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“Intelligence” and the Invasion of Iraq


Thursday’s release of the Report to the President of the United States, the latest official re-assessment of the state of pre-war “intelligence” behind the claims that the former regime in Baghdad possessed various nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons capabilities, programs, and/or intentions (Don’t you love this last category? Intentions being pre-eminently pre-emptable. Of course.), was immediately portrayed as damning for the Executive Branch, and equally damaging.

“The verdict was harsh and unsparing,” ABC TV’s World News Tonight reported (March 31), a “blistering indictment of virtually the entire intelligence community, calling US analysis of pre-war Iraq and other matters ‘nearly worthless’, ‘dead wrong’, ‘inexcusable’, and an ‘egregious failure’….[T]he commission found that the US had no fresh intelligence on Iraq’s weapons programs after 1998, when UN weapons inspectors left the country. US intelligence officials failed to question their bedrock assumption that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and they even dismissed evidence that contradicted it. And that the US had only a handful of spies in Iraq, and they were not credible. This deeply flawed intelligence was the basis for the administration’s alarming and false case for war.”

The rest of national TV and radio in the States transmitted the same message. “In a sharply worded new report, the presidential commission, investigating intelligence failures in the run up to the war in Iraq, says the U.S. got a little, if anything, right,” the Fox News Network’s Brit Hume reported (March 31). “‘The intelligence community was dead wrong in almost all of its pre-war judgments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction’,” National Public Radio led with what instantly became the single-most-quoted sentence from the Report (March 31). “For years, according the commission, the intelligence community had been giving the president and senior policy-makers bad analysis on Iraq in the form of the president’s daily briefs and other intelligence documents. Those documents were even more alarmist and less nuanced, the commission concludes. In the words of the report, `They were selling headlines to keep the first customer–that is, the president–interested.’”

The next morning’s print dailies did likewise. (See below.)

The Report‘s most oft-quoted passage (no doubt because it has a certain familiar P.R.-ring to it, and was conveniently placed on page 1 of the Letter of Transmittal to the President) asserts that

the Intelligence Community was dead wrong in almost all of its pre-war judgments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. This was a major intelligence failure. Its principal causes were the Intelligence Community’s inability to collect good information about Iraq’s WMD programs, serious errors in analyzing what information it could gather, and a failure to make clear just how much of its analysis was based on assumptions, rather than good evidence. On a matter of this importance, we simply cannot afford failures of this magnitude.

Indeed. This account—that U.S. “intelligence” was dead wrong—that its pre-war claims about Iraqi weapons capabilities represented an intelligence failure, based on serious errors, untested assumptions, and lack of hard evidence—expresses an important part of the Report‘s findings. Years upon years of flawed evidence and “intelligence” failures were at the heart of the March, 2003 war over Iraq. But not politics. Not power. Certainly not deliberate lies based on malevolent designs.

I think the truth is diametrically opposite from this.

(Quick aside. The Executive Order that established the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (February 6, 2004) clearly stated that the Commission was “intended only to improve the internal management of the executive branch,” and that it “shall solely advise and assist the President,” while remaining “subject to the authority of the President.” The Commission’s purpose was to advise the President “in order to ensure the most effective counter-proliferation capabilities of the United States and response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the ongoing threat of terrorist activity,” and to assess whether the U.S. “intelligence Community” (so called) has its act sufficiently together to perform these tasks to meet the “threats of the 21st Century.” Special attention was to be paid to the state of pre-war intelligence concerning the “capabilities, intentions, and activities of Iraq” in the “Weapons of Mass Destruction” field, and to compare this intelligence with the findings of the Iraq Survey Group (October, 2004) and other post-war discoveries. In other words, along with the Iraqi Survey Group, the Commission which just reported its findings on March 31 also was an arm of the Executive Branch. In case there is any tendency to forget that the Commission served at the pleasure of its President—resist it. Because it simply isn’t true. Unlike the Report of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence (July, 2004) and the related work of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (July, 2004), Thursday’s Report was a product of the Executive Branch, by the Executive Branch, for the Executive Branch. Not only does this give us a good prima facie reason to look upon this particular Report as a cover-up—at least in critical respects. But we must handle it above all as a political document of the highest order. And nothing but.)

To return to a major theme from last summer: It is obvious that the question of whether American (or U.K., or Israeli, or Australian) “intelligence” about Iraq was a success or a failure depends on how well or how poorly the so-called “intelligence” contributed to bringing about a desired end—and what undesired ends too.

That is to say, we shouldn’t speak about the success or failure of anything, unless from the very start of our inquiry, we fully understand the specific end or ends toward which it was supposed to contribute (whether successfully or not).

So, the most honest, and most important, question that any re-assessment of pre-war “intelligence” on Iraq ought to try to answer is this: To which end or ends was the pre-war “intelligence” supposed to contribute? Was it supposed to contribute to an honest assessment of the weapons capabilities of the former regime in Baghdad? Or was it supposed to contribute to the U.S. Government’s military seizure of Iraqi national territory (including the seizure of the territory’s stupendous material wealth, the installation of an puppet regime in Baghdad, the establishment of permanent U.S. military bases in the region to serve as beachheads for greater Middle East and beyond, and the like)?

On the face of it, all of those pre-war “intelligence” claims about the Baghdad regime’s possession of “weapons of mass destruction” and (post-9/11) the additional claims about the regime’s ties to Al Qaeda-like “terrorist” groups, which the post-war re-assessments keep telling us were false, false, and false again, sure look to me like they helped the U.S. Government get away with its seizure of Iraqi national territory, rather than impeded it. Just between ourselves, I find it to be a very curious usage of the terms ‘intelligence’ and ‘failure’ which fails to make these obvious connections between means and ends and the U.S. Government.

As a matter of fact, I think the point is undeniable: Whether it was true or false of what was the case on the ground in pre-war Iraq, pre-war “intelligence” facilitated the U.S. Government’s military seizure of Iraq, and facilitated it in every way imaginable. Of course, it didn’t succeed in lining up the UN Security Council for a pre-war resolution adding the UN’s imprimatur to the American and British invasion. But the subsequent and exhaustive refutations of the earlier “intelligence” claims about Iraq, now that that the invasion and occupation are facts on the ground, didn’t stop the Security Council from lining up with the occupying power with Resolution 1546 of June 2004, and adding the “multinational” veneer of legitimacy to the occupation, either.

The bottom-line on this whole question of “intelligence” and Iraq comes down to this: At some point between September 2001 and September 2002 (most likely in the first days following 9/11), the U.S. Government made it clear that it was determined to militarily seize Iraq, and staked American Power on this task. From this point onward, the “intelligence” community not only in the States, but in no less than three other states as well, began toeing the line on the questions then before them (i.e., Baghdad’s “weapons of mass destruction,” its ties to the group responsible for the 9/11 atrocities, and the like)—questions the particular answers to which either would or would not facilitate the prior decision, taken politically, to invade Iraq. The answers that uniformly came back to the U.S. Government were (a) false—but also (b) exactly the kind required to advance the political decision to invade. In the end, you can characterize this dynamic any way that you like. What is undeniable is that the U.S. Government’s need for a range of pretexts for the invasion of Iraq was met by the “intelligence” communities of these four heavily militarized states, and, in turn, by a contemptible preponderance of their news media. (For example, I defy anyone to examine the English-language news media’s coverage of the notoriously fraudulent presentation by the American Secretary of State before the UN Security Council back on February 5, 2003, and show me how many times a reporter or commentator stated at the time that the Secretary of State had lied or even twisted the truth a little.)

Thus did the “intelligence” communities of four different states come to produce the blatantly false assessments on the questions before them. Now, however, the U.S. Government’s military seizure of Iraq is a fact of life. Within this new post-war environment, new truths must be established. Rather than as deliberate or even strategic lies, the pre-war “intelligence” that facilitated the seizure of Iraq must be explained away as unintentional errors—the “intelligence” process was not politicized, as the President’s Commission puts it, simply wrong. Moreover, the U.S. Government faces a whole new range of threats ahead of it, including the “weapons of mass destruction” programs and capabilities of Iran and North Korea. (The two sections of the Report that remain classified, please note well. Doubtless because the U.S. Government wants to tell the world lies about Iran and North Korea, and it doesn’t want anyone in a position to challenge those lies.) And the U.S. Government needs even larger, more expensive, more extensive, and more unified “intelligence” capabilities going forward. All of which means that the President’s Commission is prescribing more of the same dynamic that we witnessed with respect to the lies about Iraq in recent years. Only now more politicized than ever. And with each passing year, ever-riskier for the planet.

So: Was the U.S. Government’s pre-war “intelligence” about Iraq really the failure that the President’s Commission makes it out to have been? Or was it a success?

Well. Did the U.S. Government make use of the pre-war “intelligence” when it militarily seized Iraq in March 2003? And does anybody expect the U.S. Government to give Iraq back some time soon?

(For the record: None of the 27 “Conclusions” listed by the President’s Commission as “Causes for the Intelligence Community’s Inaccurate Pre-War Assessments” ( Chapter One, “Case Study: Iraq,” pp. 157-196) mentions lying in the service of power.—Wonder why not?)

Anyway. What follows are links to the major brand-name “intelligence” re-assessments of 2004-2005 to have been undertaken by the four states that contributed to the pre-war claims about the Iraqi threat to the world. Please note that they constitute, at best, the public face of these investigations, and that their inclusion here is intended to serve an archival purpose only. Nothing more.

(1) Report on the Committee of Enquiry into the Intelligence System in Light of the War in Iraq, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, March, 2004 (a.k.a., Steinitz Report)

(2) Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq, Select Committee on Intelligence, United States Senate, July, 2004 (a.k.a., Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report) (Also see the very helpful synopsis, Conclusions—Excerpted from Full Report.)

(3) Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction, Report of a Committee of Privy Counsellors, July, 2004 (a.k.a., the Butler Report)

(4) Report of the Inquiry into Australian Intelligence Agencies, July, 2004 (a.k.a., the Flood Report)

(5) The 9/11 Commission Report (homepage, including the complete PDF version of the Report and a section-by-section version of the same)

(6) Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, September 30, 2004 (a.k.a. Duelfer Report). (Also see the “Prepared Testimony of Charles A. Duelfer,” Senate Armed Services Committee, October 6, 2004.)

(7) Report to the President of the United States, Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, March 31, 2005 (For the complete text of the PDF version of the same.)

Executive Order [Establishing the] Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, White House Office of the Press Secretary, February 6, 2004

Powell criticises Bush on Iraq,” Geoff Elliott, The Australian, April 1, 2005
Report faults U.S. spy community, challenges strategy for overhaul,” Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Baltimore Sun, April 1, 2005
Iraq errors said to result from breakdowns,” Robert Little, Baltimore Sun, April 1, 2005
Panel Faults Spy Agencies for Claims of Iraqi Weapons,” Charlie Savage, Boston Globe, April 1, 2005
A Faulty Intelligence Report,” Derrick Z. Jackson, Boston Globe, April 1, 2005
Panel: U.S. spy agencies are `disturbingly’ blind,” Cam Simpson, Chicago Tribune, April 1, 2005
Major work left to fix US intelligence,” Faye Bowers and Peter Grier Staff, Christian Science Monitor, April 1, 2005
Inquiry damns US intelligence failure,” Francis Harris, Daily Telegraph, April 1, 2005
Intelligence on US security threats ‘little better than it was on Iraq’,” Edward Alden and James Harding, Financial Times, April 1, 2005
US intelligence on Iraq chaotic and incompetent, says Bush commission,” Julian Borger, The Guardian, April 1, 2005
WMD verdict: ‘Dead wrong’: The damning verdict of America’s official report into the reasons for going to war in Iraq,” Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, April 1, 2005
A Savage Indictment of Bickering and Creaking and Bureaucracy,” Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, April 1, 2005
Two Nations, Two Reports, Two Very Different Languages,” Ben Russell, The Independent, April 1, 2005
Panel Denounces Spy Agencies,” Bob Drogin and Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times, April 1, 2005
Intelligence Analysts Whiffed on a ‘Curveball’,” Greg Miller and Bob Drogin, Los Angeles Times, April 1, 2005
Spooks and the Art of the Dissenting Footnote,” Robert Carlin, Los Angeles Times, April 1, 2005
Oh, That Politicization,” Editorial, Los Angeles Times, April 1, 2005
Final Verdict Is Still Elusive,” Todd S. Purdum, New York Times, Apri 1, 2005
Doubts on Source for Key Piece of Data Were Suppressed, Report Says,” David Barstow, New York Times, April 1, 2005
Panel Warns That Defense Against Germ Attack Is Weak,” Eric Lipton, New York Times, Apri 1, 2005
A Profile in Timidity,” Editorial, New York Times, April 1, 2005
Iraq weapons assessments ‘dead wrong,’ Bush told,” John Diamond, USA Today, April 1, 2005
Data on Iraqi Arms Flawed, Panel Says,” Walter Pincus and Peter Baker, Washington Post, April 1, 2005
Doubts on Weapons Were Dismissed,” Dafna Linzer and Barton Gellman, Washington Post, April 1, 2005
After 14-Month Inquiry, Many Questions Remain,” Dana Milbank, Washington Post, April 1, 2005
Panel Warns of ‘Headstrong Agencies’,” Dana Priest, Washington Post, April 1, 2005

Cooking the Books and Politicizing Intelligence,” Larry C. Johnson, Truthout, November 15, 2005

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