By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 9, 2004; 11:16 AM
In a hard-hitting report released today, the U.S. Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence described a massive intelligence failure by the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies in failing to accurately assess Iraq's weapons of mass destruction before last year's U.S. invasion.
The intelligence community's assessments of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's possession of prohibited weapons not only turned out to be "wrong" in hindsight, but they were "also unreasonable and largely unsupported by the available intelligence" in the first place, said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the committee chairman, in summarizing the report.
Among other findings, he told a news conference, "the committee concluded that the intelligence community was suffering from . . . a collective group-think." He said this caused the intelligence community "to interpret ambiguous elements . . . as conclusive evidence of the existence of WMD programs." But the group-think also extended to U.S. allies, the United Nations and other countries, he said.
"This was a global intelligence failure," Roberts said.
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the committee's vice chairman, called the assessments of Iraq before the 2003 war "one of the most devastating intelligence failures in the history of the nation."
He said in the same news conference, "We in Congress would not have authorized that war with 75 votes if we knew what we know now." While the government "didn't connect the dots" in analyzing clues before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he said, "in Iraq we were even more culpable, because the dots themselves never existed."
As a result of the intelligence failures, he said, "our credibility is diminished, our standing in the world has never been lower" and "we have fostered a deep hatred of Americans in the Muslim world." Rockefeller added, "As a direct consequence, our nation is more vulnerable today than ever before."
The 511-page Senate report represents the first phase of a two-part review of intelligence on Iraq. Left for the second phase -- in a second report likely to be released well after the November elections -- is the question of how the Bush administration used the intelligence that was provided to it.
Although the intelligence committee agreed that there was a broad intelligence failure in reporting on pre-war Iraq, the committee's bipartisan unity broke down over the issue of whether CIA analysts were pressured by the administration to draw the conclusions they did about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), a senior Democrat on the committee, said the report highlights "failures of leadership in the CIA to make sure that they came up with objective reports" on Iraq. Despite the Bush administration's preparations to attack Iraq last year, Levin told NBC's "Today Show" this morning, "They just weren't ready at the CIA."
He added: "But I think it's also clear that they were shaping intelligence in order to meet the policy needs of the administration. There can't be much doubt about that as an explanation."
Interviewed on the same program, Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) said that view "isn't fair" and does not represent the committee's unanimous conclusion.
She said, "What happened here was a systemic failure throughout the intelligence community. . . . There was no human intelligence operations. They didn't place a priority on it. So there was failure across the board within the community.
"No analyst is going to say they changed their view as a result of specific pressure," Levin countered. "No analyst is going to admit that. But there is no doubt and this report reflects the fact that there was tremendous pressure inside the agency. As a matter of fact, [CIA Director George J.] Tenet himself said, and this report reflects that, that he was told by analysts that they were under tremendous pressure. And what Tenet said is, well, in that case, just try to ignore that pressure. But the pressure was clearly there."
Yesterday, Levin said in a press conference that the committee's report "is full of omissions, errors, inconsistencies, failures on the part of the CIA, and appropriately so. It is a hard-hitting report." Left out of this phase of the investigation, he said, "is the use or misuse of the intelligence that was provided."
He said the report "does not purport to address the central issue of the administration's exaggerations of the intelligence that was provided to them by the CIA. That issue is left for the second phase of the Intelligence Committee's investigation."
Levin said that "many, many questions that we have asked the CIA remain unanswered. . . ." But one question that was answered only Wednesday, he said, "demonstrates that it was the administration, not the CIA, that exaggerated the relations between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda."
He said the CIA found that, contrary to assertions by Vice President Cheney and other officials, there was no credible information that a purported meeting in Prague in April 2001 between an Iraqi intelligence agent and Mohamed Atta, one of the Sept. 11 hijackers, actually occurred.