Friday, July 09, 2004
As you've no doubt read elsewhere, the Senate Intelligence Committee panel will not investigate of the role of White House in cooking pre-war intelligence until after the election. But the panel's extended smackdown of the CIA, released this morning, contains plenty of material that, in a less bizarre world, would certainly prove damaging to Bush as well -- especially the clear, if unspoken, implication that the Agency's gravest abdication of responsibility came in giving the President what he so obviously wanted:
The report was heavily censored by the administration and is too narrowly focused on the bungling of just the Central Intelligence Agency. But what comes through is thoroughly damning. Put simply, the Bush administration's intelligence analysts cooked the books to give Congress and the public the impression that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons and was developing nuclear arms, that he was plotting to give such weapons to terrorists, and that he was an imminent threat.Knight-Ridder has comments from a few of the panelists:
These assertions formed the basis of Mr. Bush's justifications for war. But the report said that they were wrong and were not a true picture of the intelligence, and that the intelligence itself was not worth much. The freshest information from human sources was more than four years old. The committee said the analysts who had produced that false apocalyptic vision had fallen into a "collective groupthink" in which evidence was hammered into a preconceived pattern. Their bosses did not intervene.
The report reaffirmed a finding by another panel investigating intelligence failures before the 9/11 attacks in saying that there was no "established formal relationship" between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. It also said there was no evidence that Iraq had been complicit in any attack by Osama bin Laden, or that Saddam Hussein had ever tried to use Al Qaeda for an attack. Although the report said the C.I.A.'s conclusions had been "widely disseminated" in the government, Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have repeatedly talked of an Iraq-Qaeda link.
Sadly, the investigation stopped without assessing how President Bush had used the incompetent intelligence reports to justify war. It left open the question of whether the analysts thought they were doing what Mr. Bush wanted. While the panel said it had found no analyst who reported being pressured to change a finding, its vice chairman, Senator John Rockefeller IV, said there had been an "environment of intense pressure." But the issue was glossed over so the report could be adopted unanimously.
The panel's investigation into how President Bush handled the intelligence has been postponed until after the election. But the bottom line already seems pretty clear. No one had to pressure analysts to change their findings because the findings were determined before the work started . . . .
There may well come a time when Mr. Bush, or another president, will have to ask the nation and its allies to back a pre-emptive military strike against terrorists, or a country that poses a real threat. And he's probably going to have to rely on intelligence that is hardly the "slam dunk" that George Tenet reportedly called these shoddy reports on Iraq. The public will have to believe that the president is acting against a real threat, not one manufactured to justify a political agenda.
This administration has not made it easier for people to have that confidence.
But in public comments Democrats and Republicans vigorously disputed whether the administration exerted improper pressure on the spy agencies.
"Tragically, the intelligence failures set forth in this report will affect our national security for generations to come. Our credibility is diminished. Our standing in the world has never been lower. 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," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the panel's top-ranking Democrat.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he was not sure whether Congress would have authorized the war in Iraq had members received an accurate picture of the intelligence available at the time, although he said the war still could have been justified as a humanitarian intervention. Rockefeller said he was certain the war vote would have failed . . . .
The committee report concluded that there was no evidence that intelligence analysts were pressured by political leaders to slant their conclusions. But Democrats on the panel disputed the finding.
"Everything moved in one direction," Rockefeller said. "I don't think that was an accident" . . . .
Still, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts put the blame in the Oval Office. "The fact is that when it comes to national security, the buck stops at the White House, not anywhere else," Kerry said.