The Washington debate over the justifications for the US invasion
of Iraq is deepening in intensity, swirling into a Force 5 storm as
the presidential political season begins in earnest.
A series of reports critical of the intelligence community's pre-
war assessments of Saddam Hussein's power and intentions appears set
to provide charges of incompetence for weeks to come. At the same
time, the new Democratic ticket is signaling its intention to make
the issue a central one - even though Sens. John Kerry and John
Edwards both voted to approve the war before combat began.
The bottom line: The US appears poised to continue an
unprecedented national argument about the inner workings of its
national-security apparatus, with the charged context of an election
year inevitably affecting that debate. "These things are converging -
and a lot of them are saying the same thing: 'We got things wrong,'
" says Lee Strickland, a former senior intelligence officer, now a
professor at the University of Maryland.
The latest major development on this subject came Friday, when
the Senate Intelligence Committee dealt a stinging blow to the
nation's intelligence community. In a scathing 521-page report, the
committee charged that the Central Intelligence Agency's judgments
about Iraq's continuing weapons of mass destruction programs (WMD)
were exaggerated, and were a product of "group think" - not properly
challenged from within.
The report specifically said that:
* Key judgments in the October 2002 National Intelligence
Estimate on Iraq's pursuit of WMD were "either overstated, or were
not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting."
* Intelligence officials did not fully explain to policymakers
the uncertainties behind key judgments.
* There were shortcomings in almost every aspect of human-
intelligence collection about Iraq's WMD activities.
* Most of the problems stem from a "broken corporate culture and
poor management, and will not be solved by additional funding and
In addition, the report pointed out that prior to the invasion of
Iraq, CIA information described an Iraqi Army long on dysfunction
and short on strength. The most dangerous weapon Iraq possessed at
the time may have been the unpredictable Mr. Hussein himself,
according to contemporaneous CIA assessments.
Time pressures were among the reasons intelligence was mangled
and misinterpreted in this area, according to experts. "Group think"
complacency was another issue. But pressure from administration
officials to back up their pre-cooked conclusions was also partly at
fault for CIA mistakes, according to at least one high-ranking
"I think what happened in this case, to use the British phrase,
it was 'sexed up,' " says a senior intelligence official, who has
just written the book, "Imperial Hubris," a strong criticism of the
war on terror.
Publicly, top CIA officials agree with most of the Senate
Intelligence Committee report findings - with the notable exception
of charges of broken corporate culture, and the report's implication
that the agency is too timid to send spies into dangerous or
difficult situations. …