The WMD Debate


The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction

February 2004

See also Congressional Investigation of pre-Iraq War intelligence.

Materials presented chronologically.

Berkowitz, Bruce D.  "We Collected A Little, and Assumed a Lot." Washington Post, 1 Feb. 2004, B1.[]

The author uses David Kay's testimony on Capitol Hill to suggest that the Iraqi WMD debacle was mainly an intelligence collection failure, combined with a misunderstanding all around about how intelligence works.

New York Times. "[Editorial:] Intelligence on the Eve of War." 1 Feb. 2004. []

In Senate testimony last week, David Kay "placed the blame for overestimating Iraq's weapons capabilities squarely on the intelligence community and said he had seen no evidence that administration officials put pressure on analysts to come up with preconceived results. Yet there are reasons to go slow in accepting Mr. Kay's version as the full story of what happened in this intelligence debacle. Only a broad and truly independent investigation can unravel the roots of this colossal failure."

Sanger, David E. "Bush to Establish Panel to Examine U.S. Intelligence." New York Times, 2 Feb. 2004. []

Senior administration officials said on 1 February 2004 that "President Bush will establish a bipartisan commission in the next few days to examine American intelligence operations, including a study of possible misjudgments about Iraq's unconventional weapons."

Jehl, Douglas. "An Intelligence Inquiry That's Awash in Disputes at the Outset." New York Times, 2 Feb. 2004. []

"Intelligence officials have long been wary of outsiders' second-guessing. But they have reluctantly begun to acknowledge that a major overhaul could be in order after what may be two of the greatest intelligence setbacks in decades: the failure to anticipate the Sept. 11 attacks and the misjudgment of Iraq's weapons stockpiles. They hope the independent commission President Bush will appoint can offer them more help and less finger pointing."

Priest, Dana, and Dana Milbank. "Intelligence Panel Will Cast Net Beyond Iraq." Washington Post, 3 Feb. 2004, A1. []

According to administration officials on 2 February 2004, "[t]he commission that President Bush will appoint to investigate the failures of prewar intelligence on Iraq will also review the CIA's misjudgments about weapons programs in Iran, Libya and North Korea." White House officials said that the nine-member panel "would include current and former officials with experience in intelligence matters."

Jehl, Douglas. "Tenet Concedes Gaps in C.I.A. Data on Iraq Weapons." New York Times, 6 Feb. 2004. []

Speaking at Georgetown University on 5 February 2004, DCI George J. Tenet "acknowledged ... that American spy agencies may have overestimated Iraq's illicit weapons capacities, in part because of a failure to penetrate the inner workings of the Iraqi government." However, he steadfastly defended U.S. "spy agencies and their integrity.... He insisted that intelligence agencies had acted independently of policy makers, and noted that intelligence analysts had never portrayed Iraq as presenting an imminent threat to the United States before the American invasion last March." See also, Dana Priest and Walter Pincus, "Tenet Defends CIA's Analysis of Iraq as Objective, if Flawed," Washington Post, 6 Feb. 2004, A1.

Pincus, Walter. "In Response to Criticism, Tenet Reveals CIA Successes: Director Points to Pakistan, Libya, Iran and North Korea." Washington Post, 6 Feb. 2004, A18. []

In a speech at Georgetown University on 5 February 2004, DCI George J. Tenet "took the unusual step of disclosing previously secret success by the agency, describing its spying on Pakistan's nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, and on the international trade in nuclear weapons technology involving Libya, Iran and North Korea."

Allen, Mike. "Bush Names Commission on Iraq Data." Washington Post, 7 Feb. 2004, A1. []

On 6 February 2004, President Bush signed an executive order creating a seven-member panel, the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, to investigate U.S. intelligence operations.

The executive order said the commission "will 'examine the Intelligence Community's intelligence prior to the initiation of Operation Iraqi Freedom and compare it with the findings of the Iraq Survey Group and other relevant agencies or organizations concerning the capabilities, intentions, and activities of Iraq relating to the design, development, manufacture, acquisition, possession, proliferation, transfer, testing, potential or threatened use, or use of Weapons of Mass Destruction and related means of delivery.'"

The co-chairmen of the commission "will be former U.S. senator and Virginia governor Charles S. Robb,... and Laurence H. Silberman, a federal appeals court judge ... who was deputy attorney general under presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald Ford." They "will be joined by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.); Lloyd N. Cutler, White House counsel to Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton; Yale University President Richard C. Levin; Patricia M. Wald, former chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; and retired Adm. William O. Studeman, former deputy director of the CIA and director of the National Security Agency." A report and recommendations is due by March 31, 2005.

The President "said the commission will look into the weapons programs of North Korea and Iran ... [and] examine intelligence on past threats posed by Libya and Afghanistan." See also, Douglas Jehl, "Bush Sets Panel on Intelligence Before Iraq War," New York Times, 7 Feb. 2004.

Pincus, Walter, and Dana Priest. "Bush, Aides Ignored CIA Caveats on Iraq: Clear-Cut Assertions Were Made Before Arms Assessment Was Completed." Washington Post, 7 Feb. 2004, A17. []

"In its fall 2002 campaign to win congressional support for a war against Iraq, President Bush and his top advisers ignored many of the caveats and qualifiers included in the classified report on Saddam Hussein's weapons.... In fact, they made some of their most unequivocal assertions about unconventional weapons before the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) was completed."

Harman, Jane. "Four Steps to Better Intelligence." Washington Post, 8 Feb. 2004, B7. []

Representative Harmon (D-CA), ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, states: "At least five extensive inquiries have already been conducted regarding the prewar intelligence on Iraq, and every one of them has been sharply critical. While another investigation may tell us a few things we don't yet know, we cannot wait until after November to begin making needed improvements."

Shane, Scott. "How Intelligence Fails More Often Than Not." Baltimore Sun, 8 Feb. 2004. []

"[I]t is unfair to assume that every major intelligence failure is proof of incompetence. 'I think intelligence is a very tough business,' says J. Ransom Clark, who worked for the CIA from 196[4] to 1990. 'Even if you do everything right, you're going to be wrong a whole lot of the time.' Certainly, the track record for predictions in other fields is far from perfect, even when detailed data are available.... [E]xperts on intelligence have identified a number of recurring patterns of intelligence failure." These include: Mirror-imaging, intelligence to please, signals lost in the noise, and the power of preconceptions.

Jehl, Douglas, and David E. Sanger. "C.I.A. Admits It Didn't Give Weapon Data to the U.N." New York Times, 21 Feb. 2004. []

In a 20 January 2004 letter to Senator Carl M. Levin (D-MI), the CIA "acknowledged that it did not provide the United Nations with information about 21 of the 105 sites in Iraq singled out by American intelligence as the most highly suspected of housing illicit weapons."

Pincus, Walter. "Senator Assails Tenet on Iraq: Likely Arms Sites Were Underreported." Washington Post, 22 Feb. 2004, A20. []

Senator Carl M. Levin (D-MI) "has renewed his longtime claim that CIA Director George J. Tenet misled Congress last year when Tenet said the CIA had given U.N. inspectors all the top suspect weapons sites in Iraq prior to the war." Levin said on 20 February 2004 that numbers declassified by the CIA showed that "21 of the 105 high and medium priority top suspect sites on the CIA list were not shared."

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