Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq

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The Senate Report on Iraqi WMD Intelligence (formally, the Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq) was the report by the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concerning the U.S. intelligence community's assessments of Iraq during the time leading up to the 2003 U.S. invasion. The report, which was released on July 9, 2004, identified numerous failures in the intelligence-gathering and -analysis process. The report found that these failures led to the creation of inaccurate materials that misled both government policy makers and the American public.

The Committee's Republican majority and Democratic minority agreed on the report's major conclusions and unanimously endorsed publishing its findings. They disagreed, though, on the impact that statements on Iraq by senior members of the Bush administration had on the intelligence process.

Because of this, the report paints an incomplete picture, because the Committee had put off until phase two of the investigation the key question of how intelligence on Iraq was used and misused by Administration officials in public statements and reports. This renders the Committee’s phase one report flawed due to its failure to fully explain the environment of intense pressure in which Intelligence Community officials were asked to render judgments on matters relating to Iraq when policy officials had already forcefully stated their own conclusions in public.

The second phase (phase two) of the investigation, which was to have addressed the way senior policymakers used the intelligence, has yet to be completed.

Contents

Background

After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Iraq agreed to destroy its stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and dismantle its WMD programs. To verify compliance, United Nations (UN) inspection teams were to be given free access to the country. Over the next seven years, inspectors sometimes complained about non-cooperation and evasiveness by the Iraqi government. Iraqi officials in turn complained that some weapons inspectors were acting as spies for foreign intelligence agencies. In 1998, after a critical report on the Iraqi government's noncompliance was issued by UN weapons inspector Richard Butler, U.S. President Bill Clinton announced that he would launch airstrikes on Iraqi targets. Butler evacuated his inspectors and the bombing proceeded. After the bombing campaign, Iraq refused to allow weapons inspectors to re-enter the country.

After George W. Bush became president in January 2001, and especially after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the U.S. government increased its attention on Iraq. In the first half of 2002, a series of public statements by President Bush and senior members of his administration indicated a willingness to use force, if necessary, to remove Saddam Hussein from power. On October 1, 2002, the CIA delivered a classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessing the threat represented by Iraq's WMD activities. Three days later, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director George Tenet published an unclassified white paper on the subject of Iraq's WMD capabilities. Over the next two weeks, a joint resolution authorizing the use of force was passed by both houses of Congress.

Over the next several months the U.S. conducted a diplomatic effort at the UN to obtain that body's approval for a new WMD inspection regime, and, potentially, for the use of force to overthrow the Iraqi government. The UN Security Council passed resolution 1441 on November 8, 2002, calling on Iraq to make "an accurate full, final, and complete disclosure" of its WMD programs, and threatening "serious consequences" if it did not comply. In the wake of resolution 1441, Iraq allowed UN weapons inspectors to return to the country. While the inspections were taking place, the U.S. continued to lobby the members of the UN Security Council to pass a resolution explicitly authorizing the use of force against Iraq. As part of that effort U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a presentation to the UN on February 5, 2003, in which he detailed U.S. intelligence findings regarding Iraqi WMD. Faced with the opposition of a majority of the Security Council's members, including Germany, France, and Russia, the U.S. abandoned the effort to obtain an explicit use-of-force authorization from the UN.

On March 20, 2003, the U.S. and its allies invaded Iraq, an action that led to the overthrow of the government of Saddam Hussein.

Over the ensuing year, U.S. and allied forces searched for evidence supporting the pre-invasion claims about Iraqi WMD stockpiles and programs. The lead role in this search was played by the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), consisting of investigators from the Department of Defense and the CIA. Although a handful of scattered remnants of Iraq's WMD stockpiles from the time prior to the 1991 Gulf War were found, the ISG's final report concluded that at the time of the invasion Iraq did not have an WMDs and did not possess significant WMD capabilities.

As these facts were emerging in June, 2003, U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, announced that the Committee, as part of its regular oversight responsibility, would conduct a "thorough and bipartisan review" of Iraqi WMD and ties to terrorist groups. On June 20, 2003, Senator Roberts and Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), the Committee's vice-chairman, issued a joint press release announcing that the committee would conduct a detailed review of the Iraqi WMD intelligence process, including the following areas:

  • the quantity and quality of U.S. intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programs, ties to terrorist groups, Saddam Hussein's threat to stability and security in the region, and his repression of his own people;
  • the objectivity, reasonableness, independence, and accuracy of the judgments reached by the Intelligence Community;
  • whether those judgments were properly disseminated to policy makers in the Executive Branch and Congress;
  • whether any influence was brought to bear on anyone to shape their analysis to support policy objectives; and
  • other issues we mutually identify in the course of the Committee's review.

Committee membership at the time of the investigation

The following nine Republicans were members of the Committee at the time the investigation was launched: Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Christopher S. Bond (R-MO), Trent Lott (R-MS), Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), and John W. Warner (R-VA).

The following eight Democrats made up the rest of the Committee: Vice-Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), Carl Levin (D-MI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Evan Bayh (D-IN), John Edwards (D-NC), and Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD).

Chronology of the investigation

In the course of the investigation, Committee staff reviewed more than 30,000 pages of documentation provided by the intelligence community. The Committee requested that it be supplied copies of the President's Daily Briefs (PDBs) concerning Iraq's WMD capabilities and ties to terrorism, but the White House denied that request.

Committee staff also interviewed more than 200 people, including intelligence analysts and senior officials with the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIS), the Department of Defense, and other federal entities involved in intelligence gathering and analysis. The Committee also held a series of hearings on the intelligence concerning Iraqi WMD and ties to terrorism.

On February 12, 2004, Senators Roberts and Rockefeller announced an expansion of the scope of the investigation. The new elements added to the investigation were:

  • the collection of intelligence on Iraq from the end of the Gulf War to the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom;
  • whether public statements and reports and testimony regarding Iraq by U.S. Government officials made between the Gulf War period and the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom were substantiated by intelligence information;
  • the postwar findings about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and weapons programs and links to terrorism and how they compare with prewar assessments;
  • prewar intelligence assessments about postwar Iraq;
  • any intelligence activities relating to Iraq conducted by the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group (PCTEG) and the Office of Special Plans within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy; and
  • the use by the Intelligence Community of information provided by the Iraqi National Congress (INC).

On June 17, 2004, Senators Roberts and Rockefeller announced that the completed report had been unanimously approved by the Committee's members, and that they were working with the CIA on the issue of declassification. The completed report, with blacked-out text ("redactions") made by the CIA, was released on July 9, 2004. The report did not cover most of the new topics announced in the February 12, 2004, press release; instead, those topics were now to be covered in a separate report, to be completed later, covering "phase two" of the investigation which has yet to occur.

The report's conclusions

The 511-page report focuses much of its attention on the October, 2002, classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) titled Iraq's Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction. The report includes 117 formal conclusions, as well as supporting discussion and background information.

General conclusions on intelligence relating to Iraq's WMD and ties to terrorism

The report's first conclusion points to widespread flaws in the October 2002 NIE, and attributes those flaws to failure by analysts in the intelligence community:

Most of the major key judgments in the Intelligence Community’s October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction, either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting. A series of failures, particularly in analytic trade craft, led to the mischaracterization of the intelligence.

Subsequent conclusions fault the intelligence community for failing to adequately explain to policymakers the uncertainties that underlay the NIE's conclusions, and for succumbing to "group think," in which the intelligence community adopted untested (and, in hindsight, unwarranted) assumptions about the extent of Iraq's WMD stockpiles and programs. The committee identified a failure to adequately supervise analysts and collectors, and a failure to develop human sources of intelligence (HUMINT) inside Iraq after the departure of international weapons inspectors in 1998. It also cited the post-9/11 environment as having led to an increase in the intensity with which policymakers review and question threat information.

Niger and the Iraqi nuclear program

Section II of the report discussed the handling of intelligence indicating that Iraq might be attempting to purchase uranium from Niger. The report examined the role played by former ambassador Joseph Wilson in investigating the issue, and the way Wilson's assessment was communicated within the intelligence community. It also discusses the process whereby references to Iraq's uranium-procurement efforts were removed from some speeches by administration officials, but left in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address. This portion of the report, Democratic members of the Committee were unwilling to agree to. Specifically the conclusion that the plan to send Wilson to investigate the Niger allegation was suggested by Wilson's wife, a CIA employee, and that in his later public statements criticizing the Bush administration, Wilson included information he had learned from press accounts, misrepresenting it as firsthand knowledge.

Section III of the report discusses assessments of Iraq's domestic nuclear program. It focuses a significant amount of attention on the intelligence process that took place in the spring of 2001 regarding Iraq's attempts to purchase 60,000 high-strength aluminum tubes. The CIA stated that the tubes could be intended for constructing centrifuges for a uranium-enrichment program (i.e., for a restarted Iraqi nuclear weapons program); analysts in the Department of Energy, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) and the Department of Defense considered that to be unlikely.

The October 2002 NIE stated that Iraq appeared to be reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. The Committee's report concluded that this view was not supported by the underlying intelligence, and the report agreed with the opinion of the State Department's INR which were expressed as an "alternative view" in the NIE, that the available intelligence did not make "a compelling case for reconstitution" of the Iraqi nuclear program. The committee reached several conclusions critical of poor communications between the CIA and other parts of the intelligence community concerning this issue.

Biological weapons, chemical weapons, and delivery systems

The sections of the report concerned with assessments of Iraq's biological weapons programs, chemical weapons programs, and delivery systems contain extensive discussion of the problem of inadequate "human intelligence" for intelligence gathering in Iraq. There is discussion of "CURVEBALL," an Iraqi defector who provided much of the information regarding Iraq's alleged mobile bioweapons labs, although much of the material in this part of the report has been redacted. The report concludes that the October 2002 NIE and other statements regarding Iraq's biological and chemical WMD and associated delivery systems were for the most part not supported by the underlying intelligence data supplied to the Committee.

Committee Chairman Pat Roberts told NBC's Tim Russert that "Curveball really provided 98 percent of the assessment as to whether or not the Iraqis had a biological weapon."[1] This was in despite the fact that "nobody inside the U.S. government had ever actually spoken to the informant—except [for a single] Pentagon analyst, who concluded the man was an alcoholic and utterly useless as a source."[2]

After learning the intelligence provided by Curveball was going to be used as the "backbone" of the case for war, the Pentagon analyst wrote a letter to the CIA expressing his concerns. The Deputy of the CIA Counter Proliferation Unit quickly responded by saying:

"Let's keep in mind the fact that this war's going to happen regardless of what Curve Ball said or didn't say. The Powers That Be probably aren't terribly interested in whether Curve Ball knows what he's talking about."[3][4]

One area where the Committee found that the intelligence community's reporting accurately reflected the underlying intelligence concerned Iraq's retention of Scud-type ballistic missiles, and its development of new types of short- and medium-range missiles.

However, in the case of the NIE's reporting on Iraq's development of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), the Committee found that the reporting generally was not well-supported by the underlying intelligence, and overstated what was known concerning the likelihood that the Iraqi UAVs were intended for use as a delivery means for biological weapons.

Colin Powell's speech to the UN

Section VII of the Committee's report focuses on the intelligence behind Secretary of State Colin Powell's speech to the UN on February 5, 2002. The report describes the process whereby the CIA provided a draft of the speech to the National Security Council (NSC), and then, at the request of the NSC, worked to expand the speech with additional material, especially regarding Iraq's nuclear program. The report also describes the subsequent review made by Colin Powell and analysts from the State Department with analysts from the CIA. In the speech, Powell said that "every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence." Despite this, the Committee concluded that "[m]uch of the information provided or cleared by the CIA for inclusion in Secretary Powell’s speech was overstated, misleading, or incorrect."

Pressure on analysts

The report only takes a partially look at the question of whether pressure was brought to bear on intelligence analysts to get them to shape their assessments to support particular policy objectives. It recounts how Sen. Roberts made repeated public calls for any analysts who believed they had been pressured to alter their assessments to speak with the Committee about their experiences. The Committee also attempted to identify and interview several individuals who had described such pressure in media reports and government documents. That conclusion within the report which says that the Committee did not find any evidence that administration officials tried to pressure analysts to change their judgments, was rather inexplicable since the evaluation of the Bush Administration's use of intelligence and its involvement in the process intelligence assessment by political appointees, was put off until phase two of the investigation which still has not taken place. Again, Democratic committee members, although they voted to approve the report's findings and their publication, expressed serious reservations on this issue and the Republicans even acknowledged that the issue of "pressure" would be examined during phase two.

The October 2002 white paper

A white paper titled "Iraq's Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction" was released by CIA Director George Tenet on October 4, 2002, three days after the NIE on Iraqi WMD was released. In part, the white paper was a response to Congressional requests for an unclassified version of the information in the NIE, since that document was available only to a small group of lawmakers due to its classified nature. The white paper, although shorter and less-detailed than the NIE, was very similar to it in format and major conclusions. The Committee found that the white paper presented a significantly stronger characterization of the threat represented by Iraqi WMD than did the NIE, and that that stronger characterization was not supported by the underlying intelligence.

Iraq's alleged links to terrorism

Several sections in the report examine topics relating to allegations of links between Iraq and terrorism. The Committee stated that Saddam Hussein's government may have had several contacts with al Qaeda over the course of the 1990s, but that "those contacts did not add up to an established formal relationship." While members of groups allegedly connected with al Qaeda had been present in Iraq, it had operated in northeastern Iraq in an area under Kurdish control, which was under the U.S. patrolled "no-fly zones" and not under Saddam's governments control. There was no evidence proving Iraqi complicity or assistance in al Qaeda attacks. The report went on to criticize the CIA for its lack of human intelligence resources in Iraq to assess the country's ties with terrorism during the time prior to 2002. Throughout these sections, as through most of the report, the supporting discussion after each conclusion has been completely redacted. In the case of one conclusion, conclusion 101, which appears in the section on the intelligence community's "collection activities" regarding Iraq's links to terrorism, not only the supporting discussion, but the conclusion itself, has been redacted. This is the only case in the report where a conclusion itself was censored.

In terms of pressure on analysts, the Committee said that after 9/11, "analysts were under tremendous pressure to make correct assessments, to avoid missing a credible threat, and to avoid an intelligence failure on the scale of 9/11.", that this resulted in assessments that were "bold and assertive in pointing out potential terrorist links.".

"Phase two" of the investigation

At the time of the report's release (July 9, 2004), Democratic members of the committee expressed the hope that "phase two" of the investigation, which was to include an assessment of how the Iraqi WMD intelligence was used by senior policymakers, would be completed quickly. Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) said of phase two, "It is a priority. I made my commitment and it will get done."

On March 10, 2005, during a question-and-answer session after a speech he had given at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Senator Roberts said of the failure to complete phase two, "[T]hat is basically on the back burner." Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), vice chairman of the Committee, made a statement later that day in which he said, "The Chairman agreed to this investigation and I fully expect him to fulfill his commitment... While the completion of phase two is long overdue, the committee has continued this important work, and I expect that we will finish the review in the very near future."

In a statement regarding the release of the report of the presidential WMD commission on March 31, 2005, Senator Roberts wrote, "I don’t think there should be any doubt that we have now heard it all regarding prewar intelligence. I think that it would be a monumental waste of time to replow this ground any further."

On April 10, 2005, Senators Roberts and Rockefeller appeared together on NBC's Meet the Press program. In response to a question about the completion of phase two of the investigation, Roberts said, "I'm perfectly willing to do it, and that's what we agreed to do, and that door is still open. And I don't want to quarrel with Jay, because we both agreed that we would get it done. But we do have--we have Ambassador Negroponte next week, we have General Mike Hayden next week. We have other hot-spot hearings or other things going on that are very important."

Moderator Tim Russert then asked Senator Rockefeller if he believed phase two would be completed, and he replied, "I hope so. Pat and I have agreed to do it. We've shaken hands on it, and we agreed to do it after the elections so it wouldn't be any sort of sense of a political attack. I mean that was my view; it shouldn't be viewed that way."

As of July, 2005, phase two of the Committee's investigation had not yet been completed.


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