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31 March 2005

Commission Cites Intelligence Failures on Iraq's WMD Program

Report notes successes with Libya, Khan smuggling network

By Merle D. Kellerhals, Jr.
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- A presidential commission says the United States needs an intelligence community that is integrated, imaginative, willing to run risks, and receptive to new technologies to thwart 21st-century unconventional threats.

The commission released a long-awaited report March 31 that was highly critical of the U.S. intelligence community and its failures regarding Iraq and its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs.

"We conclude that the intelligence community was dead wrong in almost all of its prewar judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.  This was a major intelligence failure," the report said.

The commission said that U.S. intelligence agencies collected precious little intelligence for the analysts to analyze, and much of what was collected was either worthless or misleading.

The report did note that the same failures were not repeated elsewhere, citing successes in getting Libya to renounce its program to produce weapons of mass destruction and in exposing the long-running A.Q. Khan nuclear-proliferation network.

"It [the intelligence community] engaged in imaginative, successful (and highly classified) operations in many parts of the world.  Tactical support to counterterrorism efforts is excellent, and there are signs of a boldness that would have been unimaginable before September 11, 2001," the report said.

The intelligence agencies, however, failed both to communicate effectively with policy-makers and to explain adequately how little good intelligence it had, the report said.  Too many of the assessments were driven by assumptions and inferences rather than concrete evidence, the commission concluded.

Although the report indicated there was no evidence the intelligence estimates had been manipulated for political purposes, it did note that at this point the United States knows "disturbingly little" about threats posed by many other nations to U.S. national security.

The commission examined the intelligence community's performance in assessing the nuclear, biological and chemical weapons activities of three countries: Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.  The commission also studied U.S. capabilities against terrorism and in dealing with other intelligence problems in Iran, North Korea, Russia and China.

"We wanted a range of studies so we would not judge the intelligence community solely on its handling of Iraq," the report said.

President Bush appointed the group, officially designated the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, in February 2004 and directed release of its report by March 31, 2005.

The commission released two reports -- one made public and a second longer, classified report.

This public report follows a long line of investigations and reports by various committees and commissions, some conducted by the U.S. Congress.  The president, acting on findings and recommendations from the 9/11 Commission set up to investigate the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, signed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 into law in December 2004.  That law aimed to revamp the U.S. intelligence community and management of counterterrorism analysis and operations.

The law also created the post of director of national intelligence to oversee the 15 agencies that make up the intelligence community.  John D. Negroponte, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, has been nominated to be the first director.

Because of the critical role of strategic intelligence in policy-making, the WMD Commission report contains 74 specific recommendations for improvements in U.S. intelligence and far-reaching recommendations for the incoming director of national intelligence.

Some of the key commission recommendations include:

-- Institute strong leadership and management of the intelligence community led by the director of national intelligence;

-- Organize intelligence operations around specific missions;

-- Establish a National Counter-Proliferation Center to coordinate the fight against weapons of mass destruction;

-- Build a modern intelligence community workforce;

-- Create mechanisms for sustained oversight from outside the intelligence community -- and for self-examination from the inside;

-- Create a new Human Intelligence Directorate at the Central Intelligence Agency that provides improved coordination among all intelligence agencies;

-- Strengthen long-term and strategic intelligence analysis;

-- Combine the FBI's counterterrorism, counterintelligence and intelligence resources into a single National Security Service office within the FBI;

-- Encourage diverse and independent analysis;

-- Establish a new National Security Division within the U.S. Justice Department under the authority of an assistant attorney general for national security;

-- Create a unified information-sharing effort under the director of national intelligence to integrate the work of the 15 different agencies reporting to policy-makers.

The entire WMD Commission report is available on the commission's Web site.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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