Thursday, March 31, 2005

The WMD Intelligence Report

is here, at least the declassified bulk of it, and the authors say they wrote the original so that all the essential material cound safely be declassified.

You can read the whole thing, or just the pages on Iraq. Either way, it will arm you to deal with the hard anti-Iraq war spins I'm seeing in a number of media articles on it.

Indeed, defenders of the Intelligence Community have asked whether it would be fair to expect the Community to get the Iraq WMD question absolutely right. How, they ask, could our intelligence agencies have concluded that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction—given his history of using them, his previous deceptions, and his repeated efforts to obstruct United Nations inspectors? And after all, the United States was not alone in error; other major intelligence services also thought that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

We agree, but only in part. We do not fault the Intelligence Community for formulating the hypothesis, based on Saddam Hussein’s conduct, that Iraq had retained an unconventional weapons capability and was working to augment this capability. Nor do we fault the Intelligence Community for failing to uncover what few Iraqis knew; according to the Iraq Survey Group only a handful of Saddam Hussein’s closest advisors were aware of some of his decisions to halt work on his nuclear program and to destroy his stocks of chemical and biological weapons. Even if an extraordinary intelligence effort had gained access to one of these confidants, doubts would have lingered.

But with all that said, we conclude that the Intelligence Community could and should have come much closer to assessing the true state of Iraq’s weapons programs than it did. It should have been less wrong—and, more importantly, it should have been more candid about what it did not know. In particular, it should have recognized the serious—and knowable—weaknesses in the evidence it accepted as providing hard confirmation that Iraq had retained WMD capabilities and programs.

Overall, as I read this, the errors that were made -- and they were legion -- were done again and again at the level of the intelligence agencies, and the information that was passed up to the president and the Cabinet was poisoned by bad sources, inadequate vetting, and false assumptions.

These are errors — serious errors. But these errors stem from poor tradecraft and poor management. The Commission found no evidence of political pressure to influence the Intelligence Community’s pre-war assessments of Iraq’s weapons programs. As we discuss in detail in the body of our report, analysts universally asserted that in no instance did political pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgments. We conclude that it was the paucity of intelligence and poor analytical tradecraft, rather than political pressure, that produced the inaccurate pre-war intelligence assessments.

Apparently, one of the reasons the intelligence agencies made such a liberal estimate of Saddam's interestin WMD, and his ability to craft them, was because the intelligence agencies had been astonished to learn, after the 1990-91 war, that he had progressed so much farther along that path than they had suspected. They didn't want to be fooled twice.