NSC accused of botching intelligence before war

Rice-led council failed Bush and Powell, says ex-arms inspector Kay

August 19, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - A former Bush administration official who led the fruitless postwar effort to find unconventional weapons in Iraq told Congress yesterday that the National Security Council, led by Condoleezza Rice, had botched intelligence information before the war and was "the dog that did not bark" over Iraq's weapons program.

In uncharacteristically caustic remarks about his former colleagues, the weapons inspector, David Kay, said the security council had failed to protect President George W. Bush from faulty prewar intelligence and had left Secretary of State Colin L. Powell "hanging out in the wind" when he tried to gather intelligence before the war about Iraq's weapons programs.

"Where was the NSC?" Kay asked, suggesting that the president had come to depend too heavily on information supplied by Rice, Bush's national security adviser, and that the president needed to reach out to others for national security information.

"Every president who has been successful, at least that I know of, in the history of this republic has developed both informal and formal means of getting checks on whether people who tell him things are in fact telling him the whole truth," Kay told the Senate intelligence committee at a hearing called to discuss the findings of the Sept. 11 commission.

"I think this is particularly crucial and difficult to do in the intelligence area," he continued. "The recent history has been a reliance on the NSC system to do it. I quite frankly think that has not served this president very well."

Kay added, referring to weapons of mass destruction: "The dog that did not bark in the case of Iraq's WMD weapons program, quite frankly, in my view, is the National Security Council."

A spokesman for the council did not return phone calls seeking comment on the remarks by Kay, who was appointed by the Bush administration last year to hunt for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in Iraq. He resigned early this year after concluding that there were no stockpiles of such weapons.

Kay did not identify Rice by name in his often impassioned testimony. But his remarks were clearly aimed at her performance and reflected a widespread view among intelligence specialists that Rice, perhaps Bush's most trusted aide, and the National Security Council have not been held sufficiently accountable for intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Iraq war.

Kay's criticism of the council, which is responsible for coordinating the work of national security agencies in the government, mirrored that made this year by Richard A. Clarke, Rice's former top counterterrorism deputy, who accused her of paying little attention to dire intelligence threats throughout the spring and summer of 2001 that al-Qaida was about to strike against the United States.

Kay has said that faulty prewar information about Iraq's weapons programs represented a serious failure of U.S. intelligence agencies. But his comments yesterday appeared to go much further, in their vehemence and in Kay's willingness to single out particular agencies for blame, notably the National Security Council and the CIA.

"Iraq was an overwhelming systemic failure of the Central Intelligence Agency," Kay said. "Until this is taken on board and people and organizations are held responsible for this failure, I have a real difficulty in seeking how a national intelligence director can correct these failures."

He was referring to a proposal by the Sept. 11 commission for the appointment of a national intelligence director to oversee the work of the government's 15 spy agencies, including the CIA and several bodies within the Defense Department.

A CIA spokesman, Mark Mansfield, said after the hearing that "Kay's comments are perplexing and have changed remarkably over time - he ought to look at some of his own past statements, and then perhaps he wouldn't be in such a rush to criticize."

In his sharp attack on the security council, Kay said that it had failed, in particular, to provide Bush and Powell with the intelligence information they needed before the war about Iraq's weapons capabilities, especially after both had expressed skepticism about the extent of Iraq's weapons programs.

"Where was the National Security Council when, apparently, the president expressed his own doubt about the adequacy of the case concerning Iraq's WMD weapons that was made before him?" Kay asked.

"Why was the secretary of state sent to the CIA to personally vet the data that he was to take the Security Council in New York, and ultimately left to hang in the wind for data that was misleading and, in some cases, absolutely false and known by parts of the intelligence community to be false?" he continued. "Where was the NSC then?"

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