Intelligence dead wrong on Iraq, the U.S. presidential panel on WMD
Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah

Published April 02, 2006

   On March 31, 2005, the presidential panel on �weapons of mass destruction� (WMD) published their overwrought report that is over 600-page long in which it pointed out a colossal failure by the U.S. intelligence (read CIA), which gave a blow to American credibility that will take years to correct.  

   Sadly, the spymasters still know disturbingly very little about nuclear programs in countries like Iran and North Korea.  This is the foregone conclusion of a presidential commission that comprises of two distinguished U.S. citizens namely, retired Judge Laurence Silberman, a Republican, and former Democratic Sen. Charles Robb of Virginia who is the commission's co-chairmen.

   President Bush accepted the scathing criticism that came from the panel while he praised the candor of the panel members� comments.  The commission found failures throughout U.S. spy agencies that resulted in botched estimates of the threat posed by Iraqi regime headed by Saddam Hussein.  The botched spy reports served as the basis for Bush�s �get-tough with Saddam� policy, which ultimately resulted in the regime change in Baghdad favored by not only President Bush but also by VP Dick Cheney, Secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz (now about to serve as the president of the World Bank), and Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.  

   The commission recommended the overhauling of the intelligence community to increase sharing among 15 agencies and foster dissenting views.  The former senator, Charles Robb, a panel member had opined that the U.S. intelligence community was mired in a Cold War-mindset.  While addressing a news conference to mark the publication of the commission report, Senator Robb quipped, �They are still, in some respects, fighting the last war.�  What Senator Robb meant by last war was the prolonged Cold War that lasted from 1945 to 1991.  

   President Bush while he must have been embarrassed by the findings of the panel said he agreed that fundamental change is needed and he promised to �correct what needs to be fixed.�  So serious was the president that he directed White House homeland security adviser Fran Townsend to lead a review of the findings over 90 days and oversee corrections.

   As soon as the panel report was out, major news agencies such as Reuters, AP, etc., had covered the press conference and highlighted the findings in the news reports that were published a day later on April 1, 2005.  I have also read a couple of editorials and commentary that were written hurriedly and published a day later in prestigious newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).  Mr. Fred Ikl�, a conservative writer who served as the undersecretary of defense in the Reagan Administration, wrote a commentary entitled �WMD Redux� in the WSJ�s editorial page on April 1, 2005.  By the word �Redux,� he meant, �brought back,� or �revisited.�  It was an appropriate title, to say the least.

  The commission report indeed brought back the controversy of WMD vis-�-vis Iraq, which was the cornerstone of U.S. defense policy in respect to Iraq in the year 2002.  Because of the faulty intelligence report, the trigger-happy hawks in the Bush Administration were in the cloud nine to launch the unilateral invasion of Iraq in March 2003.  Needless to say, tens and thousands of innocent Iraqis were killed in the invasion.  The insurgencies that were engendered by the American invasion also led to loss of Iraqi lives along with the death of American soldiers that has far exceeded the estimation by the Pentagon.  All of these happened simply because of a massive intelligence failure by the CIA and other agencies of the U.S. government. 

   Mr. Ikl� being a conservative analyst did not like the seminal findings of the commission on WMD.  Thus, to mock the columnists who are going to have a field day in coming days he wrote in his half scholarly WSJ commentary as follows: �Equipped with a rearward telescope called hindsight, hunting down other people�s mistakes is a fun sport � enjoyed by policy wonks as well as the media.  But prudence suggests we should also have a forward-looking telescope to warn us of policy failures on the road ahead.�  Mr. Ikl� called the critics of the Bush Administration �wonks� � a derisive word for a student who studies excessively.  Most conservative analysts who side with president Bush on Iraq conveniently forget that this flawed intelligence report had given the Pentagon planners of the Iraq War and the White House the green light to drum up support in the media to legitimize the invasion.  I suppose the loss of human lives means very little to Mr. Ikl� and the likes of him.  Instead of giving a glowing encomium to the panel members of the WMD commission, the conservative critics found ill intent amongst the critics of the Bush Administration vis-�-vis the WMD fiasco concerning Saddam regime.  When President Bush has accepted the panel�s scathing report and recommendations, then who are these conservative think-tank members?  Mr. Ikl� is visibly upset as he penned his commentary to lambaste the liberal news media.

   The call for intelligence reform in the aftermath of Iraq invasion when no evidence of weapons of mass destruction could be found in that country came from Democrats but those initiatives to reform intelligence gathering and analysis have not borne fruit.  It remains to be seen whether the Bush Administration will take the recommendations by the bi-partisan commission seriously.  The Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate select Committee on intelligence voiced his concern as he said, �It concerns me that many of the commission's recommendations have been made before, but the president failed to act.� 
   The WMD commission report warned that John Negroponte, who was recently nominated to be the new director of national intelligence, faces turf battles with the CIA and Defense Department, which it called some of the government�s �most headstrong agencies,� and predicted �they will try to run around -- or over� him.  The CIA Director Porter Goss, however, promised to work with Negroponte to quickly make needed changes.  Mr. Goss said,  �We need more robust collection and rigorous analysis.�
   The WMD commission sent Bush a separate letter criticizing overhaul plans at the CIA and the FBI.  The report says: �these agencies remain too comfortable with a 'business as usual' approach to intelligence gathering.�

   It should be mentioned here that Messrs. Bush and Dick Cheney escaped direct blame for the flawed intelligence gathering even though their critics say that the Bush Administration had exaggerating the intelligence on Iraq to pursue a costly war with a deadly aftermath.  In this regard, the WMD report says, �The analysts who worked Iraqi weapons issues universally agreed that in no instance did political pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgments.�  However, the report was quick to assert, �It is hard to deny the conclusion that intelligence analysts worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom.�

   Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who is a vocal critic of the president, urged the Senate intelligence committee to investigate whether Bush administration officials misused intelligence.  The Democrats will try to keep the issue of intelligence failure under President Bush to point out to the Americans that the president�s inner circle especially the VP (Dick Cheney), Defense Secretary (Rumsfeld), Deputy Defense Secretary (Paul Wolfowitz), and Security Advisor (Condoleezza Rice) were very eager to tell advise the president that a regime change was necessary in Iraq to avert a catastrophe looming because of stockpiling of WMD by Saddam.  

   The WMD commission report has a chapter on alleged nuclear weapons programs in Iran and North Korea.  However, it was classified; therefore, not released publicly.  The Reuters report mentioned that sources familiar with that section said it was among the most critical, finding U.S. intelligence on Iran�s nuclear program particularly inadequate.  The most scathing remarks made by the commission point fingers at the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency and other agencies for producing �worthless or misleading� intelligence on Iraq before a war fought over claims that Saddam Hussein had amassed weapons of mass destruction, none of which was found however. 
   In what amounted to a direct charge on George Tenet, who was CIA director before the Iraq war and who gave the president his daily intelligence briefing, the commission found that �the daily reports sent to the president and senior policymakers discussing Iraq over many months proved to be disastrously one-sided.�
   Later, Mr. Tenet said in his defense, �American intelligence was nearly in (a) Chapter 11 bankruptcy� by the mid-to-late 1990s, and that he had implemented a rebuilding program that was still in progress as the Iraq threat was examined.  This was reported in a Reuter�s write-up on April 1, 2005. 

   The WMD commission recommended the creation of a national counter proliferation center to combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction and a separate National Security Service within the FBI.  Whether the Bush Administration will consider these recommendations remains to be seen.  

   In summary, the bipartisan commission on WMD had published their findings and recommendations on March 31, 2005.  In the report was included some scathing criticism of intelligence organizations and how they gather and analyze intelligence.  The Bush Administration used this bogus analysis to formulate a plan to invade Iraq and they even tried to drum up support amongst allies in Europe.  The war cost America hundreds of billions of dollars, not to mention the loss of lives � both Iraqis and Americans.  Will the recommendations made by the commission to overhaul the intelligence department be taken seriously?  We have to wait on this as Mr. John Negroponte assumes the office of the chief of national intelligence.  In the next decade, the Americans will witness a debate over how the CIA and other intelligence agencies gather and analyze sensitive information.  The Iraqi WMD fiasco that put the U.S. in collision course with Saddam will serve as an example of how flawed intelligence could disturb peace and prosperity of our otherwise a tranquil world. 
Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans, USA