CIA Suffered From Political Correctness, Not Political Pressure

It wasn’t political pressure, but it was a form of in-house political correctness, compounded by a risk averse corporate culture, that caused the Central Intelligence Agency to provide both the President and Congress with woefully incorrect intelligence analysis of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs in the years leading up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

That, in a nutshell, is the conclusion a unanimous Senate Intelligence Committee made in its report released today on pre-war U.S. intelligence on Iraq.

The CIA did not have a single operations officer, or a single human intelligence source, in Iraq focusing on weapons of mass destruction in the years after Saddam Hussein ordered UN weapons inspectors to leave the country in 1998, the report reveals.

“The Intelligence Community,” the report also concludes, “suffered from a collective presumption that Iraq had an active and growing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program. 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. This presumption was so strong that formalized IC mechanisms established to challenge assumptions and group think were not utilized.”

For example, the CIA did not have “red teams” or “devil’s advocates” challenging long-standing, and, as it turns out, bogus assumptions about Iraqi weapons programs.

The full report, which is 527 pages long, was not released until Friday afternoon. It includes many details about various intelligence controversies–including whether Iraq was seeking uranium in Niger–that will bear careful study and analysis in the days ahead, and will likely spark much debate.

But the most politically significant finding is on page 2 of the report’s “Conclusions” sections.

“The Committee found no evidence that the IC’s mischaracterization or exaggeration of the intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capabilities was the result of political pressure.”

The Bush Administration, in other words, did not pressure intelligence analysts to “sex up” the intelligence.

A second phase of the Intelligence Committee’s investigation of the pre-war intelligence, however, will focus on the how the Bush Administration used the incorrect information it was given by the IC. At a joint press conference with Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts(R.-Kan.), Intelligence Vice Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D.-W.V.) held out the partisan hope that this second phase might point to some form of political pressure yet uncovered.

But Rockefeller lamely suggested this pressure might have come in the form of “public statements” by administration officials that somehow colored the thinking of intelligence professionals.

“The report we are releasing today is a first phase of the two-part committee investigation,” said Rockefeller. “Regrettably, whereas I consider reform incredibly important, I also consider the nature of the interaction or the pressure or the shaping of the intelligence by endless numbers of public statements emanating from all levels high up in the administration, virtually saying that, ‘Time has run out, you know, mushroom cloud, grave and growing, imminent by some, evidence supports the fact that they are developing their nuclear weapons program’–all the rest of it. That whole aspect is being relegated to the second part of our report and I regret that.”

Among the reports conclusions:

  • Intelligence analysts jumped to conclusions and presented their “thoughts” as facts:

    “The [National Intelligence Estimate] failed in that it portrayed what intelligence analysts thought and assessed as what they knew and failed to explain large gaps in information on which the assessments were based. . . . The IC drew on very few pieces of new evidence to reach large conclusions in which new pieces of evidence would accrete to the previous conclusion and pieces that did not fit tended to be thrown aside.”

  • The IC had no human intelligence relating to Iraq’s WMD after 1998:

    “The Committee found significant short-comings in almost every aspect of the Intelligence Community’s human intelligence collection efforts against Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction activities, in particular that the Community had no sources collecting against weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after 1998.”

  • The CIA did not try to penetrate Iraq with any of its own operations officers–even facing the threat of WMD proliferation in the hands of Saddam, a possible cause for war–because the agency thought it was too risky for CIA personnel:

    “The Intelligence Community did not have a single HUMINT source collecting against Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs in Iraq after 1998. The Intelligence Community appears to have decided that the difficulty and risks inherent in developing sources or inserting operations officers into Iraq outweighed the potential benefits. The Committee found no evidence that lack of resources significantly prevented the Intelligence Community from developing resources or inserting operations officers into Iraq. [Redacted text.] When Committee staff asked why the CIA had not considered placing a CIA officer in Iraq years before Operation Iraqi Freedom to investigate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs, a CIA officer said, ‘because it’s very hard to sustain . . . it takes a rare officer to go in . . . and survive scrutiny [redacted text] for a long time.’ The Committee agrees that such operations are difficult and dangerous, but they should be within the norm of the CIA’s activities and capabilities.”

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