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CIA condemned for flawed intelligence on Iraqi weapons By Andrew Buncombe in Washington
29 September 2003
The intelligence used by the CIA to conclude that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and had links to al-Qa'ida has been severely criticised by leaders of a high-ranking Congressional committee as being "outdated, circumstantial, piecemeal and fragmentary". They said the agency's ability to gather fresh information had "significant deficiencies".
In a scathing attack on the information cited by President George Bush and his senior officials as they made their case for war, the leaders of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said the CIA had relied on "past assessments" that dated from 1998 when UN weapons inspectors left Iraq.
"The absence of proof that chemical and biological weapons and their related development programmes had been destroyed was considered proof that they continued to exist," the committee leaders said in a letter to the CIA director, George Tenet.
Controversy over America's failure to find the weapons of mass destruction that the Bush administration insisted Iraq possessed has been growing since US and British forces ousted Saddam Hussein and occupied the country. And, this week, America's senior weapons inspector, David Kay, is expected to report that his team of 1,400 officials and special forces soldiers have still uncovered no evidence of WMD.
But the criticism by the leaders of the Republican-controlled intelligence committee will be of particular embarrassment to the Bush administration, given the sympathies of the chairman, Porter Goss. Mr Goss is a former CIA agent and a long-time supporter of the often beleaguered Mr Tenet. His letter to Mr Tenet containing the criticisms was also signed by the committee's senior Democrat.
The letter said: "Lack of specific intelligence in regime plans and intentions, WMD and Iraq's support to terrorist groups appears to have hampered the [intelligence community's] ability to provide a better assessment to policy-makers from 1998 [until] 2003."
The letter followed a review by the intelligence committee of 19 volumes of classified material used by the CIA when drawing up its secret 2002 national intelligence estimate (NIE) on Iraq. This was considered the most comprehensive assessment of Iraq's capability available to the Bush administration and was regularly cited as the case for war against Saddam was made.
The administration has been on the back foot as it becomes increasingly clear the discovery of any WMD in Iraq is extremely unlikely.
Yesterday, the President's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, was the latest senior official to defend the intelligence used by Mr Bush. "The President believes he had very good intelligence going into the war," she said on a US television talk show. "There was enrichment of the intelligence from 1998 over the period leading up to the war. And nothing pointed to a reversal of Saddam Hussein's very active efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. It was very clear this continued and it was a gathering danger."
The CIA also defended its intelligence-gathering. In a statement, spokesman Bill Harlow, said: "In the post-1998 period, the intelligence community launched a sustained effort to enhance our unilateral understanding of Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction programmes. From all of our disciplines, important gains were made." Mr Harlow said the intelligence committee had "yet to take the time to fully evaluate how the NIE was constructed and why and on what specific basis judgements and findings were reached by our national intelligence officer and analysts".
Quote: "They said the agency's ability to gather fresh information had 'significant deficiencies'."
Quote: "... the CIA had relied on "past assessments" that dated from 1998 when UN weapons inspectors left Iraq."
Quote: "The letter said: 'Lack of specific intelligence in regime plans and intentions, WMD and Iraq's support to terrorist groups appears to have hampered the [intelligence community's] ability to provide a better assessment to policy-makers from 1998 [until] 2003.' "
Ummm... and how is one to gather fresh information and obtain more recent assessments absent agents on the ground? We all remember that the inspectors got the boot during Clinton's watch, not Bush's. We also all remember that it was Clinton, not Bush, who gutted the military and intelligence-gathering communities. However, to be fair to Clinton, I must point out that even if the CIA and NSA had remained fully funded, there is still no guarantee that complete and unerring knowledge of Iraq's every capability could have been ascertained. Intelligence gathering in real life isn't as flawless as it is in action novels and James Bond movies.
Here's a bit from today's boortz.com that's relevant to this thread. I have to cut and paste it rather than simply providing a link because it has yet to be archived --
**************************************** Last night I watched a tape of yesterday's Meet the Press telecast.? Tim Russert had Condoleezza Rice on the air, Bush's National Security Advisor.? Russert gets about 45 minutes of actual air time during one of these programs ... the other minutes go to pay the bills.? For the first one-quarter of the broadcast Russert hammered Rice on Bush's now infamous 16 words in his State of the Union Address.? You remember the words ... Bush said that British intelligence had learned that Saddam had tried to buy some uranium from Africa.? That statement is factually correct.? British intelligence had, in fact, made just such an assessment.
In 1991 our security analysts felt that Saddam would have a workable nuclear weapon by the end of the decade, if, that is, something wasn't done to stop him.? It was also known for a certainty that Saddam had previously purchased uranium from Niger.? In 1998 Saddam Hussein kicked the inspectors out of Iraq.(***pinky notes that technically speaking this is not correct. The actual order to withdraw the inspectors was given by the head of the UN inspection team. Hussein was threatening to kick them out, but we'll never know now to a certainty whether he would have carried through if they had chosen not to withdraw. ***)? From 1998 until 2002, a period of four years, there were no inspections in Iraq.? Saddam had a free reign to act.? During this period America was attacked.? Other attacks had been planned but were averted, one by an alert female Philippine policewoman who became suspicious when told of some firecrackers that had gone off in a Manila apartment.
So ... here's your scenario.? You're the president, and here is the information you have:
1. America is under attack.? Islamic terrorists are actively trying to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. 2. There was and is evidence that Saddam Hussein was supporting Islamic terrorists.? Saddam himself was making a big show of writing checks to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. 3. You know that Saddam Hussein had both chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. 4. You know that Saddam had already killed thousands of Iranians and Kurds with his chemical weapons. 5. You know that Saddam had begun one nuclear program, using uranium from Africa.? That program was slowed when Israeli fighter jets destroyed his nuclear facility in 1986. 6. Saddam had ignored 12 years of United Nations resolutions calling for him to destroy all of the equipment and materials connected with his chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs, and to present evidence to the UN that he had done so. 7. In 1998 Saddam ended all inspections in Iraq (***see above***).?During the very time that terrorist attacks against the United States were reaching a new peak, and during this time you have no way of figuring out what Saddam is up to within his own borders. 8. You know that Saddam hates the United States and has a particular hatred for your father, the first President Bush. 9. You firmly believe that if Saddam managed to develop a nuclear device, he could, in all probability, make that device available to a terrorist organization. 10. You also know that our security efforts at our borders and ports would be completely ineffective in detecting and stopping a nuclear device from entering this country.
So, what do you do?? With that information can you really afford to sit back and just watch Saddam?? Can Saddam be watched that closely?? Could Saddam be watched closely enough to insure that he would not place either chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in the hands of any terrorist group?? This man, Saddam Hussein, was absolutely refusing to abide by any of the 17 UN resolutions.? The burden of proof had been on Saddam.? Prove that you have destroyed your weapons.? Show us how you did it.? Show us where you did it.? Give us the documentation.? Show us that those weapons and those weapons systems are gone and we'll? leave you alone.? But Saddam refused.
You're the president here, and you have two possible screw-ups you can commit.? You can attack Saddam and then fail to find those weapons of mass destruction.? Or, you can give Saddam more time and then try to explain to the American people why a nuclear device was detonated in the center of Chicago, or why thousands were killed when a poison gas was spread throughout the New York Subway system.?
Which mistake do you want?? Which screw-up do you want to explain to the American people?? Do you really want to try to explain to the American people that after Saddam kicked the inspectors out in 1998 that you thought he went on and did just exactly what the UN had demanded of him, and then didn't tell anybody?
Sometimes there are no really good choices.? Sometimes you have to chose between two options on the basis of which one would lead to the worst consequences, not necessarily the best result.? True leaders can make those decisions.? Demagogues cannot. *****************************
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