Report details flaws in CIA's assessment of Hussein's weapons

Panel urges changes in information sharing

March 29, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- The final report of a presidential commission studying U.S. intelligence failures regarding illicit weapons includes a searing critique of how the CIA and other agencies never properly assessed Saddam Hussein's political maneuverings or the possibility that he no longer had weapon stockpiles, according to officials who have seen the report's executive summary.

The report also proposes broad changes in the sharing of information among intelligence agencies that go well beyond the legislation passed by Congress late last year creating a director of national intelligence to coordinate action among all 15 U.S. intelligence agencies. Those recommendations are likely to figure prominently in the confirmation hearings of John D. Negroponte, whom the president has nominated to be national intelligence director. Those hearings are scheduled to begin April 12. The report particularly singles out the CIA under its former director, George J. Tenet, but also includes what one senior official called "a hearty condemnation" of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, two of the largest intelligence agencies.

The unclassified version of the report, which is more than 400 pages long, devotes relatively little space to the holes in U.S. intelligence about North Korea and Iran, the two countries now posing the largest nuclear challenge to the United States and its allies. Most of that discussion appears only in a much longer classified version. In the words of one administration official who has reviewed the classified version, "We don't give Kim Jong Il or the mullahs a window into what we know and what we don't."

President Bush is expected to receive the report formally on Thursday morning, White House officials said.

As early copies of the report began to circulate inside the government yesterday, officials said that much of it went over ground already covered by the Senate Intelligence Committee and the two reports of the Iraq Survey Group, a government-created group that searched for weapons of mass destruction after the invasion, and came up basically empty-handed.

After Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War, international inspectors dismantled an active nuclear program, along with biological and chemical weapons. Much of the flawed intelligence was based on a series of assumptions that Hussein reconstituted those programs after inspectors left the country under duress in 1998. But in retrospect, those assumptions by American and other intelligence analysts turned out to be deeply flawed, even though some of Hussein's commanders said after they were captured in 2003 that they also believed the regime held unconventional weapons. It was a myth Hussein apparently fostered to retain an air of power.

That forced Bush to appoint, somewhat reluctantly, the "Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction," which has operated largely in secret under the direction of Judge Laurence H. Silberman, a senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals, and Charles S. Robb, a former governor of Virginia.

According to officials who have flipped through the document, the unclassified version of the report makes a "case study" of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, the major assessment of the country that the intelligence community produced at the White House's behest -- in a hurried few weeks -- in 2002.

After the Iraq invasion, the White House was forced to declassify part of the intelligence estimate, including the footnotes in which some agencies dissented from the view that Hussein had imported aluminum tubes in order to make centrifuges for the production of uranium, or possessed mobile biological weapons laboratories.

The report particularly ridicules the conclusion that Hussein's fleet of "unmanned aerial vehicles," which had very limited range, posed a major threat. All of those assertions were repeated by Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other senior officials in the run-up to the war. Cheney has never backed away from his claim, repeated last year, that the "mobile laboratories" were likely part of a secret biological weapons program, and his office has declined to respond to inquiries about whether the evidence has changed his view.

One issue the commission grappled with is whether the intelligence community failed to understand what was happening inside Iraq after the inspectors left in 1998, a period that David Kay, the first head of the Iraq Survey Group, referred to last year as a time when the country headed into a "vortex of corruption." Kay, who also testified before the commission, said Hussein's scientists had faked some of their research and development programs, and that the Iraqi dictator was reported by his aides to be increasingly divorced from reality.

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