Senate: Iraq intelligence was faulty

By HANNAH K. STRANGE, United Press International   |   July 9, 2004 at 7:34 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 9 (UPI) -- The United States would not have gone to war against Iraq if the weakness of prewar intelligence about that country -- revealed by a Senate report released Friday -- had been known, according to Democrats.

"We in Congress would not have authorized that war ... if we knew what we know now," said Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.V., vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

The report concluded, "Most of the major key judgments in the Intelligence Community's October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, 'Iraq's Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction,' either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting."

Titled "Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq," the study is the product of a 12-month investigation by a bipartisan committee.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the chairman of the committee, described as "unreasonable" and "unsupported" the claims that Iraq "is reconstituting its nuclear program," "has chemical and biological weapons," "was developing an unmanned aerial vehicle," "probably intended to deliver biological warfare agents," and that "all key aspects ... of Iraq's offensive biological weapons program are active and that most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War."

"The Intelligence Community," says the report, "suffered from a collective presumption that Iraq had an active and growing WMD program." This "group-think," it continues, led to a tendency to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting that theory while ignoring or minimizing facts contradicting it.

"We went to war on false claims," said Rockefeller. As a result, he said, "our nation is more vulnerable today than ever before." The war on terrorism remains a threat, he said, now in "a hundred countries," and Osama bin Laden is "potentially ... more back in control."

The report released Friday, which the senators referred to as phase one, does not deal with the policymakers' use of intelligence. Phase two, which will look at the involvement of the administration, will begin "as soon as possible," said Rockefeller, speaking of "real frustration" among some committee members at "what was not in this report."

At a news conference in the Senate later, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., also a committee member, pointed out that Republicans outnumbered Democrats by nine to eight, and that those who wanted to investigate the administration simultaneously "didn't have the votes." However, he stressed that there was "ample time to get this out" before the November elections.

Democratic committee members, however, asserted the link between the administration and the exaggeration of the case for war. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., speaking with Wyden, said, "The committee's report does not acknowledge that the intelligence estimates were shaped by the administration."

Wyden added, "It is clear that the administration compounded the failures of the intelligence community by exaggerating and manipulating the community's conclusions to the public."

Rockefeller addressed the continued assertions of the al-Qaida-Iraq link. "No evidence ... existed of Iraq's complicity or assistance in al-Qaida's terrorist attacks, including 9/11. ... (Yet) the debate continues ... at least on the part of the vice president."

He brought up the alleged meeting between a leader of the 9/11 hijackers, Mohammed Atta, and an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague in April 2001. The meeting, said Vice President Dick Cheney on "Meet the Press" in December 2001, was "pretty well confirmed."

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., also a member of the committee, released the response of former CIA Director George Tenet to his question regarding the Prague meeting, in which Tenet stated, "We are increasingly skeptical that such a meeting occurred." The 9/11 Commission also concluded that the meeting did not occur.

Levin pointed to Cheney's recent equivocation on the claim, saying in June, "I can't refute the Czech claim, I can't prove the Czech claim. ... It's never been refuted."

This characterization, which, said Levin, does not "accurately represent" the CIA's views, "is highly misleading on the part of the administration."

There was also an evident division over the matter of political pressure on analysts to provide the correct information. The report released Friday clearly states, "The Committee did not find any evidence that administration officials attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities ... (or) links to terrorism." However, Democrats on the committee emphasized their dissatisfaction with that section of the report.

"We had major disagreements on pressure," said Rockefeller.

"The definition of pressure was very narrowly drawn in the final report," he said.

He referred to George Tenet, who he said, spoke of analysts going to his office "to relieve the pressure" and the ombudsman of the CIA, who said that the "hammering on analysts" was greater than he had seen in his 32 years of service.

Wyden agreed. "Nobody came before the committee and said, 'Look, I had my brains beaten in to change my analysis,'" but it is also true that policymakers made it very clear what information they were looking for," he said.

Roberts, however, said that although post-9/11 there was a need to be more "forward-leaning" in intelligence gathering, there was no evidence of "undue" or "political pressure" from the policymakers.

Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a foreign policy scholar at the Brookings Institution who served on President Nixon's National Security Council, said this has "this has become a partisan issue."

He dismissed Rockefeller's assertion that had they known the truth, Congress would not have voted for the war. It was, he said, "an easy comment for him to make."

"Members of congress," he said, "are not first grade children. ... They have the ability and the duty to ask questions."

"If they had any question about what they were getting ... they could have pressed it," he said, later adding, "The notion that the executive branch was delinquent ... is not a fair proposition."

Rockefeller, however, said that the administration had already decided to go to war. He spoke of a "relentless public campaign" characterizing the Iraqi weapons threat "in more threatening terms than any intelligence would have allowed."

Wyden admitted, "You cannot, at this time of year, drain politics out of anything."

However, he said, "The American people have a right to know how that faulty intelligence was used. ... Bad intelligence and bad policy are not mutually exclusive."

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