Senate report lashes US intelligence over WMD

By Thomas Catan in Washington and Stephen Fidler in London

Financial Times

Published: July 11 2004

US intelligence agencies suffered from a "broken corporate culture" and ignored evidence that did not fit their preconceived notion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, a US senate inquiry has found.

In a blistering report published on Friday that criticised virtually every aspect of the Central Intelligence Agency's assessment of Iraq's military capabilities, the senate intelligence committee found that most salient judgements in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate "either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying int elligence reporting".

The NIE, which is meant to reflect the best intelligence information available, contained conclusions that were used to justify the invasion of Iraq. These included claims that Iraq was "reconstituting its nuclear programme", that it "has chemical weapons" and that it was developing an unmanned drone "probably intended to deliver biological warfare agents".

Following a year-long investigation that enjoyed unusual access to classified intelligence material, the senate committee staff identified "systemic weaknesses" in US intelligence, including inadequate intelligence collection, poor management and a lack of information sharing.

It found "significant shortcomings" in almost every aspect of the CIA's human spying mission, including the fact that it had no sources working inside Iraq after the United Nations weapons inspectors were ejected in 1998.

"Most, if not all, of these problems stem from a broken corporate culture and poor management, and will not be solved by additional funding and personnel," the inquiry found.

The committee's findings represent a searing indictment of the management of George Tenet on his last working day as director of central intelligence. It accuses Mr Tenet of abusing his access to the president to skew the the information he received in favour of the CIA's erroneous intelligence and shunting aside dissenting views from rival intelligence agencies.

But the report did not tackle the separate issue of whether the White House misused or exaggerated intelligence in order to justify an invasion of Iraq. Republicans on the committee ensured that topic will only be discussed in a subsequent report, due after the presidential elections.

Friday's report did exonerate the Bush administration from the charge that it pressed intelligence analysts to intepret data in a way that would bolster its case that Iraq posed a threat.

President Bush said the report was "useful" and that he wanted to know the truth about Iraq's WMD.

< p>Even before the report was published, Republicans were claiming it showed the blame for the faulty assessments of Iraq's illicit weapons programmes lay squarely with the CIA and not the White House.

"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," said Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the committee that produced the report.

The ranking Democrat on the panel, however, expressed his "real frustration" that the report did not contain discussion of the White House's role in promoting the existence of Iraqi WMD.

"The fact is that the administration, at all levels...used bad information to bolster its case for war," said John Rockefeller. "And we in Congress would not have authorised that war...if we knew what we know now."

John McLaughlin, who takes over as acting CIA director this weekend, acknowledged that the agency "could have done better" but  said it would be "wrong to exaggerate the flaws or leap to the judgment that our challenges with pre-war Iraq weapons intelligence are evidence of sweeping problems.

"We recognise those shortcomings and long before today's report have taken a number of steps to address them and to ensure that they are not repeated," he said in videotaped remarks broadcast by MSNBC.

Meanwhile, the British government and intelligence services are bracing for a high-level report due out next Wednesday into intelligence on weapons of mass destruction from a former senior civil servant, Lord Butler.

Lord Butler's inquiry has found that a March 2002 meeting of UK government officials decided that available intelligence was not strong enough to support the case for war in Iraq, according to someone aware of the inquiry’s deliberations.

The meeting bolsters the case that Tony Blair's government made a political decision to support US policy of regime change in Baghdad before it decided how to present the case to the public. Six months after the meeting, Tony Blair said in a public dossier that the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's WMD was "serious and current".