The key U.S. assertions leading to the 2003 invasion of Iraq — that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons and was working to make nuclear weapons — were wrong and based on false or overstated CIA analyses, a scathing Senate Intelligence Committee report released Friday asserts.
"We would not have authorized that war with 75 votes if we knew what we
know now," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the committee's ranking Democrat.
Intelligence analysts fell victim to "group think" assumptions that Iraq had weapons that it did not, concludes a bipartisan report. Many factors contributing to those failures are ongoing problems within the U.S. intelligence community — which cannot be fixed with more money alone, it says.
In Britain, an inquiry into the quality of British intelligence on Iraqi weapons will publish its report on July 14. The inquiry, headed by Lord Butler, a retired civil service chief, aims to establish why there is such a glaring gap between "intelligence gathered, evaluated and used by the government" and the lack of evidence on the ground in Iraq.
Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican who heads the Senate committee, told reporters that assessments that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons and could make a nuclear weapon by the end of the decade were wrong.
"As the report will show, they were also unreasonable and largely unsupported by the available intelligence," he said.
"This was a global intelligence failure."
Rockefeller said: "Tragically, the intelligence failures set forth in this report will affect our national security for generations to come. Our credibility is diminished. Our standing in the world has never been lower. We have fostered a deep hatred of Americans in the Muslim world, and that will grow. As a direct consequence, our nation is more vulnerable today than ever before."
The report repeatedly blasts departing CIA Director George Tenet, accusing him of skewing advice to top policy-makers with the CIA's view and elbowing out dissenting views from other intelligence agencies overseen by the State or Defense departments. It faults Tenet for not personally reviewing President George W. Bush's 2003 State of the Union address, which contained since-discredited references to Iraq's attempts to purchase uranium in Africa.
White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, traveling with President Bush on a campaign trip Friday, said the committee's report essentially "agrees with what we have said, which is we need to take steps to continue strengthening and reforming our intelligence capabilities so we are prepared to meet the new threats that we face in this day and age."
Intelligence analysts worked from the assumption that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons and was seeking to make more, as well as trying to revive a nuclear weapons program. Instead, investigations after the Iraq invasion have shown that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had no nuclear weapons program and no biological weapons, and only small amounts of chemical weapons have been found.
Analysts ignored or discounted conflicting information because of their assumptions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the report says.
"This 'group think' dynamic led Intelligence Community analysts, collectors and managers to both interpret ambiguous evidence as conclusively indicative of a WMD program as well as ignore or minimize evidence that Iraq did not have active and expanding weapons of mass destruction programs," the report concludes.
Such assumptions also led analysts to inflate snippets of questionable information into broad declarations that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons, the report says.
For example, speculation that the presence of one specialized truck could mean an effort to transfer chemical weapons was puffed up into a conclusion that Iraq was actively making chemical weapons, the report says.
Analysts also concluded that Iraq had a mobile biological weapons program based mainly on the since-discredited claims of one Iraqi defector code-named "Curve Ball," it says. American agents did not have direct access to Curve Ball or his debriefers, but the source's information was expanded into the conclusion that Iraq had an advanced and active biological weapons program, the report says.
Before the war, British Prime Minister Blair was adamant that Saddam Hussein possessed stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.
"What I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons, that he continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons," he wrote in a foreward to a September 2002 intelligence dossier, used by the government as it built its case for war.
According to British press reports, the inquiry will conclude that intelligence claiming that Iraq could launch chemical weapons on 45 minutes' notice — known to be from a single source — was vague and poorly sourced.
The British government has declined to comment.
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