Senate Report Blasts Intelligence Agencies’ Flaws
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 idea that “deep hatred of Americans in the Muslim world” was somehow created after 9-11 is, to put it mildly, odd.
A day before the release of a searing congressional report about intelligence failures in Iraq, departing Director George J. Tenet told CIA employees not to be distracted by the criticism. In a rousing valedictory yesterday before cheering colleagues and friends at CIA headquarters, Tenet defended the embattled organization he has run for seven years. He is at the center of a fierce debate over prewar allegations about Saddam Hussein’s forbidden weapons. “The American people know about your honesty and integrity, of your commitment to truth,” Tenet said. Predicting that the public will “recognize and honor” the CIA’s overall record, Tenet added, “My only wish is that those whose job it is to help us do better show the same balance and care: in recognizing how far we have come; in recognizing how bold we have been; in recognizing what the full balance sheet says.”
Tenet yesterday did not address the specifics of the Iraq intelligence. Instead, he spoke about how CIA analysts work “on complex subjects, against short deadlines, with bits and pieces of information.” Near the end of a two-hour ceremony during which his tenure was hailed by senior colleagues for raising the agency from the doldrums when he took over in 1997, Tenet said: “We have rebuilt every aspect of our business.” “If people or leaders want to take you back in a different direction,” Tenet told agency officials, “then it is your voices that must be heard to say — we know better and we’re not going to put up with it.” “History,” Tenet said, “may bring additional perspective, additional clarity, to the current debate on intelligence. But this much is clear right now: Your work is far too important for distractions.”
There’s no disputing that. To the extent the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community failed in 9/11 and the lead-up to Iraq, it’s systemic. The problems seem to be mired in bureaucratic culture, legislative safeguards, and larger public policy priorities. I don’t think anyone is blaming the corps of operations officers or analysts.
George J. Tenet, the departing director of central intelligence, has told Congress that the C.I.A. is “increasingly skeptical” that a Sept. 11 hijacker, Mohamed Atta, met an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in April 2001, an assessment very different in tone from continuing assertions by Vice President Dick Cheney that such a meeting might have taken place. In a letter, sent to Congress on July 1, Mr. Tenet said Mr. Atta “would have been unlikely to undertake the substantial risk of contacting any Iraqi official” at such a date, when the Sept. 11 plot was well under way. The statement, the most complete public assessment by the agency on the issue, was sent to the Senate Armed Services Committee in response to a question posed by the committee’s ranking Democrat, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, at a hearing on March 9. It was made public by Senator Levin on Thursday, as Mr. Tenet bid farewell to his colleagues at a ceremony at the agency’s headquarters. He leaves his post this weekend.
The C.I.A. has long expressed skepticism about the idea that Iraq and Al Qaeda cooperated to carry out the Sept. 11 attacks. In Congressional testimony in March, Mr. Tenet said he had privately intervened on several occasions to correct public misstatements on intelligence by Mr. Cheney and others, including a claim by the vice president in January that trailers found in Iraq were still believed to be biological weapons factories.
In his June 17 interview, on CNBC, Mr. Cheney described himself as a skeptic about the idea of a meeting. But he did not mention the idea that intelligence officials believed such a meeting would have been unlikely. “We have never been able to prove that there was a connection there on 9/11,” Mr. Cheney said at the time. “The one thing we had is the Iraq – the Czech intelligence service report saying that Mohamed Atta had met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official at the embassy on April 9, 2001. That’s never been proven – it’s never been refuted.”
This seems to be a distinction without meaning. Even in that quote, Cheney rather clearly says there was no real evidence of a Saddam-9/11 tie. And the Atta meeting has been widely cited; even the non-longer-Anonymous mentions it in his first book, as well as documenting rather serious collaboration on WMD between Saddam and al Qaeda.
Update: AP – Report: CIA Gave False Info on Iraq
U.S. intelligence agencies fell victim to false “group think” when assessing Iraq’s weapons capabilities and ended up giving the Bush administration overstated or incorrect conclusions before the 2003 invasion, a scathing Senate Intelligence Committee report says.
Many factors contributing to those failures are ongoing problems within the U.S. intelligence community which cannot be fixed with more money alone, concluded a bipartisan report released Friday.
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 concluded.