The Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded that a worldwide intelligence failure led to the belief that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction before the war, the committee’s chairman said Thursday.
Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he expected his committee to release at least part of the report next week, probably Wednesday.
Interviewed after a groundbreaking ceremony for a new building, Roberts said the report generally concluded that intelligence agencies worldwide engineered an “assumption train” that led them to conclude that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.
Roberts said that various Iraqi military officials thought other Iraqi officials controlled weapons of mass destruction and that there was evidence that Iraq was poised to become the “Grand Central Station” of a trade in such weapons.
“These conclusions literally beg for changes within the intelligence community,” he said. “What we had was a worldwide intelligence failure.”
Top House Democrat agrees
In Washington, Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said the conclusions “could very well be correct.”
“The intelligence we got, particularly on Iraq and regarding weapons of mass destruction, just didn’t turn out to be correct,” Skelton said.
Roberts suggested that even Saddam himself believed his regime had weapons of mass destruction.
“People who had the WMD and all of that either kept it, sold it, hid it, so on and so forth,” Roberts said. “Saddam, I think, still thinks today that he had it.”
Roberts said the committee found that intelligence agencies did not rely enough on “human intelligence” gathering after 1998. And after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, he said, intelligence agencies were more likely to base conclusions on incomplete information because they were worried about further attack.
“What you had was a great intelligence assumption train,” he said. “Everybody assumed that Saddam Hussein would reconstitute his program.
“There was a lot of empirical evidence in regards to ties to terrorism, and so the assumption train just added on more cars. It wasn’t backed up by the necessary backup to make those kind of conclusions.”
‘Grand Central Station’ of weapons
Last month, David Kay, the former chief U.S. weapons inspector, suggested that no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction would be found in Iraq. Such weapons were a reason President Bush’s administration gave for going to war last year.
But Roberts quoted what he said was Kay’s conclusion: “That country had become a very chaotic state and was about to be Grand Central Station for the real proliferation of weapons of mass destruction — you know, willing buyer, willing seller.”
Furthermore, Roberts said, “When we talk to some of the military generals of the Iraqi Republican Guard, one general will say, ‘I thought General So-and-so had it.’ You talk to General So-and-so, and he says, ‘I thought he had it.’ Saddam thought he had it, as well.”
Roberts said the panel would make its conclusions public, but he did not know how much supporting information would be included because of ongoing discussions with the CIA about how much material must remain classified.
For weeks, the committee and the CIA had been in conflict about how much of the material in the reports must remain classified. Roberts said initially that the CIA removed more than half of the information in the 410-page report.
Roberts said that the changes “eviscerated” the report but that he still hoped to see at least 80 percent of it made public.
“We got into a situation here where people whose job it is to classify things, if we took a primary or elementary reading book and the sentence said, ‘See Spot run,’ they would probably classify ‘Spot,’” Roberts said.