9, 2004, the SSCI report concluded, among other things, that "most of the major key judgments in the Intelligence Community's October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), Iraq's Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction, either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting. A series of failures, particularly in analytic trade craft, led to the mischaracterization of the intelligence." [24.2 MB PDF file; Adobe Acrobat Reader required]

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posted june 20, 2006

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