Democrats' Intelligence Failure

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), center, flanked by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., left, and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., meets with reporters on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2005 after a closed-door Senate session. Democrats forced the Republican-controlled Senate into an unusual closed session Tuesday, questioning intelligence that President Bush used in the run-up to the war in Iraq and accusing Republicans of ignoring the issue. AP

This column was written by James S. Robbins.
Senate Democrats are suffering intelligence failure. They have closed down the Senate and called for an investigation into prewar estimates of Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction program. But their inspection teams have failed thus far to locate a mammoth July 2004 report on this very topic, the result of 13 months of effort by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The report was approved unanimously by the committee, supported by for example Senators Levin, Feinstein, and Edwards (a few weeks before he was selected as John Kerry's running mate).

Meanwhile, former President Jimmy Carter has decried the manipulation of Iraq intelligence to deceive the American people into going to war. But this question had been covered exhaustively by the bipartisan Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, which released its report last March. It found "no indication that the Intelligence Community distorted the evidence regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction," and that "the Intelligence Community did not make or change any analytic judgments in response to political pressure to reach a particular conclusion." Mr. Carter should follow the news a little more closely.

What's at issue now is "Phase Two" of the original Senate report, in which statements by administration officials are being compared to prewar intelligence to see if the American people were being given the straight story. The Democrats hope that they will be able to find some examples of statements at extreme variance with the admittedly flawed intelligence reports. They submitted 300 such cherry picked statements for review, and the GOP added another 150 from both sides of the aisle in Congress just to be fair.

One would think that this would be an exercise best left to the blogosphere, which has already parsed and dissected every public statement made by the administration on the topic of WMDs. If there were a "smoking gun," determined bloggers would have found it by now. But the White House has always been careful not to overstep reports. For example those who mocked the president for his statement in the 2004 State of the Union address that weapons inspectors has uncovered "dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities" should have consulted the Iraq Survey Group interim progress report, from which he was quoting directly. The phrase was a bit clunky, but if the president had characterized what was found in any other way, those same critics would now be charging high crimes and misdemeanors.

  • Nicholas Ehrenberg