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Failing to connect dots versus having no dots at all: 11 September versus Iraqi WMD intel


Stand by.  The UK version of the Senate Intelligence Committee report, called the Butler inquiry, after Lord Butler of Brockwell, formerly Britain's top civil servant, will be made public tomorrow (although Blair has received a copy today and will reply in ‘Question Time’ in parliament tomorrow).  “The Butler inquiry is to report on the "structures, processes and systems" used in gathering pre-war intelligence and the quality of that information in light of the failure to discover Iraq's banned weapons since the fall of Saddam Hussein.”


I have watched the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence with the same fascination as the 9/11 Commission, monitoring each for overt partisanship.  It gives one hope in this fiercely divided Congress that Senators Pat Roberts (R) and Jay Rockefeller (D) mimic the professionalism of Thomas Kean (R) and Lee Hamilton (D). It was Rockefeller that offered my tagline: "Leading up to September 11, our government didn’t connect the dots. In Iraq, we are even more culpable because the dots themselves never existed."

This first report is the "reform" phase of a two-part investigation. This first report is the "reform" phase of a two-part investigation. The second phase will deal with how that intel was shaped and used by the administration and if its statements were justified. Phase two should be fun.

Roberts and Rockefeller released eight major conclusions (the report has 117 in total) of the CIA and the greater intel community, all of which track well to the funding recommendations of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on the President's fiscal year 2005 budget request "covering all major intelligence programs within the National Foreign Intelligence Program":

  1. Key national intelligence estimate (NIE October 2002) judgments on Iraq’s WMD programs "were either overstated or were not supported by the raw intelligence reporting."
  2. Inaccurate/inadequate explanation of the "uncertainties behind the judgments" in the October 2002 NIE to congressional and administration policy-makers
  3.  "Collective group-think" that "led analysts and collectors and managers to presume that Iraq had active and growing WMD programs" and to "interpret ambiguous evidence, such as the procurement of dual-use technology, as conclusive evidence of the existence of WMD programs."
  4. Hobbling of critical analyses in the NIE by a "layering effect" that the Committee called the "intelligence assumption train" where assessments were based on previous assessments stripped of their original uncertainty estimates.
  5. Managers failed "to adequately encourage analysts to challenge their assumptions, to fully consider alternative arguments, to accurately characterize intelligence reporting and to counsel analysts who had lost their objectivity."
  6.  HUMINT (human intelligence) collection efforts against Iraqi WMD target were found deficient in virtually all respects.
  7. CIA "abused its unique position in the intelligence community to the detriment of this nation’s prewar analysis in regards to Iraq’s WMD programs" by blocking data sharing and dissemination with other agencies.
  8.  "Mischaracterization or exaggeration of intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities" was not the result of political pressure.

The Committee also focused on the quality of the NIE ("thrown together… based upon fragmentary intelligence, ancient intelligence) and the difference between classified and unclassified NIE versions. Those versions varied fundamentally in that the classified version contained "all kinds of doubts and caveats" whereas the unclass white paper had all vagueness removed, with the language moved toward, "They’ve got them, they’re ready to use them, and watch out."

It is a damning indictment indeed. There was no intel that actually justified operational Iraqi WMD and Iraqi active support to al Qaeda. All his rebuilding accomplishments aside, it is no wonder that Tenet resigned.

Select Committee on Intelligence, US Senate
Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq

Transcript: Senate Intelligence Committee Report Released
FDCH E-Media
Friday, July 9, 2004; 12:07 PM

Report Says CIA Distorted Iraq Data
Senate Panel Cites Exaggerations in Paper Made Public in 2002
By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 12, 2004; Page A01

Day Before Review of Iraq Intelligence, Blair Stands Firm
New York Times
July 13, 2004

Gordon Housworth

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