A commission appointed by President Bush to analyze intelligence failures will be releasing its report today. According to The New York Times, the report “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.” But despite its criticism, the report serves to protect the Bush administration.
The commission, led by Laurence H. Silberman, a senior judge on the United States Court of Appeals, and former governor and senator Charles S. Robb of Virginia, has operated in secrecy. All the sessions have been closed to the public and media. The nine-member commission, which had a professional staff of more than 60 people, met formally a dozen times at its offices in Arlington, Va. They reportedly met with President Bush at the White House to speak with him and his staff this November after the election. The commission had formal meetings with most top administration intelligence and foreign policy officials, including interviews with former CIA directors and academic experts on weapons proliferation. However, the commission did not have subpoena power and did not seek sworn testimony.
In addition to the co-chairs, the panel includes Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).; Yale President Richard Levin; former Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Charles Vest; former Pentagon officials Henry Rowen and Walter Slocombe; former Deputy CIA Director William Studeman; and former federal appeals court judge Patricia Wald.
The commission was created by President Bush in response to chief weapons inspector David Kay’s search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Mr. Kay reported to Congress the failure of his 1,500-person inspection team to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and flatly asserted “we got it wrong.” In announcing the creation of the Iraq commission, President Bush stated:
“Last week, our former chief weapons inspector, David Kay stated that some pre-war intelligence assessments by America and other nations about Iraq’s weapons stockpiles have not been confirmed. We are determined to figure out why.”
The executive order creating the commission issued on Feb. 6, 2004 directed that “The commission shall specifically examine the Intelligence Community’s intelligence prior to the initiation of Operation Iraqi Freedom and compare it with the findings of the Iraq Survey Group and other relevant agencies .”
Regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the report finds that after Iraq’s defeat in the Persian Gulf war in 1991, international inspectors dismantled an active nuclear program which had not produced a weapon along with biological agents and chemical weapons. The WMD claims were based on a series of assumptions by some, not all, of Bush’s intelligence agencies that Iraq reconstituted those programs after inspectors left the country under duress in 1998. The report finds these assumptions were seriously flawed and that it may have been a myth Saddam Hussein fostered to retain an air of power.
The report closely reviews a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq published in 2002. After the invasion of Iraq, portions of the report were released, such as footnotes that expressed dissenting opinions about WMD, including reports that Iraq imported aluminum tubes for the production of uranium, or possessed mobile biological weapons laboratories. In addition to the U.S. being unable to find WMD, UN inspectors were unable to do so. According to the Times: “The report particularly ridicules the conclusion that Mr. Hussein’s fleet of ‘unmanned aerial vehicles,’ which had very limited flying range, posed a major threat. All of those assertions were repeated by Mr. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other senior officials in the prelude to the war. To this day, Mr. Cheney has never backed away from his claim .”
The classified version of the report is also critical of intelligence-gathering in Iran and North Korea, in particular the absence of reliable human intelligence sources inside both countries. According to the Times:
“The commission’s conclusions, if made public, may only fuel the arguments now heard in Beijing, Seoul, and the capitals of Europe that an intelligence system that so misjudged Iraq cannot be fully trusted when it comes to the assessments of how much progress has been made by North Korea and Iran. North Korea has boasted of producing weapons but has never tested them and Iran has now admitted to covering up major elements of its nuclear program, even though it denies that it is building weapons.”
Laurence McQuillan of the Iraq commission staff told reporters early in the process that the commission would not be blaming any individuals for intelligence failures, but instead would look to the future. This, of course, was a recipe for a whitewash. Whatever happened to official responsibility a focus of Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign rhetoric? Did the commission ask about White House influence over intelligence estimates? This should have been more than a simple investigation into inaccurate intelligence; it should have been an investigation into why the United States was misled into the costly quagmire of an undeclared war and subsequent occupation.
Joseph Cirincione, a weapons-proliferation expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and author of WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications, told The San Francisco Chronicle in January: “The administration is protecting itself by narrowing the inquiry to avoid any investigation of any administration official when we need to understand the causes of one of the greatest intelligence failures in U.S. history.”
This February, John Dean, President Nixon’s White House counsel, described the commission as a “sham” because it “simply ignores the very reason he was pressured to create it.” He explained, “Bush established this commission to quiet the public reaction to congressional testimony by his weapons inspector David Kay.” At the time of his testimony, “Kay recommended to Congress that an independent investigation be undertaken of this intelligence failure.” Dean pointed out how Bush removed the issue from the campaign by having the commission not report until after the election, thus whenever the failure to find WMD came up during the campaign, Bush could say his independent commission was studying it. And the commission’s focus was not on misuse of intelligence or White House influence over the reporting of intelligence, but rather how to improve intelligence in the future. Dean concluded:
“They have preempted the Congress successfully by appointing a commission with little expertise in intelligence matters that will not report until after the election. They have mandated the commission to do everything but what was being demanded namely, that it examine the role of the Bush administration in dealing with the intelligence that was collected, then exaggerated and manipulated.”
Thus, the Iraq commission will issue its report today on what may be one of the most serious intelligence failures in U.S. history. Of course, it will be critical of intelligence failures, but no one will be blamed. There will be no examination of whether the White House, State Department, and Department of Defense manipulated intelligence or unduly shaped intelligence reporting. President Bush will have escaped a challenging reelection without any serious discussion of the failure to find WMD. At this point, Bush can once again proclaim”Mission Accomplished.”
It is now left to Congress to fully investigate this matter. Certainly, the commission found massive intelligence failures and overstatements by the administration; now, a Congress that was cognizant of its Constitutional authority would at least initiate an impeachment inquiry with full subpoena power and testimony under oath in public so Americans can determine whether they were merely misled into war or whether they were plunged into an illegal war on a platform of fabrications, deceptions, and manipulations. Nothing short of the accountability of the presidency is at stake.
Ralph Nader and Kevin Zeese direct the Stop the War campaign at DemocracyRising.US.