By Chief foreign affairs correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/31/2005 2:26:58 PM ET 2005-03-31T19:26:58

President Bush released a new report on the “Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction” on Thursday.  

The report focused not just on U.S. failures in regards to assessing Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, which is already well documented, but on the fact that the American intelligence community knows "dangerously little" about the threats or intentions of some of our most dangerous foes.

NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell discuss the significance of the new report and how likely it is that the intelligence community is capable of undergoing radical change.

Why is this latest report considered so scathing? What is so significant about it?
What is significant about is that the president commissioned this group. So, he is really bound and says he will follow their recommendations.

The report states that the intelligence community was “dead wrong” — that’s a quote — in almost all of its pre-war judgments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. The report calls this a “major intelligence” failure.

This panel was lead by Judge Laurence Silberman and former Senator Chuck Robb. They single out the CIA and the FBI for much of their criticism. But, they also say that the rest of agencies — and there are 15 intelligence agencies in the U.S. government — all failed.

They say that the government really has to be pressed harder. That policy makers like the president, the secretary of state and the secretary of defense have to really push the intelligence agencies and demand answers as to how they know things and are they sure.

The report says that too much "group think" and too much focus on consensus led to weeding out dissenting views. So, that if an Air Force intelligence expert said, for instance, that a particular aluminum tube was probably for rockets, which were permissible in Saddam’s arsenal, somehow that got weeded out. And the people who felt that the aluminum tubes were for nuclear centrifuges were the one’s whose views got transmitted to the White House.

That of course led to faulty decisions and inaccurate representations at the United Nations, in the State of the Union speech, in major presidential pronouncements. Ultimately, of course, this led to going to war under false pretenses.

Why is it important that this report focused on the role of terror networks and government activities as opposed to just WMD capabilities and failures in regards to Iraq?
It’s important that it goes so far beyond Iraq because this will now become the planning document that will be the guide the president and Congress in the next 90 days as to how they are going to handle these recommendations.

American intelligence

Some of these recommendations are in direct conflict with what the 9/11 Commission has already recommended and what the president and Congress have already passed in recent intelligence reforms in December. So, how they are going to resolve those conflicts, remains to be seen.

One of the most obvious ones is that this group says the Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, should not be the person briefing the president everyday. That it is too time consuming, and that other long term needs would suffer.

That was something that was approved by Congress in December and that is supposed to be one of the fixes that will resolve protecting the U.S. from what happened on 9/11. So, you’ve got two conflicting recommendations from two groups of experts. President Bush is going to have to decide which one to follow.

The unclassified version of the report released to the public does not go into explicit detail about the weapons capabilities of countries like Iran or North Korea. But how will these new finding affect diplomatic relations with those countries?  
Well, the report is extremely long, the unclassified version is more than 600 pages.

But, the classified version is even more exhaustive, and in it they go into chapter and verse about what we don’t know about North Korea and Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Obviously they are not making that public because we don’t want to broadcast all of our intelligence failures in exact detail.

But, that's pretty damning and it has already been widely leaked that we are really in the dark about North Korea and Iran.

Right now we are negotiating with our allies about how to get these two countries to de-nuclearize and pressuring them with information that we allege in all of these diplomatic meetings.

The significance of this is that if we are admitting that we don’t know the true facts.

That can really help North Korea and Iran rebut American charges. They can say, 'Well how do you know that we have weapons? We’re saying that we don’t and you can’t trust American intelligence because look how wrong they were about Iraq.'

This is further confirmation that the entire U.S. intelligence network is in need of a massive overhaul. Is the political will there to make these drastic changes possible? Can such a behemoth as the U.S. intelligence agency capable of becoming the agile machine the report suggests is necessary to combat the myriad threats against the country?
I think it’s going to be very, very hard. This is like moving a super tanker. How to make the intelligence agencies change requires both structural and cultural changes.

There is going to be a lot of pushback. Here you are dealing with budgets; the Attorney General is not going to want to give up control over the FBI and intelligence gathering; the Pentagon is resisting mightily giving up budgetary control over defense intelligence. This is going to be tough.

Is John Negroponte – the new Director of National Intelligence & the nation’s 15 spy agencies - up to the job?
That remains to be seen. He is a very experienced guy. He has not been confirmed yet. He isn’t even on the job yet. This law was passed in December, these new changes are now being recommended, and he’s still yet to have his Congressional hearing. There was a great delay in sending his nominating papers to the Hill. So, how he will do is yet to be seen. 

Andrea Mitchell is NBC News' Chief Foreign Affairs correspondent.

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