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Disarmament Diplomacy No. 78, Cover design by Paul Aston

Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 78, July/August 2004

Two Terrifying Reports:
The US Senate and the 9/11 Commission on Intelligence Failures Before September 11 and the Iraq War

Joseph Cirincione

In the last three years, the United States of America suffered the two worst intelligence failures in its history. The Iraq War and the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon cost thousands of lives, hundreds of billions of dollars and fundamentally changed US relations with the rest of the world. The two reports from the US Senate Committee on Intelligence and the 9/11 Commission show that both were preventable. Wiser policies, wiser leaders and wiser choices would have shown the war in Iraq to be unnecessary and could likely have blocked al Qaeda's airplane hijackings.

Neither report reaches these conclusions. Both lack the courage of their own deliberations. Despite the great contributions to our understanding of these issues, both share the same two critical errors. First, by limiting the scope of their investigations to the narrow issues of intelligence policy and procedures, the commission and the committee fail to examine the larger policy failure. It was failure at the strategic level, not the operational or tactical, that caused US officials to underestimate the terrorist threat in the first instance, and then target the wrong country for attack in the second instance.

Second, in the name of political unity, they both stop short of the logical completion of their investigations: they pull their punches, and find no one is to blame. Or rather, they blame everyone, and thus no one. The 9/11 Commission report says so explicitly in its opening section: "Our aim has not been to assign individual blame. Our aim has been to provide the fullest possible account of the events surrounding 9/11 and to identify lessons learned."1 The result is a report long on organisational diagrams and short on accountability.

In this respect, both reports fit in with the current climate in Washington. Failure is not punished, leading inevitably to additional failures. Investigations, when they occur at all, end without conclusion, leaving different publics to draw their own various lessons. Neither the commission nor the committee fault any individual, nor demand any resignations. One can view this as noble or as simply politically expedient, but there is clearly a double standard operating. In August, the governor of the state of New Jersey announced his resignation because he had an adulterous gay affair with one of his employees. The previous American president was impeached for having sex with an intern. No administration official, senior or junior has offered their resignation over Iraq or 9/11, nor have they been asked to do so. Picking the wrong time and place for an affair is apparently more of a sin than choosing the wrong time and place for a war in which thousands have been killed - or picking the wrong priorities for national security policy.

In order not to blame current office holders or find fault with existing national security strategy, the reports keep their aim lower, finding more amorphous targets. The Commission notes, for example, that it is not individuals, but institutions that failed: "We learned that the institutions charged with protecting our borders, civil aviation, and national security did not understand how grave this threat could be, and did not adjust their policies, plans, and practices to deter or defeat it."2 Similarly, in a seemingly devastating finding, the Senate Intelligence Committee concludes that there was no credible evidence to support Bush administration officials' claims that Iraq had stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons and was close to having a nuclear weapon. Yet the fault is laid to poor organisation of the intelligence agencies, not administration policy or pressure to bend the intelligence to support that policy.

Powerful and Necessary Reads

These major failing aside, both reports are powerful reads. The 9/11 Commission report in particular is a gripping, insightful tale, part Tom Clancy, part David McCullough and part Good Housekeeping. This taut, if ultimately frustrating, account of the attacks reveals that the only American defence mechanism that worked were the passengers of Flight 93 who overwhelmed the hijackers and, at the cost of their own lives, prevented the plane from reaching its target in Washington. It offers a good history of the rise of fundamentalist Islam and al Qaeda. It warns that while "most Muslims prefer a peaceful and inclusive vision of their faith, not the violent sectarianism of Bin Ladin," in "societies full of discontent, Bin Ladin remained credible as other leaders and symbols faded. He could stand as a symbol of resistance - above all, resistance to the West and to America."3

It also documents Bin Ladin's efforts to buy weapons-grade uranium (spending $1.5 million for what turned out to be bogus uranium),4 and details carefully and convincingly that there is no evidence of any operational ties between Iraq and al Qaeda - a major justification for the war in Iraq - including what should be the definitive debunking of the alleged meeting in Prague between the lead hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi official.5

This is a report replete with insights. After describing the new challenges after the demise of the Soviet Union, the report authors list the first Iraq War, the Nunn-Lugar programme and the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo as examples of US responses to the new threats, then notes: "America stood out as an object for admiration, envy, and blame. This created a kind of cultural asymmetry. To us, Afghanistan seemed very far away. To members of al Qaeda, America seemed very close. In a sense, they were more globalised than we were."6

One of the report's key conclusions is that: "[T]he enemy is not just 'terrorism', some generic evil. This vagueness blurs the strategy. The catastrophic threat at this moment in history is more specific. It is the threat posed by Islamist terrorism-especially the al Qaeda network, its affiliates and its ideology."7

Moreover, "The first phase of our post-9/11 efforts rightly included military action to topple the Taliban and pursue al Qaeda. This work continues. But long-term success demands the use of all elements of national power: diplomacy, intelligence, covert action, law enforcement, economic policy, foreign aid, public diplomacy, and homeland defence. If we favour one tool while neglecting others, we leave ourselves vulnerable and weaken our national effort."8

Dropping the Baton

Some of the best chapters describe the response to increased alarm in the intelligence community about the terrorist threat. There were clearly numerous mistakes and misdirections in the Clinton administration. But officials were steadily moving up the learning curve, increasing their focus on and efforts to stop al Qaeda. Whereas Clinton could have done more, Bush did less. The report notes that under Bush, the first Principals Group meeting at the National Security Council on terrorism was not held until September 4, 2001. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice kept Richard Clarke on as head of counter-terrorism, but demoted him, taking him out of the Principals Group, where he had been under President Clinton.

There is no doubt that terrorism was not the subject that dominated the Bush team. The single most damning chapter for the current American administration is Chapter 6 of the report "From Threat to Threat." During the transition to the Bush administration, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger told his successor, Rice, that she "would spend more time on terrorism in general and al Qaeda in particular than on anything else."9 But the new administration had other priorities. Members of the Bush administration had spent the previous few years developing detailed - and distorted - threat assessments on the ballistic missile threat, space warfare, China and "rogue states".10

Thus, until September 11 the top public security priority of the Bush administration had been to deploy a vast system of missile interceptors and sensor satellites. At over $10 billion per year, missile defence is still by far the most expensive weapons programme in the defence budget, set for a symbolic deployment at the end of this month. Senior officials and members of the Cabinet made it their top agenda item in meetings with NATO allies, Russia, and China in 2001. Just a few months before September 11, five Cabinet-level officials, including Condoleezza Rice, travelled to Moscow solely for the purpose of persuading the Russian leadership to abandon the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith was there on September 10 pressing the urgency of deploying new weapon systems.11 Maureen Dowd even wrote in The New York Times September 5, 2001: "Why can George W. Bush think of nothing but a missile shield? Our president is caught in the grip of an obsession worthy of literature."12

This larger policy issue is not discussed in the report. There are only two specific references to the views of the administration on this issue, and one is used to praise Donald Rumsfeld's work in 1998 that highlighted the intelligence community's "limited ability to assess the ballistic missile threat to the United States."13 (In fact, the Rumsfeld Commission was wrong in most of its major findings, including that Iran and North Korea would by now have intercontinental ballistics missiles).

There was a price to pay for these false diagnoses. If Chief of Staff Andrew Card had whispered in the president's ear that September morning in a Florida classroom that two missiles had struck the World Trade Center, would the president have leapt up, knowing that this was exactly the threat he had been told was coming? He was clearly unprepared for the actual threat, despite warnings, briefings, and the now-famous August 6 memo he was given during his vacation in Texas, "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US."

Given the warnings of the previous administration officials, Richard Clarke's heroic efforts to get the president's attention, and several reports, including the Hart-Rudman Commission and the Gilmore Commission, not to mention numerous warnings from intelligence officials, the Bush administration's failure to prepare and prevent are inexcusable. As chapter 8 is titled, "The System Was Blinking Red."

David Ignatius notes in his review of the 9/11 Commission for The Washington Post: "The report's tone is even-handed and nonpartisan, but the facts gathered here are devastating for the Bush administration. The Clinton team may have dithered over plans to kidnap (or kill) Osama bin Ladin in 1998 and '99, but they did manage to mobilise the government at every level...The Bush team, in contrast, didn't get serious about bin Ladin until those planes hit their targets."14

When in Doubt, Attack Iraq

Finally, the 9/11 Commission report closes its narrative section with the brief, but revealing discussion of the options the administration considered after the attacks. Most striking are the repeated and ultimately successful efforts by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Under Secretary Douglas Feith to pivot from bin Ladin to Saddam Hussein.

The phrasing of the report's first conclusion, in fact, seems to come from a memo Wolfowitz wrote arguing that it was "a failure of imagination" that both prevented us from anticipating the use of suicide pilots and that dismissed the possibilities of Iraqi involvement in the attacks.15 Wolfowitz, the report notes, had pressed the CIA to explore his theory that Iraq was behind the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. The Commission says in a footnote. "We have found no credible evidence to support theories of Iraqi government involvement in the 1993 WTC bombing."16

Perhaps the most bizarre memo cited is one from Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith to Rumsfeld, dated September 20, 2001. The Commission reports: "The author expressed disappointment at the limited options immediately available in Afghanistan and the lack of ground options. The author suggested instead hitting terrorists outside the Middle East in the initial offensive, perhaps deliberately selecting a non-al Qaeda target like Iraq. Since US attacks were expected in Afghanistan, an American attack in South America or Southeast Asia might be a surprise to the terrorists."17

The narrative ends with what seemed to have been a successful war in Afghanistan - a conclusion now very much in doubt as the Taliban continues to attack US and Afghan government targets with deadly results and bin Ladin and other al Qaeda leaders remain at large. No mention is given to the war in Iraq or its consequences.

The Senate Joins In

The Senate Intelligence Committee helps fill in another piece of the puzzle with a crushing critique of the intelligence failures in assessing the threat from Iraq. With access to the classified record and interviews with hundreds of intelligence analysts and operatives, the report discusses in intense detail how the intelligence community misrepresented and misjudged information about Iraq's suspected nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programmes. Public documents and statements by officials in both the United Kingdom and the United States used these faulty intelligence findings to make the case that war was the only answer. As UK Prime Minister Blair said in his foreword to his government's notorious September dossier, "It is now clear... the policy of containment has not worked".18

We now know with a high degree of certainty:

  • Iraq did not have militarily significant quantities of chemical or biological weapons.
  • Iraq was not producing chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
  • Iraq did not have on-going chemical, biological or nuclear weapon programmes.
  • Iraq did not pose an immediate threat to the United States, Europe or the region.
  • None of the key findings in the October 2002 US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq were accurate, with the exception of the finding that Saddam was highly unlikely to transfer any weapons to terrorist groups.
  • US and UK officials went far beyond the intelligence findings in their public statements.

Others had come to these conclusions months earlier, without classified access: Spencer Ackerman and John Judis of the New Republic, Barton Gellman of The Washington Post, Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution, and Jessica Mathews, George Perkovich and myself at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.19 The fact that these errors were apparent months ago - and for some, before the war - suggests how unreliable the official threat assessment process has become. Because the estimates were so deeply flawed and the consequences so enormously costly, it is crucial to examine the role of the White House in what is clearly one of the worst intelligence failures in US history.

System Failure or Political Shift?

The Senate committee report concludes that while "most of the major key judgments" in the October 2002 NIE were "either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence report,"20 the failures were a result of "systematic weaknesses, primarily in analytic trade craft, compounded by a lack of information sharing, poor management, and inadequate intelligence collection" and a "group think" mentality-rather than administration pressure.21 (The report of Lord Butler in the UK similarly blamed the analysts and the system rather than fault political or organisational leaders.22 )

If this judgment were correct, then one would expect that the threat assessments had begun to diverge from reality immediately after inspections in Iraq ended in 1998. The truth is that the US unclassified assessments offered fairly reasonable judgments until 2002. In brief, previous NIE had indicated - and this was still the general consensus of US intelligence agencies in early 2002 - that:

  • The 1991 Gulf War, UN inspections, and subsequent military actions had destroyed most of Iraq's chemical, biological, nuclear and long-range missile capacity.
  • There was no direct evidence that any chemical or biological weapons remained in Iraq, but agencies judged it likely that some stocks could still remain and that production could be renewed.
  • As Iraq rebuilt its facilities, some of the equipment purchased for civilian use could also be used to manufacture chemical or biological weapons.
  • Without an inspection regime, it was very difficult to determine the status of these programmes.

A marked shift, however, occurred with the October 2002 NIE. The findings became far more dramatic, specific and certain. This NIE judged that Iraq had 100 to 500 tons of chemical weapons "much of it added in the last year," that "all key aspects . . . of Iraq's offensive biological weapons (BW) programme are active and that most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War." The report claimed that Iraq had "a covert force of up to a few dozen Scud-variant ballistic missiles" and "a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical and biological weapons across broad areas," and that Iraq "is reconstituting its nuclear programme."

Why, if the error was the intelligence community's "systematic weakness" alone, did the assessments shift so rapidly in 2002? In this context, the Senate Committee's explanation for intelligence flaws appears astonishingly incomplete.

Pressure from the Top

The dramatic shift between prior intelligence assessments and the October 2002 NIE suggests, but does not prove, that the intelligence community began to be unduly influenced by policymakers' views sometime in 2002. Although such situations are not unusual, in this case the pressure appears to have been unusually intense. This is indicated by the Vice President's repeated visits to CIA headquarters and demands by officials for access to the raw intelligence from which analysts were working. Also notable is the unusual speed with which the NIE was written and the high number of dissents in what is designed to be a consensus document. Finally, there is the fact that political appointees in the Department of Defense set up their own intelligence operation, reportedly out of dissatisfaction with the caveated judgments being reached by intelligence professionals. It strains credulity to believe that together these five aspects of the process did not create an environment in which individuals and agencies felt pressured to reach more threatening judgments of Saddam Hussein's weapon programmes than many analysts felt were warranted.

The Senate report does not go into these issues in any detail. It defers an examination of how the administration used or misused the intelligence to a second, separate investigation to be completed after the November presidential election. It does conclude, however, "the Committee found no evidence that the IC's [Intelligence Community] mischaracterisation or exaggeration of the intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capabilities was the result of political pressure," and "none of the analysts or other people interview by the committee said that they were pressured to change their conclusions related to Iraq's links to terrorism."23

Not all the members of the committee agreed. In a very useful and insightful "additional views" provided by Senators John D. Rockefeller, Carl Levin and Richard Durbin, the senators note "the report paints an incomplete picture." They say: "It is no coincidence that the analytical errors in the [National Intelligence] Estimate all broke in one direction. The Estimate and related analytical papers assessing Iraqi links to terrorism were produced by the Intelligence community in a highly-pressurised climate wherein senior Administration officials were making the case for military action against Iraq through public and often definitive pronouncement."24

They note that on the afternoon of September 11, mere hours after the attacks in New York and Washington, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wondered aloud to staff whether the attack allowed the United States to attack Saddam Hussein at the same time as Osama bin Ladin. The meeting at Camp David days later discussed plans to attack Iraq presented by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. In January 2002, in his first State of the Union message after the attacks, President Bush put Iraq in an "axis of evil" linked to the terrorists and posing "a grave and growing danger".

The senators noted: "Four months after al Qaeda killed 3,000 people on American soil, the President had placed Iraq in the cross-hairs for military invasion."25 They also detail President Bush's long and dedicated campaign for war against Iraq "based on the argument that we knew with certainty that Iraq possessed large quantities of chemical and biological weapons, was aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons, and that an established relationship between Baghdad and al Qaeda would allow for the transfer of these weapons for use against the United States."26 These false claims have been extensively critiqued elsewhere, including in the Carnegie report, WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications.27

The senators also detail substantial and credible evidence of pressure as reported by an internal panel headed by former CIA deputy director Richard Kerr, who noted "there was a lot of pressure, no question;" from the CIA Ombudsman, who noted that the "hammering" by the Bush Administration on Iraq intelligence was harder than he had previously witnessed in his 32-year career with the agency; and from Director George Tenet's own testimony that he counselled officials who felt pressured to "relieve the pressure" by refusing to respond to repeated questions where no additional information existed.28

The Senate report also criticises the CIA (but not administration officials) for misrepresenting the threat from Iraq's weapons far beyond the intelligence failures. The public version of the NIE issued as a White Paper in October 2002 dropped what few caveats, probabilities, and expressions of uncertainty retained in the NIE. Significantly, this included the only intelligence findings that the CIA got right when it concluded in the NIE that Saddam Hussein was unlikely to give any weapons he possessed to terrorists and expressed doubts that the regime had a direct relationship with al Qaeda.

The report goes out of its way to defend the false claims that Saddam was trying to import significant quantities of uranium from Niger. The lengthy section on this seems to be primarily an effort to discredit Ambassador Joseph Wilson, and thus protect the administration official who exposed the identity of his wife, a covert CIA operative. A year ago, revelations by Wilson, a former ambassador sent to Niger to investigate whether Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Iraq, forced the administration to recant its public statements on the subject. Now, with the Butler inquiry coming to the conclusion that the British intelligence judgment was "well-founded" and the Senate Intelligence Committee's claim that Wilson's report had little impact on officials, administration supporters are calling for Wilson to publicly apologise. The lack of more critical scrutiny on this issue makes this the weakest section in the Senate report by far. A little common sense shows that a Niger uranium sale -even if attempted - was highly unlikely to be carried out and never a serious threat.29

Saddam: A Shrinking Tiger

Finally, it is worth quoting at some length just one of the declassified assessments now available through the Senate report. It is from an April 1999 NIE, from the period before Bush officials began their efforts to change the intelligence assessments. It directly contradicts statements from administration officials repeated before the war - and to this day - that Saddam was "a growing threat" and that "we would have to confront him sooner or later."30 On the contrary, the intelligence community concluded: "Iraq's military capabilities have deteriorated significantly as a result of UN sanctions and damage inflicted by Coalition and US military operations. Its military forces are even less well prepared for major combat operations than we judged in the National intelligence Estimate... of July 1994 and in an Update Memorandum published in January 1995... They remain more capable than those of regional Arab states, but could not gain a decisive military advantage over Iran's forces... Iraq's military capabilities will continue a slow and steady decline as long as both economic sanctions and the arms embargo are maintained. Smuggling and other efforts to circumvent the embargo will be inadequate to halt the trend... Saddam probably realises that a reinvasion of Kuwait is now more likely to provoke a Coalition military response that could destroy his regime."31

In January 2003, when officials were ratcheting up their warnings of a growing threat and immediate danger, the intelligence community issued its final appraisal: "Saddam probably will not initiate hostilities for fear of providing Washington with justification to invade Iraq. Nevertheless, he might deal the first blow, especially if he perceives that an attack intended to end his regime is imminent."32

We Were Not All Wrong

Supporters of the US and UK administrations are fond of asserting that everyone - including the United Nations - got it wrong. This claim is also repeated by many experts and journalists who often mean by it that they, too, got it wrong. It is offered as an explanation and an excuse, as if their conclusion that war was necessary was the only reasonable judgment possible at the time given the available evidence.

But not everyone got it wrong. The United Nations inspectors in particular turned out to be more accurate and more precise than the intelligence agencies of the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel, all of which asserted that Saddam had large stockpiles of ready to use weapons. The UN inspectors, on the other hand, never said that Iraq had nuclear, biological or chemical weapons - only that Iraq might have some components or materials for such weapons. As Dr. Hans Blix told the Security Council one month before the war, "One must not jump to the conclusion that they exist." That was the reason for having inspections: to find out for sure.

This point is key. The administration and many experts ignored the new intelligence coming in from the UN inspectors during the three months they were permitted to operate. The Butler report notes the failure of the British government to "re-evaluate" its intelligence estimates in light of the inspectors' findings in 2003. The same could be said of the US intelligence agencies, but the Senate Committee report ignores the crucial role played by UNMOVIC and the new intelligence they were providing. In the months before the war, the inspectors reported back that there was no evidence of the large-scale, on-going production programmes the US and UK claimed. The inspectors have said they would have needed only a few more months to give definitive answers. Eminent experts, including several at the Carnegie Endowment, urged the president to continue inspections and containment. It has now been confirmed that these measures were working: that Saddam was growing weaker, not stronger; that his army was deteriorating and his rule shaky. As David Kay testified before the US Congress, Saddam's regime "was in a death spiral." Further, not all national intelligence agencies "got it wrong." Many, including the French, German and Russian governments, suspected that Saddam could have some chemical or biological weapons and were concerned that some nuclear-weapon activity might be underway. But they did not believe these weapons, if they existed, posed an immediate danger.

The majority of nations on the UN Security Council appeared to agree with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin who elaborated the French position before the UN Security Council in March 2003: "It is clear to all that in Iraq, we are resolutely moving towards the complete elimination of weapons of mass destruction programmes. The method that we have chosen works. The information supplied by Baghdad had been verified by the inspectors and is leading to the elimination of banned ballistic equipment.

"We must proceed the same way with all the other programmes - with information, verification, destruction... With regard to nuclear weapons, Mr. ElBaradei's statements confirm that we are approaching the time when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be able to certify the dismantlement of the Iraq programme.

"What conclusions can we draw? That Iraq, according to the very terms used by the inspectors, represents less of a danger to the world than it did in 1991, and that we can achieve the objective of effectively disarming that country... There is nothing today to indicate a link between the Iraqi regime and al Qaeda. Will the world be a safer place after a military intervention in Iraq? Let me state my country's conviction: it will not."34

Whatever one may think about French motives, it is now clear that, on the merits, France was largely right about the threat of Iraq's weapons and how to address it prior to the war.35 And they were not alone.

Centralisation not the Answer

Finally, it is not even true that all the US intelligence agencies "got it wrong." As the Senate report documents in great detail, the sceptical opinions of the agencies most expert on such key issues as whether aluminium tubes purchased by Iraq could be used for centrifuges to enrich uranium (the Department of Energy) or whether unmanned aerial vehicles could disperse chemical or biological weapons (the Air Force), were overruled by the CIA. But it goes deeper than that.

A close reading of the Senate report tells the story of an intelligence assessment process dominated from the top, that systematically cut out debate and dissent. This should raise serious concerns about the somewhat contradictory recommendation from the commission that the way to cure the crippled American intelligence community is to increase the centralisation and increase the top-down control.

There is a telling vignette from December 2002, when the CIA produced a response to Iraq's December 7 "Full and Complete Disclosure" of its WMD programmes mandated by the United Nations. It should be recalled that the apparent incompleteness of this declaration was a turning point in the drive to war, as many observers concluded that Saddam was never going to tell the truth, making war the only option. In hindsight, the declaration was far more complete than most realised. What we have not known until now is that the official US response to the declaration was rushed through without due consideration from all the intelligence agencies.

On the crucial issue of Iraq's nuclear programme, the intelligence review sent to the White House on December 17 titled "US Analysis of Iraq's Declaration, 7 December 2002" concluded that the declaration "fails to acknowledge or explain procurement of high specification aluminium tubes we believe suitable for use in a gas centrifuge uranium effort. Fails to acknowledge efforts to procure uranium from Niger, as noted in the U.K. Dossier."36

Neither the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) nor the Department of Energy (DOE) were allowed to review or comment on these conclusions. (In fact, the INR, the smallest of the US intelligence agencies, consistently had the most accurate assessments of Iraq's capabilities.) The Senate report discloses email sent to the CIA from an INR analyst asking, "Do you happen to know offhand if INR will get to review and clear the draft 'detailed analysis' of the declaration before it's issued in its capacity as a 'US position'? We were not invited to review or clear on the draft preliminary 'US' assessment, which subsequently went to POTUS, et al. [President of the United States]."37

The CIA responds that all agencies had been invited to participate in the analysis. The INR sends another email noting that INR and DOE analysis had been able to review the Iraqi declaration and make some comments, but that they had left the CIA before the CIA analysts had prepared their review. They had not even known that such points were being prepared or provided to the White House, the INR analyst said. Even though the INR then sent their concerns to the CIA, their views were never included in the official talking points used by US officials.

The INR analyst forwarded his comments to his counterpart in the DOE who wrote back, "It is most disturbing that WINPAC [the Director of the CIA's Center for Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control] is essentially directing foreign policy in this matter. There are some very strong points to be made in respect to Iraq's arrogant non-compliance with UN sanctions. However, when individuals attempt to convert those 'strong statements' into the 'knock out' punch, the Administration will ultimately look foolish - i.e., the tubes and Niger!"38

A Job Half Done

The two dissenting agencies were, of course, correct. Politics and pressure pushed CIA leaders to take concerns and fragments of information and turn them into definitive findings and a casus belli.

If the United States and the United Kingdom are to reform the intelligence assessment process to better respond to future threats, it is essential that top policymakers understand that the work is only half finished. They should resist the rushed efforts to adopt sweeping reorganisations based on the mistaken belief that they now have the full picture of what went wrong. These two reports, as good as they are, as information-rich as they are, as well-written as they are, tell only half the story. Until the full details of the roles played by Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Vice-President Cheney and his Chief of Staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby are revealed, policy-makers will not understand how the system became so corrupted.

A true, comprehensive assessment of the intelligence failures prior to the Iraq war, including the administration's role, is still needed - regardless of political schedules. It could be done now, in great part relying on open sources. If it proves impossible during the current US administration, it must be done by the next. In the end, it will not be commissions or committees that judge these officials, but history and the American people.


1. The 9/11 Commission Report, (W.W. Norton & Company, New York, London: 2004) p. xvi [hereinafter 9/11 Report].

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid, p. 54.

4. Ibid, p. 60

5. Ibid, pp 228-229, see pp 61-66 for discussion that although bin Ladin put out "feelers" to Iraq, "there is no evidence that Iraq responded," and pp. 335-336 for a summary of Paul Wolfowitz's efforts immediately after September 11 to strike at Iraq, including Colin Powell's testimony that "Paul was always of the view that Iraq was a problem that had to be dealt with and he saw this as one way of using this event as a way to deal with the Iraq problem."

6. Ibid, p. 340.

7. Ibid, p. 362.

8. Ibid, p. 364.

9. Ibid, p. 199

10. The report notes: "Their [Bush administration] policy priorities differed from those of the Clinton administration. Those priorities included China, missile defense, the collapse of the Middle East peace process, Russia and the Persian Gulf." (p. 201), and in a footnote to Chapter 6 says, "Public references by candidate and then President Bush about terrorism before 9/11 tended to reflect these priorities, focusing on state-sponsored terrorism and WMD as a reason to mount a missile defense, See, for example, President Bush remarks, Warsaw University, June 15, 2001." (Report footnote 164, p. 509.)

11. Steve Chapman, "The Wrong Nuclear Threat," Chicago Tribune, August 26, 2004.

12. Maureen Dowd, "His Magnificent Obsession," The New York Times, September 5, 2001, p. A23.

13. 9/11 Commission, p. 91

14. David Ignatius, "The Book on Terror," The Washington Post, Review of Books, Sunday, August 1, 2004, p. 5.

15. 9/11 Commission, p. 336.

16. Ibid. p. 559, footnote 73.

17. Ibid, footnote 74.

18. See Stephen Pullinger, "Lord Butler's Report on UK Intelligence", in this issue, Disarmament Diplomacy 78 (July/August 2004), pp 10-17.

19. See, for example, WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications (Carnegie Endowment, January 2004), available at www.ProliferationNews.org. See also the summary in Alexis Orton and Joseph Cirincione, "WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications", Disarmament Diplomacy 75 (January/February 2004).

20. Report on the US Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq, Select Committee on intelligence, United States Senate, (Washington, D.C., July 2004), p. 14 [hereinafter Senate Report].

21. Ibid, pp. 15-18.

22. Pullinger on Butler Report, op. cit.

23. Senate Report pp. 16 and 363

24. Ibid, p. 451

25. Ibid, p. 452

26. Ibid, p. 453.

27. See note 19.Available for download at http://www.ProliferationNews.org.

28. Senate Report, p. 456

29. For a fuller treatment of the Niger issue, see Joseph Cirincione, "Niger Uranium: Still a False Claim," Carnegie Proliferation Brief, August 28, 2004, available at: http://www.ceip.org/files/nonprolif/templates/

30. Journalists and experts often repeat this unsupported claim, despite evidence to the contrary. The Washington Post, for example, editorialised favourably about Senator John McCain's defense of the Iraq invasion at the Republican National Convention: "Mr. McCain offered a powerful argument for going to war in Iraq: that whether or not Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, 'freed from international pressure and the threat of military action, he would have acquired them again. . . . We couldn't afford the risk posed by an unconstrained Saddam in these dangerous times.'" September 1, 2004, p. A18.

31. Senate Report p. 388, quote from Iraqi Military Capabilities through 2003 (NIE 99-04/II, April 1999).

32. Ibid, p. 390, from Key Warning Concerns for 2003, (ICA 2003-05, January 2003).

33. See remarks of Mohammed ElBaradei, Director General of the IAEA, and Hans Blix, former Executive Director of UNMOVIC at the Carnegie International Non-Proliferation Conference, June 2004, available at http://www.ProliferationNews.org.
Dr. Blix said on that occasion, "Saddam Hussein did not have any weapons of mass destruction in March 2003, and the evidence invoked of the existence of such weapons had begun to fall apart even before the invasion started. Saddam Hussein was not a valid object for counterproliferation. He was not an imminent or even a remote threat to the United States or to Iraq's neighbours. The ousting of his bloody regime could have been urged on the basis that it was a horror to the Iraqi people, but this was not argued at the time. A continuation of the inspections, as desired by the majority of members of the Security Council, would have allowed visits to all sites suspected by national intelligence agencies and would have yielded no weapons of mass destruction because there were none."
Dr. ElBaradei said: "The Iraq experience demonstrated that inspections - while requiring time and patience - can be effective even when the country under inspection was providing less than active cooperation. All evidence to date indicates that Iraq's nuclear weapons programme had been effectively dismantled in the 1990s through IAEA inspection - as we were nearly ready to conclude before the war. Inspections in Iran over the past year have also been key in uncovering a nuclear programme that had remained hidden since the 1980s - and in enabling the international community to have a far more comprehensive picture of Iran's nuclear programme than at any time before."

34. Dominique de Villepin, Foreign Minister of France, Speech before the UN Security Council, March 7, 2003.

35. For a more complete view of the French position, see Joseph Cirincione, "The French Were Right," Carnegie Analysis, February 24, 2004, available at: http://www.ceip.org/files/nonprolif/

36. Senate Report, p. 129.

37. Ibid.

38. Ibid.

Joseph Cirincione is director for nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the co-author of Universal Compliance: A Strategy for Nuclear Security. In May, the National Journal named him among the one hundred Americans whose ideas will influence the next administration.

and the British were 'misled' too....

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