By John Yaukey
Gannett News Service
WASHINGTON - The United States went to war in Iraq on false claims from an intelligence network so dysfunctional that it raises grave concerns about being able to thwart future terrorist attacks, according to a Senate report released Friday and the lawmakers who wrote it.
The blistering 500-page assessment of the pre-war intelligence on Iraq said the nation's intelligence community - primarily the CIA - failed at every level as it reported sometimes-detailed information on weapons of mass destruction that Iraq apparently never had.
According to the report the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence spent a year compiling, the intelligence:
Often came from spurious sources.
Was sometimes wildly inaccurate.
Often was improperly analyzed.
The intelligence laid the foundation for President Bush's public argument for invading Iraq in March 2003.
"The intelligence failures set forth in this report will affect our national security for generations to come," said the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia. "Our credibility is diminished. Our standing in the world has never been lower.
'ESTIMATE' SHOWED DEGREES OF CONFIDENCE
Just before lawmakers voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq in October 2002, they were sent a pivotal 90-page report by the nation's intelligence community called the National Intelligence Estimate.
It said Iraq "has chemical and biological weapons" and "probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade" if left unchecked.
Those assessments were reached without any U.S. or allied spies or operatives having seen any chemical or biological weapons in Iraq since 1995. The report was a central pillar of the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq.
Here are some key judgments and questions from the October 2002 report and the confidence intelligence officials had in them:
Iraq possesses chemical and biological weapons and missiles.
Iraq is continuing, and in some areas expanding, its chemical, biological, nuclear and missile programs.
U.S. intelligence does not know about "portions of these weapons programs."
Iraq could make a nuclear weapon in months to a year after it acquires sufficient weapons-grade fissile material.
Iraq does not have a nuclear weapon or sufficient material to make one but is likely to have one by 2007 to 2009.
When Saddam Hussein would use weapons of mass destruction.
Whether Saddam would engage in clandestine attacks on U.S. soil.
Whether Saddam would share chemical or biological weapons with al-Qaida.
"We have fostered a deep hatred of Americans in the Muslim world, and that will grow. As a direct consequence, our nation is more vulnerable today than ever before. ... This can never happen again."
The report came out a day after Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge warned of credible intelligence that al-Qaida is planning attacks on U.S. soil in hopes of disrupting the presidential election in the fall.
Before going to war, Bush told Americans that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons and was working toward a nuclear bomb.
Sen. Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican chairman of the intelligence panel, said assessments on all three programs were "unreasonable and largely unsupported by the available intelligence."
John McLaughlin, who will take over as interim CIA director when outgoing Director George Tenet leaves Sunday, admitted that many mistakes were made. He promised that reforms are under way.
"My message to you - we get it," a somber McLaughlin said.
The report stopped short of addressing a major charge by some leading Democrats, namely that Bush and his inner circle manipulated and shopped for the intelligence that would back their case for war.
The administration's role in handling intelligence will be examined by the committee in a second investigative phase, not to be completed before the November election.
Campaigning Friday in Pennsylvania, Bush called the report useful: "I want to know how to make the agencies better."
On the intelligence-gathering side, the CIA took almost all the blame for failing to develop spy networks in Iraq that could penetrate where electronic surveillance could not. Before the war, the United States had virtually no effective human intelligence on Iraq's weapons capability.
Some of the Iraqi sources that came forward with information were often closely connected to the Iraqi National Congress, a group with a vested interest in a U.S. invasion. The group's leader, Ahmed Chalabi, once a close ally of the Defense Department, has since fallen out of favor with the Bush administration. To its credit, the CIA was highly suspicious of Chalabi.
On the analysis side, the failures ran the gamut from critiquing information to crafting conclusions.
Analysts fell into a pattern that lawmakers described as "group think," in which they affirmed each other's false conclusion, and "layering," where mistakes provided the basis for further mistakes.
"There were real problems in the process used to connect the dots," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a senior committee member.
What's more, the CIA did not have enough analysts to evaluate the massive volume of technical intelligence from spy satellites and communications intercepts.
The one redeeming finding in the report points out that the intelligence community did not find any evidence of a substantial link between Iraqi leaders and al-Qaida, which thus far appears to be correct.
However, some senior administration officials contend that there is a connection but have not provided any compelling proof.
The report will provide a roadmap for a series of hearings on improving intelligence. Some of the suggestions include establishing "red teams" to check conclusions and appointing an intelligence czar who would oversee the entire intelligence network.
In theory, the CIA director serves as intelligence chief. But in reality, the Pentagon controls much of the network.
Gannett News Service reporter Jon Frandsen contributed.
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