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Friday, July 9

Report: Flawed Iraq intelligence exposes national peril

By John Yaukey | GNS

WASHINGTON - The United States went to war in Iraq on false claims from an intelligence network so dysfunctional it raises grave concerns about being able to thwart future terrorist attacks, according to a Senate report released Friday and the lawmakers who wrote it.

The blistering 500-page assessment of the pre-war intelligence on Iraq said the nation's intelligence community - primarily the CIA - failed at every level as it reported sometimes-detailed information on weapons of mass destruction that Iraq apparently never had.

The intelligence often came from spurious sources; was sometimes wildly inaccurate; and much of it was improperly analyzed, according to the report the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence spent a year compiling.

The intelligence laid the foundation for President Bush's public argument for invading Iraq in March 2003.

"The intelligence failures set forth in this report will affect our national security for generations to come,'' said the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia. ``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. ... This can never happen again."

The report came out a day after Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge warned of credible intelligence that al-Qaida is planning attacks on U.S. soil in hopes of disrupting the presidential election in the fall.

Before going to war, Bush told Americans that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons and was working toward a nuclear bomb.

Sen. Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who chairs the intelligence panel, said assessments on all three programs were ``unreasonable and largely unsupported by the available intelligence.''

John McLaughlin, who will take over as interim CIA director when outgoing Director George Tenet leaves Sunday, admitted that many mistakes were made, and promised that reforms are under way.

``My message to you - we get it,'' a somber McLaughlin said.

What's missing

The report stopped short of addressing a major charge by some leading Democrats, namely that Bush and his inner circle manipulated and shopped for the intelligence that would back their case for war.

Some Democrats believe senior White House officials, most notably Vice President Dick Cheney, pressured intelligence analysts to produce reports concluding that Iraq had banned weapons and ties to al-Qaida.

The report ``found no evidence ... of political pressure.''

However, a CIA ombudsman complained to lawmakers of ``hammering'' by the Bush administration on Iraq.

The administration's role in handling intelligence will be examined by the committee in a second investigative phase, not to be completed before the November election.

Campaigning in Pennsylvania on Friday, Bush called the report ``useful.''

``I want to know how to make the agencies better,'' he said.

The report could help Bush's sagging credibility on the war by bolstering his claims that he was acting on the best available intelligence.

But phase two of the probe could inflict serious damage if it indicates that Bush manipulated the intelligence.

Key failures

On the intelligence-gathering side, the CIA took almost all the blame for failing to develop spy networks in Iraq that could penetrate where electronic surveillance could not.

Before the war, the United States had virtually no effective human intelligence on Iraq's weapons capability.

Some of the Iraqi sources that came forward with information were often closely connected to the Iraqi National Congress, a group with a vested interest in a U.S. invasion. The group's leader, Ahmed Chalabi, once a close ally of the Defense Department, has since fallen out of favor with the Bush administration. To its credit, the CIA was highly suspicious of Chalabi.

On the analysis side, the failures ran the gamut from critiquing information to crafting conclusions.

Analysts fell into a pattern lawmakers described as ``group think,'' in which they affirmed each other's false conclusion, and ``layering'' where mistakes provided the basis for further mistakes.

``There were real problems in the process used to connect the dots,'' said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a senior committee member.

What's more, the CIA did not have enough analysts to evaluate the massive volume of technical intelligence from spy satellites and communications intercepts.

One of the most glaring examples of the analytical failures appeared in a pivotal report, known as the National Intelligence Estimate, commissioned by the White House. It was sent to Congress just before lawmakers voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq in October 2002.

That report said Iraq "has chemical and biological weapons" and "if left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade."

That assessment appeared in the report's introductory paragraphs even though no American or allied official had seen a chemical or biological weapon in Iraq since 1995.

In another example, spy satellite photos showed suspicious convoys in Iraq but could not reveal their cargo.

Electronic intercepts suggested that they might be carrying equipment for chemical or biological warfare. That was good enough for intelligence analysts to rate as virtual proof.

Reforming intelligence

The one redeeming finding in the report points out that the intelligence community did not find any evidence of a substantial link between Iraqi leaders and al-Qaida, which thus far appears to be correct.

However, some senior administration officials contend that there is a connection but have not provided any compelling proof.

The report will provide a roadmap for a series of hearings on improving intelligence.

Some of the suggestions include establishing ``red teams'' to check conclusions and appointing an intelligence czar who would oversee the entire intelligence network.

In theory, the CIA director serves as intelligence chief. But in reality, the Pentagon controls much of the network.

(Contributing: Jon Frandsen, GNS.)