Key Assertions for War in Iraq Were Incorrect, Senate Panel Says

Associated Press

Wall Street Journal

July 10, 2004

WASHINGTON -- The key U.S. assertions leading to the 2003 invasion of Iraq -- that then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons and was working to make nuclear weapons -- were wrong and based on false or overstated CIA analyses, a scathing Senate Intelligence Committee report asserts.

Intelligence analysts fell victim to "group think" assumptions that Iraq had weapons that it didn't, concluded a bipartisan report. Many factors contributing to those failures are continuing problems within the U.S. intelligence community -- which cannot be fixed with more money alone, it said.

The report didn't address a key allegation by Democrats: that President Bush and other officials further twisted the evidence to back their calls for war against Iraq. The committee's top Democrat, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, said he was disappointed the panel did not look into what he called "exaggerated" claims of the Iraqi threat by top administration officials.

Mr. Bush called it a "useful report" about where the intelligence community "went short." "We need to know. I want to know. I want to know how to make the agencies better," he said at a political stop Friday in Kutztown, Pa.

At a rare news conference at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., deputy director John McLaughlin, who takes over as acting director after George Tenet leaves Sunday, said: "We get it. Although we think the judgments were not unreasonable when they were made nearly two years ago, we understand with all we have learned since then, that we could have done better."

Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican who heads the committee, told reporters that assessments that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons and could make a nuclear weapon by the end of the decade were wrong.

"As the report will show, they were also unreasonable and largely unsupported by the available intelligence," Mr. Roberts said. "This was a global intelligence failure."

The report repeatedly blasts departing Mr. Tenet, accusing him of skewing advice to top policy makers with the CIA's view and elbowing out dissenting views from other intelligence agencies overseen by the State or Defense Departments.

It faults Mr. Tenet for not personally reviewing Mr. Bush's 2003 State of the Union address, which contained since-discredited references to Iraq's attempts to purchase uranium in Africa.

Intelligence analysts worked from the assumption that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons and was seeking to make more, as well as trying to revive a nuclear weapons program, the report said. But investigations after the Iraq invasion have shown that Mr. Hussein had no nuclear weapons program and no biological weapons and only small amounts of chemical weapons have been found.

Analysts ignored or discounted conflicting information because of their assumptions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the report said.

"This 'group think' dynamic led intelligence community analysts, collectors and managers to both interpret ambiguous evidence as conclusively indicative of a WMD program as well as ignore or minimize evidence that Iraq did not have active and expanding weapons of mass destruction programs," the report concludes.

Such assumptions also led analysts to inflate snippets of questionable information into broad declarations that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons, the report said.

For example, speculation that the presence of one specialized truck could mean an effort to transfer chemical weapons was puffed up into a conclusion that Iraq was actively making chemical weapons, the report says.

Analysts also concluded that Iraq had a mobile biological weapons program based mainly on the since-discredited claims of one Iraqi defector code-named "Curve Ball," it said. American agents didn't have direct access to Curve Ball or his debriefers, but the source's information was expanded into the conclusion that Iraq had an advanced and active biological weapons program, the report said.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the report showed that some material Secretary of State Colin Powell used to try to induce the U.N. to support war with Iraq was flawed.

But, Mr. Boucher said, "The basic case was a correct one. Iraq wanted weapons of mass destruction." He said there was no reason for Mr. Powell to apologize for his U.N. presentation.

The Senate committee's report had been expected to be released last year, but was delayed for months over disputes including internal committee debates about the review's scope and the CIA's initial proposal to classify roughly 40% of the report, citing national security. After negotiations, just under 20% will be held back from the public.

In Britain, an inquiry into the quality of British intelligence on Iraqi weapons will publish its report on Wednesday. Before the war, Prime Minister Tony Blair was adamant that Mr. Hussein possessed stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.