THE FAILURE TO find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq is forcing the Bush administration to defend itself against charges that it exaggerated the threat posed by former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, and two congressional committees have begun hearings on the administration's interpretation of intelligence related to Iraq's WMD.
The Bush administration's chief rationale for invading Iraq was that it posed a near-term threat to the United States and countries in the Persian Gulf region. Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, the administration claimed, and might have used them or given them to terrorists. Vice President Dick Cheney stated in an August 26 speech that "there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction" and said March 16 that "Iraq has reconstituted nuclear weapons." In an October speech, President George W. Bush himself asserted that Baghdad "possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons," and he repeated the claim two days before the invasion began.
UN weapons inspectors have long said that Iraq had never provided an adequate accounting of its prohibited weapons programs or convinced them that its weapons of mass destruction had been destroyed. But Hans BKx, who retired July 1 as executive chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), told Arms Control Today June 16 that he warned government officials not to equate unaccounted-for weapons with existing weapons.
Now, more than three months after coalition forces entered Iraq, no weapons of mass destruction have been found, leading critics to question the administration's characterization of intelligence reports on Iraqi WMD and the imminence of the threat they posed. Greg Thielmann, who was director of the Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs Office in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research until retiring in September 2002, told Arms Control Today June 26 that senior administration officials made misleading statements about intelligence regarding Iraq. Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, said June 25 that "administration officials rarely included the caveats and qualifiers attached to the Intelligence Community's judgments" in their statements about Iraq's weapons programs.
Press reports have suggested that intelligence analysts felt pressured by the White House to alter their assessments to conform with the administration's beliefs about Iraqi WMD. The CIA and the Pentagon, however, have denied these allegations. Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet said in a May 30 statement that "the integrity of [the intelligence analysis] was maintained...and any suggestion to the contrary is simply wrong."
Nevertheless, criticism of the administration's use of intelligence has grown strong enough that Congress has decided to look into the matter. Initial calls by Democrats for a formal investigation were rebuffed, but both the House and Senate intelligence committees are conducting closed hearings as well as reviewing relevant intelligence documents. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a June 22 appearance on Fox News Sunday that his committee would also conduct a public hearing and issue a report after the closed hearings. Harman stated June 25 that the House will hold public hearings as well.
The Administration's Defense
Administration officials have dismissed the criticism, expressing confidence in the veracity of their prewar claims and offering several rebuttals, the starkest of which was Bush's assertion that coalition forces had actually "found...banned weapons." In a May 29 interview with Polish television, Bush said that forces had discovered two trailers that the CIA had identified as being part of a larger system for producing biological weapons. (See ACT, June 2003.) The CIA, …