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INTELLIGENCE Report: U.S. was 'dead wrong'



Published: Fri, April 1, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The report called for changes beyond what Congress made in 2004.

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

WASHINGTON -- The multibillion-dollar U.S. intelligence community was "dead wrong" in its prewar assessment of Iraq's weapons programs and can't accurately gauge the future threat from countries such as Iran and North Korea, a presidential commission concluded in a caustic account Thursday.

The commission called the exaggerated estimates of Iraq's nuclear-, chemical- and biological-weapons programs "one of the most public -- and most damaging -- intelligence failures in recent American history."

Even today, intelligence agencies have failed to adapt, and the United States knows "disturbingly little" about the nuclear-weapons programs of potential adversaries such as Iran and North Korea, it said.

The 600-page report recommends intelligence reforms going well beyond those Congress adopted last year.

The panel

President Bush reluctantly appointed the panel in February 2004 after the failure to find the chemical and biological weapons or the nuclear-weapons program that the president and his aides said Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was hiding. It was co-chaired by former U.S. Sen. Charles Robb, a Democrat, and U.S. Circuit Judge Laurence Silberman, a Republican.

Bush praised the panel's "sharp critique" Thursday and said he'd directed White House adviser Fran Townsend to come up with ways to carry out its suggestions.

"The central conclusion is one that I share: America's intelligence community needs fundamental change," the president said. "We will correct what needs to be fixed."

But the panel's work leaves several major questions unanswered.

While it offered a blunt, often scathing, assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies, it didn't pass judgment on the administration policy-makers who used the faulty intelligence -- sometimes after ignoring warnings from subordinates -- to build their case for war.

Nor is it certain that intelligence agencies will implement the changes the commission recommended to deal with future threats, the commissioners conceded. "Many insiders admitted to us that [the intelligence community] has an almost perfect record of resisting external recommendations" for change, the report said.

Recommendations

The commission's report recommended giving more power to the recently created director of national intelligence, consolidating the FBI's intelligence activities and using more publicly available materials.

In the run-up to war, Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other top administration officials sometimes overlooked warnings about the reliability of the intelligence and divisions among intelligence agencies, overstated what the intelligence said and used information from sources that some officials suspected -- and in several cases knew -- weren't trustworthy.

"We lack specific information on many key aspects of Iraq's WMD [weapons of mass destruction] programs. ... We have low confidence in our ability to assess when Saddam would use WMD," the nation's intelligence agencies concluded in a National Intelligence Estimate in October 2002.

Misled

Silberman said the commission had no authority to consider how policy-makers used intelligence that was sent to them during the buildup to war. When pressed, he suggested that the president was misled by a steady stream of information that exaggerated the threat.

The Robb-Silberman panel, formally known as the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, focused the blame on the CIA and other American intelligence agencies.

The U.S. intelligence community, it said, had little worthwhile information on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, exaggerated what it did know, often disregarded contrary evidence, and neglected to tell policy-makers about the weakness of its case.




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