'A global intelligence failure': report damns pretext for war

By Andrew Buncombe in Washington

The Independent

10 July 2004

Claims made by President George Bush and others that Saddam Hussein possessed chemical and biological weapons and was seeking to develop a nuclear arsenal were based on flawed and faulty intelligence, a scathing Congressional report confirmed yesterday. But the report utterly failed to address the issue of whether the administration had manipulated intelligence for its own political ends.

The report by the Senate Intelligence Committee was highly critical of George Tenet, the outgoing head of the CIA, who leaves office tomorrow. It said he provided skewed advice to politicians and repeatedly failed to include dissenting views from other intelligence agencies, such as those controlled by the State Department and the Pentagon. It also blamed Mr Tenet for not personally vetting President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address, which contained the erroneous claim that Iraq was seeking to purchase uranium in Africa.

Yet critics of the administration will argue that the report - established with a narrow investigative remit - unfairly scapegoats Mr Tenet. The committee is only due to report on the administration's role in the intelligence failures after the November election.

Yesterday Senator Jay Rockefeller, the Democratic vice-chairman of the committee, said that while the report concluded there was no pressure placed on analysts by the administration to make certain judgements about Iraq, he and other Democrats on the committee disagreed with that conclusion. He said pressure was created by a "cascade of statements" about Iraq's weapons capabilities and the regime's alleged links with al-Qa'ida.

He said the Senate would not have voted overwhelmingly in 2002 to approve the war in Iraq if it had known how deeply flawed the intelligence was. He said there was real frustration among Democrats on the committee that it had not addressed the question of how intelligence was "shaped or used or misused by the policy-makers".

"The administration at all levels, and to some extent us, used bad information to bolster its case for war. And we in Congress would not have authorised that war ... if we knew what we know now," he said at a press conference following the report's publication. "Tragically, the intelligence failures set forth in this report will affect our national security for generations to come. Our credibility is diminished. Our standing in the world has never been lower. We have fostered a deep hatred of Americans in the Muslim world, and that will grow. As a direct consequence, our nation is more vulnerable today than ever before."

Republicans, who have the majority on the committee, have ensured that suggestions that the administration manipulated intelligence do not appear anywhere in the report's 500-plus pages. Rather the report chose to blame what it termed "group-think assumptions" Iraq had weapons that it did not. It said there were a number of factors for this. Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the committee, told reporters there had been a "global intelligence failure".

"This group-think dynamic led intelligence community analysts, collectors and managers to both interpret ambiguous evidence as conclusively indicative of a WMD programme as well as ignore or minimise evidence that Iraq did not have active and expanding weapons of mass destruction programmes," the report concluded. It said such assumptions also led analysts to inflate snippets of questionable information into broad declarations that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons.

By way of example, the report highlighted the highly controversial case of two lorries discovered in Iraq that were claimed by some to be mobile weapons laboratories. The discovery of these trucks - later found to be used for weather balloons - led analysts to conclude that Iraq was actively making chemical weapons, the report said. It also said analysts put great store by the since-discredited claims of one Iraqi defector code-named "Curve Ball". American agents did not have direct access to Curve Ball or his debriefers, but his information was expanded into the conclusion that Iraq had an advanced and active biological weapons programme.

Reports from other defectors - some provided by the Iraqi National Congress and its leader Ahmed Chalabi - were also relied on too heavily, it said.

This was because US intelligence had no sources collecting information about Saddam's weapons programme since 1998 when UN weapons inspectors were pulled out of Iraq.

Mr Bush's spokesman, Scott McClellan, said the committee's report essentially "agrees with what we have said, which is we need to take steps to continue strengthening and reforming our intelligence capabilities so we are prepared to meet the new threats that we face in this day and age".

The report appears to be greatly at odds with the views of several former intelligence analysts who believe that intelligence was "cherry picked" and skewed to make the case for war and that caveats inserted by analysts about the lack of solid intelligence about Saddam's capabilities were ignored for political reasons. Much of this skewed intelligence was gathered by a specially formed team within the Pentagon and the former analysts believe that putting the blame on the regular intelligence community amounted to a "whitewash".

Greg Thielmann, a former analyst with the State Department's Intelligence Bureau, said intelligence provided by his organisation was routinely ignored by the administration because it did not fit with its preconceived ideas about what weapons Saddam possessed. "I call it faith-based intelligence gathering," Mr Thielmann previously told The Independent about the way facts were collated. "Analysts want to maintain relationships. Tenet spoke to the President six days a week [for his daily intelligence briefing]. If he went and said, 'Mr President, you have misrepresented what my analysts said', how long would he keep going to the White House?"

Mr Tenet is not leaving the CIA without putting up something of a fight for his reputation. On Thursday he gave a farewell speech in which he said: "In the end the American people will weigh and assess our record where intelligence has done well and where we have fallen short." In February - perhaps aware of the growing pressure on him to resign - Mr Tenet denied that analysts had ever said Iraq represented "an imminent threat". In a strident defence of his agency, he said that analysts had various opinions about the state of Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programmes and that these were clearly spelled out in a report handed to the White House in October 2002. That report, the National Intelligence Estimate, included 40 caveats and dissents from various analysts.

"We concluded that in some ... categories Iraq had weapons, and that in others, where it did not have them, it was trying to develop them," he said.

THE MAIN POINTS

• CIA fell victim to "group-think" assumptions

• CIA director George Tenet is criticised for providing skewed intelligence and ignoring dissident views. Also blamed for not reviewing 2003 State of the Union address

• Intelligence community relied too heavily on reports from Iraqi exiles and defectors

• Intelligence community has "broken corporate culture and poor management". Extra cash would not help