The president’s commission on intelligence delivered half a report. Like the colonel played by Jack Nicholson in "A Few Good Men," the commission acted as if America can’t handle the truth. The commissioners would have us believe that those who provided the false intelligence were solely to blame, and the senior political leaders who ordered and presented the claims to the public were passive victims. Conservative pundits have quickly declared, "case closed," and urge us to focus on rearranging the deck chairs on the intelligence ship. But buried deep inside the report is evidence that contradicts the commission’s own conclusions and raises serious questions about their recommendations. Most damning is the tale of two CIA analysts who were removed from their positions for "causing waves" when they questioned the reliability of the defector known as "Curveball."

This story only appears 200 pages into the report. It is at the very end of the Iraq section (pg. 192) after Conclusion 26 that finds no evidence of politicization of the intelligence.

An analyst with WINPAC (the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control Center) was in Iraq in the summer and fall of 2003 and reported serious doubts about the reliability of Curveball’s claims that Saddam built mobile biological labs and conducted biowarfare experiments. We now know that the analyst was correct. Curveball lied. There were no mobile biolabs or bioweapons of any kind. The commission reports that in late 2003, the CIA did not want to admit that "Curveball was a fabricator…because of concerns about how this would look to the ‘Seventh Floor’ and to "downtown.’" Instead, says the commission, the analyst was "read the riot act’ by his office director who accused him of ‘making waves’ and being ‘biased.’" He was kicked out of WINPAC. The same punishment was meted out to a chemical weapons analyst in Iraq who pressed for a reassessment of the CIA’s claims of a large-scale CW program. He, too, was forced to leave WINPAC.

To most reasonable observers, this would be a clear case of senior management not wanting to change a threat assessment that was heavily used by the White House "downtown." Political considerations trumped the findings from the professional analysts. However, the commission does not agree. . They label this "bad management" and a "failure of tradecraft."

No Evidence?

Only by applying this tortured logic is the commission able to reach Conclusion 26, "The Intelligence Community did not make or change any analytic judgments in response to political pressure to reach a particular conclusion.” The commission chairmen say they found "absolutely no instance" in which anyone reported feeling pressure to change an assessment.

The Los Angeles Times notes in an April 1 editorial, "Somehow, the panel must have missed the intelligence agents who told reporters for The Times on several prewar occasions that they thought their product was being politicized and that they were pushed to provide evidence to support the Bush administration’s claims." The panel must have also forgotten (even though it cites the article from the Washington Post December 9, 2004 in footnote 860) about the lawsuit filed by an analyst who said his superiors at the CIA "insisted that Plaintiff falsify his reporting" and when he refused, he was removed from his position. These claims may not be correct, but they are not even mentioned by the commission. In fact, their existence is denied.

The panel did note on page 11, "It is hard to deny the conclusion that intelligence analysts worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom." Further on page 14, "In ways both subtle and not so subtle, the daily reports [to the president] seemed to be ‘selling’ intelligence—in order to keep its customers, or at least the First Customer, interested."

Despite the "gossamer nature of evidence" regarding Iraq allegedly importing uranium from Niger, which President Bush infamously referenced in his 2003 State of the Union address, the Department of Energy concluded that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. A senior intelligence officer quoted in the report noted on page 75 that DOE’s "position had ‘made sense politically but not substantively’ and that one analyst said "DOE didn’t want to come out before the war and say [Iraq] was not reconstituting."

Finally, if it truly was management and tradecraft failures that skewed the intelligence, then why didn’t these failures skew the intelligence prior to 2002? Same management, same tradecraft, but the estimates in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001 were decidedly more cautious and more accurate. It is only in 2002 that the estimates make several unexplained dramatic leaps in findings and certainty. The Carnegie Endowment study, "WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications" detailed this pattern in January 2003.

The dots are all there, but the commission did not connect them. The commission did not question the president or the vice-president, or apparently any senior official outside the intelligence agencies. Thus, we do not know what happened in the repeated meetings Vice President Cheney had with CIA officials. We do not know what impact the vice-president assertions of "absolute certainty" of an Iraqi nuclear program in August and September 2003 had on the development of the deeply flawed October National Intelligence Estimate. We do not know how the intelligence activities of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary Stephen Cambone and Under Secretary Douglas Feith impacted the assessments because the commission never examined their work. They could have done all this, even with their purposely narrow mandate to examine only the performance of the intelligence agencies. They did not.

Thus, we do not have an adequate basis for judging the validity of their recommendations. Is one of the keys to "push" the intelligence community more, as the commission recommends, or was it too much pushing by the White House that caused the problem? We cannot say. The report may have some useful findings and recommendations, but until we get the whole truth we cannot have confidence in many of the changes now being implemented.

The truth is out there. And we can handle it.


Related Links:

Report by the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, 31 March 2005

"CIA Analysts Concerned About Faulty Iraq WMD Source Were ‘Forced to Leave,’ Report Says," Global Security Newswire, 1 April 2005

"Intelligence Analysts Whiffed on a 'Curveball'," Greg Miller and Bob Drogin, Los Angeles Times, 1 April 2005

"Officer Alleges CIA Retaliation," Dana Priest, Washington Post, 9 December 2004

"WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications," Carnegie Report, January 2004

Iraq Intelligence Page, Carnegie Proliferation News website