WMD Commission Releases Scathing Report
Panel Finds U.S. Intelligence on Iraq's Weapons Was 'Dead Wrong'n a scathing report, a presidential commission said Thursday that America's spy agencies were "dead wrong" in most of their judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction before the war and that the United States knows "disturbingly little" about the threats posed by many of the nation's most dangerous adversaries.
The commission called for dramatic change to prevent future failures. It outlined 74 recommendations and said President Bush could implement most of them without action by Congress. It urged Bush to give broader powers to John Negroponte, the new director of national intelligence, to deal with challenges to his authority from the CIA, Defense Department or other elements of the nation's 15 spy agencies.
It also called for sweeping changes at the FBI to combine the bureau's counterterrorism and counterintelligence resources into a new office.
The report was the latest somber assessment of intelligence shortfalls that a series of investigative panels have made since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Numerous investigations have concluded that spy agencies had serious intelligence failures before the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks against the United States.
The report implicitly absolves the Bush administration of manipulating the intelligence used to launch the 2003 Iraq war, putting the blame for bad intelligence directly on the intelligence community.
"The daily intelligence briefings given to you before the Iraq war were flawed," the report said. "Through attention-grabbing headlines and repetition of questionable data, these briefings overstated the case that Iraq was rebuilding its WMD programs."
The unclassified version of the report does not go into significant detail on the intelligence community's abilities in Iran and North Korea because commissioners did not want to tip the U.S. hand to its leading adversaries. Those details are included in the classified version.
The commission was formed by Bush a year ago to look at why U.S. spy agencies mistakenly concluded that Iraq had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, one of the administration's main justifications for invading in March 2003.
"We conclude that the intelligence community was dead wrong in almost all of its prewar judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction," the commission said in a report to the president. "This was a major intelligence failure."
The main cause, the commission said, was the intelligence community's "inability to collect good information about Iraq's WMD programs, serious errors in analyzing what information it could gather and a failure to make clear just how much of its analysis was based on assumptions rather than good evidence.
"On a matter of this importance, we simply cannot afford failures of this magnitude," the report said.
But the commission also said that it found no indication that spy agencies distorted the evidence they had concerning Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, a charge raised against the administration during last year's presidential campaign.
"This is not 'politicization'," the panel said of its own report. "It is a necessary part of the intelligence process."
The commission gave Bush a specific suggestion about the daily intelligence briefings he receives -- traditionally delivered by the nation's most senior intelligence official. The panel said that Negroponte should not be the person who briefs the president, or even be in the room every day when the report is given.
"For if the DNI is consumed by current intelligence, the long-term needs of the intelligence community will suffer," the report said.
Overall, the report delivered a harsh verdict. "Our intelligence community has not been agile and innovative enough to provide the information that the nation needs," the commission said. It noted that other investigations have reached similar conclusions. "We should not wait for another commission or another administration to force widespread change in the intelligence community," the report said.
Looking beyond Iraq, the panel examined the ability of the intelligence community to accurately assess the risk posed by America's foes.
"The bad news is that we still know disturbingly little about the weapons programs and even less about the intentions of many of our most dangerous adversaries," its report said. The commission did not name any country, but appeared to be talking about nations such as North Korea and Iran.
"Our review has convinced us that the best hope for preventing future failures is dramatic change," the report said. "We need an intelligence community that is truly integrated, far more imaginative and willing to run risks, open to a new generation of Americans and receptive to new technologies."
The report urged Bush to give more authority to Negroponte, his new director of national intelligence, overseeing all of the nation's 15 spy agencies.
"It won't be easy to provide this leadership to the intelligence components of the Defense Department or to the CIA," the commissioners said. "They are some of the government's most headstrong agencies. Sooner or later, they will try to run around -- or over -- the DNI. Then, only your determined backing will convince them that we cannot return to the old ways," the commission told Bush.
The commission was unanimous in its report and recommendations.
The panel recommended that Bush demand more of the intelligence community, which has been repeatedly criticized for failures as various investigations have looked back on the Sept. 11 attacks.
"The intelligence community needs to be pushed," the report said. "It will not do its best unless it is pressed by policy-makers -- sometimes to the point of discomfort."
It said analysts must be pushed to explain what they don't know and that agencies must be pressed to explain why they don't have better information on key subjects. At the same time, the report said the administration must be more careful about accepting the judgment of intelligence agencies.
"No important intelligence assessment should be accepted without sharp questioning that forces the (intelligence) community to explain exactly how it came to that assessment and what alternatives might also be true," the report said.