WMD intelligence ignored — so what else is new?

[Updated] In February 2003, while Colin Powell prepared for his UN Security Speech documenting US charges against Iraq relating to its supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction, the CIA was buzzing with doubt about a key charge Powell was going to make, and “a senior intelligence officer warned then-CIA Director George J. Tenet that he lacked confidence in the principal source of the assertion that Saddam Hussein’s scientists were developing deadly agents in mobile laboratories.” Tenet never relayed these concerns to Powell. Tenet instead described the case against Iraq to President Bush as a “slam dunk.”

According to a Washington Post summary of a report released by the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities, this was only one example “of fruitless dissent on the accuracy of claims against Iraq.”

But the New York Times described the report saying, “It found no evidence that intelligence had been politically twisted to suit preconceptions about Iraq’s unconventional weapons programs, and made no formal judgments about how top policy makers had used that intelligence to justify war. Yet in its own way, the presidential commission on intelligence left little doubt that President Bush and his top aides had gotten what they wanted, not what they needed, when they were told that Saddam Hussein had a threatening arsenal of illicit weapons.” Another Washington Post story cites instance after instance where the CIA discounted IAEA and UN evidence that didn’t support the Bush administration ideology. Tenet bears some blame:

The clearest casualties of the Iraq intelligence failures – and the most direct targets of the commission – were the top leaders of the C.I.A., beginning with George J. Tenet, who resigned as director of central intelligence last summer in the face of rising criticism. President Bush later awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Referring to a series of highly publicized charges, “secret purchases of uranium from Africa, biological weapons being made in mobile laboratories, and pilotless planes that could disperse anthrax or sarin gas into the air above U.S. cities,” the Washington Post reports that “[b]y the time President Bush ordered U.S. troops to disarm Saddam Hussein of the deadly weapons he was allegedly trying to build, every piece of fresh evidence had been tested — and disproved — by U.N. inspectors,” but “[t]he work of the inspectors — who had extraordinary access during their three months in Iraq between November 2002 and March 2003 — was routinely dismissed by the Bush administration and the intelligence community in the run-up to the war.”

“U.N. inspectors are boots on the ground,” said David Albright, a nuclear specialist who accompanied the International Atomic Energy Agency to Iraq in the mid-1990s. Albright and others think the IAEA should be given greater access in Iran, and returned to North Korea….

The Bush administration tussled with inspectors before the Iraq war and maintains a hostile relationship with the IAEA, whose director, Mohamed ElBaradei, the United States is trying to replace this year. The administration also wants to shut down a U.N. inspection regime led by Hans Blix that was set up to investigate biological, chemical and missile programs in Iraq.

Why? Baldly because, even though they were right, the IAEA and the United Nations failed to produce results which were in accord with Bush administration ideology. And for that reason, the Bush administration wants these organizations out of the picture. Even our own intelligence agencies should support the ideology, as US Director of Central Intelligence Peter Goss made clear in November 2004. (The CIA claimed “that Mr Goss’s note was not a call for partisan support but rather ‘intelligence support’ intended to help policy-makers in their decisions.”)

The administration doesn’t seem to be able to come to grips with the reality that it was a stupid thing to do to invade Iraq… If it goes too far like this into the political realm our fortunes overseas are going to be hurt.

–Michael Scheuer, a former head of the CIA’s “Bin Laden station”

The nomination of John Bolton as US Ambassador to the UN makes clear that we still aren’t merely faced with unilateralism, but with a very dangerous sort of unilateralism. Bolton has said repeatedly that the UN should follow the US lead. Salon.com quotes him saying, “As you know, I have, over the years, written critically about the U.N. … American leadership is critical to the success of the U.N., an effective U.N., one that is true to the original intent of its charter’s framers. This is a time of opportunity for the U.N., which likewise requires American leadership to achieve successful reform.”

Why is any of this news? It isn’t, really. But it illustrates in a smaller arena what also happened in the larger arena of public opinion. Dissent and contrary evidence were suppressed in favor of ideology, in public, in intelligence agencies, and in the Bush administration. International voices are just more voices — voices which should hew closely to the Bush administration line, right or wrong.

Rather, that sort of politically motivated twisting of intelligence — misrepresentations about unmanned aerial vehicles that posed a threat to the United States, about metal tubes that could only be used for nuclear weapons, about Saddam’s attempts to buy uranium in Niger — was the specialty of Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and George W. Bush. And their misuse of intelligence that was faulty in the first place was beyond the scope of the commission’s charge. “We were not authorized to investigate how policymakers used the intelligence assessments they received from the intelligence community,” the commission wrote.

And as in this instance, the Bush administration has been wrong — terribly wrong. We went to war the following month, killing possibly over 100,000 Iraqis, even before virtually levelling Fallujah, and failed to find any weapons of mass destruction. And we’ve found ourselves in a violent quagmire of a Sunni insurgency.

And Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar are still free. And Al Qaida is still a threat.

But those who opposed the invasion of Iraq are terrorist-lovers.

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