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Last Updated: Friday, 9 July, 2004, 23:02 GMT 00:02 UK
CIA shoulders the blame

By Gordon Corera
BBC security correspondent in Washington

Republican Chairman Pat Roberts (left) and Democrat Vice Chairman Jay Rockefeller (right)
The Senate Intelligence Committee was as confident in its judgement of America's intelligence community as that community had been about the existence of Iraq's WMD. And their verdict was scathing.

Both Democrat Jay Rockefeller and Republican Chairman Pat Roberts questioned whether the US Congress would have authorised the war with Iraq if it had known what it now knows about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programme.

So what went wrong? Firstly, according to the report, it is clear the CIA didn't have enough human sources inside Iraq.

In fact, the committee revealed that after 1998, it had no sources inside the Iraqi WMD programme.

Secondly, the information that did come through was poorly analysed.

"The intelligence community was suffering from what we call a collective group think," said Senator Pat Roberts. "This group think caused the community to interpret ambiguous evidence such as the procurement of dual use technology as conclusive evidence of the existence of WMD programmes."

Finally, the committee concluded there was a failure of management - a failure to encourage analysts to challenge assumptions, to fully consider alternative arguments and to accurately characterise intelligence reporting.

'Half the story'

The verdict on the CIA was largely bi-partisan - the senior Democrat Senator Jay Rockefeller was equally scathing of the agency.

The committee's report fails to fully explain the environment of intense pressure in which the intelligence community officials were asked to render judgements
Senator Jay Rockefeller
But where the Democrats differed from Republicans was the degree to which the CIA should shoulder the blame by itself.

"The committee's report fails to fully explain the environment of intense pressure in which the intelligence community officials were asked to render judgements on matters relating to Iraq when the most senior officials in the Bush administration had already forcefully and repeatedly stated their conclusions publicly," argued Senator Rockefeller.

The committee's decision to look only within the CIA rather than at the politicians' use of intelligence came after a long battle between Democrats and Republicans.

Democrats feel that this report tells only half the story and downplays the pressure that the CIA may have been under.

The committee will eventually look at the subject but only in its phase two report, which is due to come out later in the year. Many Democrats believe that will be after the presidential election.

The White House will hope that the CIA will become the scapegoat for the failure for intelligence in Iraq, deflecting attention away from its own role and closing the issue.

However, Democrats will try to use the report to erode the Bush administration's credibility.

The president's ratings have suffered in recent months, amid the ongoing problems in Iraq and the failure to find WMD.


Defenders of the CIA argue that the committee was looking to attach blame without understanding the challenges involved in a case like Iraq.

"There's reason certainly to have some criticism," Richard Kerr, the man who led the CIA's internal inquiry, told the BBC.

"My question would be the degree to which they understand the process. Do they really understand how analysis is done, how collection is done, what the limitations are? And also the expectations are far greater than they should be," Mr Kerr said.

He argues that in the absence of contrary information that was persuasive, it would have been very hard to come to the judgment that Iraq's WMD programmes had been discontinued.

The report has left the CIA in a vulnerable position.

In addition to its failure over Iraqi WMD, the inquiry into the September 11 attacks is due to report at the end of July which is likely to be highly critical of the agency, as well as the FBI and others.

The agency is also currently without a permanent director as President George W Bush mulls over whether to appoint a successor to George Tenet, who held his leaving party the night before the report came out.

The pressure is mounting for some kind of broad reform of the intelligence community, but in an election year, that will not be an easy task.

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