By Tabassum Zakaria | Reuters
U.S. intelligence agencies overstated the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, relied on dubious sources and ignored contrary evidence in the run-up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq (news - web sites), a Senate committee reported on Friday.
In a harshly critical report, the Senate Intelligence Committee took U.S. spy agencies to task for numerous failures in reporting on alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, which President Bush (news - web sites) cited in building a case for war. No such weapons have been found.
But the report found no sign that the White House had pressured analysts to reach pre-set conclusions.
“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,” it said.
The second part of the committee’s investigation—examining how the Bush administration used the intelligence—was unlikely to be finished before the Nov. 2 presidential election.
The bipartisan report, which ran to more than 500 pages and was partly blacked out for security reasons, said that conclusions in an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi weapons programs “either overstated or were not supported by the underlying intelligence reporting.”
It found that U.S. agencies relied too heavily on Iraqi defectors and foreign intelligence services for information and could not check the reliability of such reports.
‘IF WE KNEW WHAT WE KNOW NOW’
U.S. Sen. John Rockefeller of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the Senate would not have voted overwhelmingly in 2002 to approve the war if it had known how deeply flawed the intelligence was.
“The administration at all levels, and to some extent us, used bad information to bolster its case for war,” he said. “And we in Congress would not have authorized that war ... if we knew what we know now.”
Rockefeller said the Iraq war left the United States less safe and would affect national security for generations.
“Our credibility is diminished. Our standing in the world has never been lower,” he said. “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.”
Some Democrats said it remained an open question whether subtle pressure was applied by the administration to shape the intelligence, and that needed further scrutiny.
Bush cited intelligence suggesting that Iraq was aggressively pursuing unconventional weapons programs as a key justification for his decision to go to war in 2003.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts said spy agencies suffered from a “collective group think” in which the intelligence gathered was viewed with the presumption that Iraq was actively pursuing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs.
“This ‘group think’ caused the community to interpret ambiguous evidence, such as the procurement of dual-use technology, as conclusive evidence of the existence of WMD programs,” said Roberts, a Kansas Republican.
The report blamed managers from the CIA (news - web sites) director down for failing to adequately question analysts about their assessments and to recognize when analysts had lost their objectivity.
The report said U.S. intelligence “did not have a single” source collecting information about Iraqi weapons programs after 1998, when U.N. weapons inspectors left Iraq.
Almost all of the problems with human spying capabilities stemmed from “a broken corporate culture and poor management,” the report said.
CIA Director George Tenet announced his resignation last month citing personal reasons, and will step down on Sunday.
John McLaughlin, who will replace Tenet as acting CIA director, said the Senate panel spent nearly a year essentially dissecting one intelligence report.
“It is wrong to exaggerate the flaws or leap to the judgment that our challenges with prewar Iraq weapons intelligence are evidence of sweeping problems across the broad spectrum of issues with which the intelligence community must deal,” he said at a rare news conference at CIA headquarters.
The committee found that agencies focused on reports that Iraq had developed mobile laboratories to produce biological weapons and ignored information that contradicted this view.