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By Dana Priest - Washington Post
It's important to remember with all this intelligence failure finger pointing going on that the argument many of us made wasnít that Iraq didnít have the WMD but that there was no evidence that they would use them. The alleged ties between Iraq and Al Queda and the ability or willingness of Iraq to use WMD are the allegations that the administration used to justify the timing of the invasion. Clearly now in hindsight we know that an immediate danger from Iraq did not exist. Had President Bush allowed more time for inspections and diplomacy perhaps Saddamís surrender could have been negotiated or at least a true international mandate for invasion built.
Congressional and CIA investigations into the prewar intelligence on Iraq's weapons and links to terrorism have found no evidence that CIA analysts colored their judgment because of perceived or actual political pressure from White House officials, according to intelligence officials and congressional officials from both parties.
Richard J. Kerr, a former deputy CIA director who is leading the CIA's review of its prewar Iraq assessment, said an examination of the secret analytical work done by CIA analysts showed that it remained consistent over many years.
"There was pressure and a lot of debate, and people should have a lot of debate, that's quite legitimate," Kerr said. "But the bottom line is, over a period of several years," the analysts' assessments "were very consistent. They didn't change their views."
Kerr's findings mirror those of two probes being conducted separately by the House and Senate intelligence committees, which have interviewed, under oath, every analyst involved in assessing Iraq's weapons programs and terrorist ties.
The panel chairmen, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), and other congressional officials said in recent interviews that they found no evidence that analysts shaded their findings to more closely fit the White House's known desire to create the strongest, most urgent case for war with Iraq.
The conclusion that analysts did not buckle under political pressure does not answer the question of why the intelligence reports were so flawed. Nor does it address allegations - made by Democrats in Congress and Democratic presidential candidates - that top Bush administration officials misused intelligence and exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq.
On Wednesday, former chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kay told a Senate committee that he no longer believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in the months leading up to the war. And he called for an independent inquiry into why U.S. intelligence agencies believed the opposite.
The White House, which has said it opposes such an outside inquiry, has said final conclusions about Iraq's weapons programs and U.S. intelligence cannot be made until the Iraq Survey Group, the inspection agency Kay used to lead, completes its work.
"I want the American people to know that I, too, want to know the facts," Bush told reporters yesterday. "I want to be able to compare what the Iraq Survey Group has found with what we thought prior to going into Iraq." Bush added that Hussein was a danger and "we dealt with the danger. And, as a result, the world is a better place and a more peaceful place, and the Iraqi people are free."
There were instances before the war in which intelligence analysts said they sensed pressure to reach certain conclusions, but the House and Senate investigators said there was no indication they bowed to such wishes.
Last year, for example, some analysts at the CIA complained to senior officials when Vice President Cheney made multiple trips to CIA headquarters to question their studies of Iraq's weapons programs and alleged links to al Qaeda.
And analysts at the Defense Intelligence Agency told investigators they sensed pressure when civilian Defense Department leaders constantly questioned why their analysis had found only tentative links between al Qaeda and Iraq.
But "their constant message" to congressional investigators was "they didn't buckle to pressure," another congressional official said.
Neither the CIA inspector general nor the agency's ombudsmen received any complaints about outside meddling, a senior intelligence official said. Added one congressional official: "There were no anonymous calls, no letters, nothing."
The CIA, congressional intelligence committees, Kerr's team and the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board are investigating how the CIA analysis missed the mark so widely.
That is a more difficult question to answer and a much more complex problem to fix than situations in which analysts are improperly influenced by elected officials, intelligence experts said. The congressional committees have found that CIA analysts relied too heavily on outdated, circumstantial intelligence and on information from unreliable informants.
Kay told the Senate Armed Services Committee this week that he had talked to CIA analysts and had found no evidence of "inappropriate command influence."
"And, you know, almost in a perverse way," Kay added, "I wish it had been undue influence, because we know how to correct that. We get rid of the people who in fact were exercising that. The fact that it wasn't tells me that we've got a much more fundamental problem of understanding what went wrong. And we've got to figure out what was there. And that's what I call fundamental fault analysis."
Kerr said the "analysts believed that the evidence supported their judgment. Whether it did or not is another question."
The CIA maintains that it is still too early to say that its assessment was wrong because the search for weapons is not over. There are still millions of pages of documents to be read, hundreds of sites to visit and thousands of Iraqis to be interviewed, the agency says.
CIA spokesman Bill Harlow said Kerr's and the committees' findings mirror the CIA's view of its analysts' work: "We have long said and still say that our analysts didn't change their assessment of Iraq because of any outside pressure."
In fact, some analysts have told Kerr and congressional investigators that they welcomed the attention of Cheney on his visits.
"Analysts are very independent people," Kerr said. "When they get pressure, they tend to react the other way. They find it quite easy to stand up" to superiors. "It's kind of the culture."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Source: The Washington Post