by Larry C. Johnson (bio below)
Like a passenger who just leaped from the Titanic into the icy waters of the North Atlantic, George Bush is frantically looking for a rescue boat. Understandably he keeps pointing at the dinghy nearby—i.e. last year’s report issued by former Senator Chuck Robb and Judge Laurence Silbermann under the title, Final Report on Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. However, that boat don’t float too good and Bush’s credibility will continue, along with his Presidency, to sink beneath the weight of lies used to bamboozle America into a preemptive war.
Hopefully most Americans will take time to read the report and understand the limitations of the Robb and Silbermann effort. While I agree with the Commission’s conclusion that analysts made mistakes, the Robb and Silbermann report clearly demonstrates that none of the intelligence analysis from the CIA suggested that Iraq’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction had reached a critical point requiring a preemptive strike.
Unfortunately Robb and Silbermann want Americans to accept the nonsense that politics played no role in the intelligence analysis. They ask America to accept the sorry picture of a President and legislators who, apparently, were willing idiots being spoon-fed wrong information by incompetent analysts. If we accept this fairy tale we will have learned nothing from the fiasco in Iraq.
[editor’s note, by susanhu] Here are the links to the WMD report (PDF) and to the Commission’s Web site — succinctly named wmd.gov. NOTE: On wmd.gov’s “about” page, you can link to several more documents, including the Executive Order and White House Fact Sheet. And, at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, you can read “Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq.” (PDF)
Consider what is presented in the Chapter on the Iraq failure (which Robb and Silbermann concede is the most important issue). According to the report the analysts said: … continued below:
The pre-war estimate of Iraq’s nuclear program, as reflected in the October 2002 NIE Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction, was that, in the view of most agencies, Baghdad was “reconstituting its nuclear weapons program” and “if left unchecked, [would] probably…have a nuclear weapon during this decade,” although it would be unlikely before 2007 to 2009. The NIE explained that, in the view of most agencies, “compelling evidence” of reconstitution was provided by Iraq’s “aggressive pursuit of high-strength aluminum tubes.” The NIE also pointed to additional indicators, such as other dual-use procurement activity, supporting reconstitution. The assessment that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program and could therefore have a weapon by the end of the decade was made with “moderate confidence.
Play close attention. The analysts believed, incorrectly, that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. But there were important caveats. First, Iraq would only have a nuke if left “unmolested” to develop such a capability. Did anyone see the words, “therefore Mr. President, you must invade?” Nope. Second, the analysts concluded that even if left unmolested Iraq would not have acquired a nuke until at least 2007. And how strong was this judgment? The analysts made it with “moderate confidence”.
So, rather than restart or continue with inspections we now know were effective, President Bush opted for war. It was the policymakers, not the analysts, who made the decision to go to war and who oversold the October estimate to a gullible public.
I am not exonerating the CIA for its failures. There were major mistakes of leadership. For example, Robert Walpole, the man who led the drafting of the October 2002 estimate, surrounded himself with true believers who shared the view of Bush Administration policymakers at the NSC and Department of Defense that military action in Iraq was required. This National Intelligence Officer did nothing to ensure that dissident voices within the CIA and other parts of the intelligence community were heard. But to pretend that the flaws in the intelligence explains why President Bush took us to war requires that we ignore a host of other uncomfortable facts.
CIA analysts got it right on the lack of operational relationship between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Yet, notwithstanding the correct judgment of the analysts, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have continued to insist that there was such a relationship. In their words, the war in Iraq was an extension of the war on terrorism.
Analysts also got it right in dismissing as nonsense the claim that Iraq was trying to buy Yellowcake uranium in West Africa. The analysts who briefed Congress in October 2002 said there was no truth to the allegation. Yet, the White House wanted to run with it. We know that George Tenet had to call Stephen Hadley and Condi Rice to insist that a reference to the Iraq/Niger claim not be included in a speech the President planned to deliver in Cincinnati.
The CIA analysts consistently warned the Administration that the info the Brits had also was unreliable and the reports of Iraq trying to get their hands on a nuke were wrong. The director of WINPAC at the CIA, Alan Foley, repeatedly warned NSC official Robert Joseph not that the Niger claim was unreliable. Undeterred Joseph inserted the bogus 16 words into the President’s 2003 State of the Union Address.
But the policymakers did not want to hear it. In fact, Don Rumsfeld and his minions were briefing TV and newspaper pundits just two weeks before the President’s 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium in Niger.
Here is the bottom line. There is no such thing as perfect intelligence or perfect analysis. However, we do not serve the security of this country by perpetuating the myth that we went to war in Iraq because a couple of analysts believed Saddam’s acquisition of aluminum tubes was part of a secret program to build a nuke. Going to war was and remains a political decision made by a President.
Larry C. Johnson is CEO and co-founder of BERG Associates, LLC, an international business-consulting firm that helps corporations and governments manage threats posed by terrorism and money laundering. Mr. Johnson, who worked previously with the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism (as a Deputy Director), is a recognized expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, crisis and risk management. Mr. Johnson has analyzed terrorist incidents for a variety of media including the Jim Lehrer News Hour, National Public Radio, ABC’s Nightline, NBC’s Today Show, the New York Times, CNN, Fox News, and the BBC. Mr. Johnson has authored several articles for publications, including Security Management Magazine, the New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. He has lectured on terrorism and aviation security around the world. Further bio details.