WASHINGTON — The CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies fell victim to false “group think” when assessing Iraq’s weapons capabilities and produced overstated or incorrect conclusions that led the Bush administration to justify the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, according to a scathing Senate Intelligence Committee report released Friday.
A "series of failures ... led to the mischaracterization of the intelligence” on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, the bipartisan, unanimous report said.
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,” he said. “This was a global intelligence failure.”
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the senior Democrat on the committee, said some lawmakers, himself included, "would not have authorized that war ... if we had known then what we know now."
Roberts did not go that far, but said the war would have had to have been justified by some other reason, such as a humanitarian crisis.
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.”
No Cheney influence found
The committee said it found no evidence that administration officials pressured agencies to change their judgments on Iraq weapons programs.
“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,” the 511-page report said.
It specifically cleared Vice President Dick Cheney, a leading advocate of the war, of accusations that he tried to bend the evidence to fit his agenda.
“The committee found no evidence that the vice president’s visits to the Central Intelligence Agency were attempts to pressure analysts" or were perceived as attempts, the report said.
President 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 campaign stop Friday in Kutztown, Pa.
The report repeatedly blasts departing CIA Director George Tenet, accusing him of skewing advice to top policymakers with the CIA’s view and elbowing out dissenting views from other intelligence agencies overseen by the State or Defense Departments. It faulted Tenet for not personally reviewing President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address, which contained since-discredited references to an Iraqi attempt to purchase uranium in Africa.
Tenet, who leaves office this week after resigning for what he called personal reasons, "should have taken the time to read the State of the Union speech and fact check it himself," the report said.
The CIA, the report says, "in several significant instances, abused its unique position in the intelligence community" by not sharing information on Iraq's weapons.
Many factors contributing to those failures are ongoing problems within the U.S. intelligence community that cannot be fixed with more money alone, the report added.
Wrong assumptions cited
The report concluded that 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. Instead, investigations after the Iraq invasion have shown that Iraqi dictator Saddam 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 concluded.
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 said.
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 did not 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.
Prague connection discounted
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said in a statement Thursday that the committee’s report “is an accurate, hard-hitting and well-deserved critique of the CIA,” but charged that it avoids the critical question of the administration’s possible pre-war exaggerations regarding an al-Qaida link to the Iraqi government.
As an example of the sort of information he said was not included in the report, Levin cited a CIA statement he received this week saying that there is no credible information that Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in the Czech Republic in April 2001. In fact, the report concludes, CIA analysts “are increasingly skeptical that such a meeting occurred.”
“(The finding) demonstrates that it was the administration, not the CIA, that exaggerated the relations between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida," Levin said at a news conference.
Intelligence suggesting such a meeting was cited repeatedly by administration officials, including Cheney, as supporting the assertion of such a link.
Cheney most recently said in a June 17 interview with CNBC that the meeting between Atta and the Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague “couldn’t be ruled out.”
But Levin pointed to published reports that the CIA had doubts that the meeting took place as early as December 2001. He also cited a report by the independent Sept. 11 commission stating that information gathered by the FBI placed Atta in the United States during the week of the alleged meeting.
The administration had no immediate response to Levin’s charge.
The report, which features more than 100 conclusions on the quality and quantity of the intelligence community’s Iraq assessments, follows a yearlong review by the Senate committee.
The Senate report is among other investigations under way into the intelligence community’s recent performance. Bush named two commissions to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and U.S. intelligence capabilities regarding weapons of mass destruction.
A joint congressional inquiry already delved into the Sept. 11 attacks, finding numerous mistakes that prevented authorities from stopping al-Qaida. The House Intelligence Committee is also looking into the Iraq weapons estimates, among still other independent reviews.
The Senate report is the first part of a two-phase review, which at times polarized the usually bipartisan Intelligence Committee. Democrats wanted to see the investigation handled in a broad, single phase that would include other issues such as whether senior Bush administration officials misrepresented the analysis provided by the nation’s intelligence apparatus as they made the case for war.
Democratic senators reflected that concern in “alternative views” attached to the report. In one, Rockefeller, Levin and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., claimed the report "paints an incomplete picture of what occurred during this period of time."
They also claimed evidence that intelligence analysts were repeatedly asked to review and reconsider their judgments — a “hammering” more aggressive than the CIA’s ombudsman had seen in his 32-year career with the agency, their statement said.
The full report is online at www.intelligence.senate.gov.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.