Former Secretary of State Colin Powell told BBC yesterday that he was
"deeply disappointed in what the intelligence community had presented to me and to the rest of us."
"What really upset me more than anything else was that there were people in the intelligence community that had doubts about some of this sourcing, but those doubts never surfaced to us," (emphasis added)
On November 21st, Vice President Cheney said:
What is not legitimate and what I will again say is dishonest and reprehensible is the suggestion by some U.S. senators that the president of the United States or any member of his administration purposely misled the American people on prewar intelligence.So now we have two top level administration officials saying that Bush did not lie, but that the administration was misled by the intelligence community.
We still do not know who did the misleading. This blog has posted that midlevel intelligence officers had doubts about the sourcing of the Al Qaeda-Iraq connection and the Curveball reports of mobile biological agent production vans.
The Robb-Silberman Commission concluded that
The analysts who worked Iraqi weapons issues universally agreed that in no instance did political pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgments. That said, it is hard to deny the conclusion that intelligence analysts worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom.(emphasis added)
If we interpret “political pressure” to mean direct interference by elected or cabinet level officials, we are left with the conclusion that sub-cabinet level officials dropped the ball.
Even if that is the case, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell are all experienced, savvy executives who have been reading intelligence reports for decades. As columnist Alan Reynolds has noted, they could have given critical reading of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Weapons of Mass Destruction. Had they, and the Senators who had access, done so, the administration might not have been misled. The NIE was a veiled effort to warn the administration that the case was not solid. Why was it veiled? Because "intelligence analysts worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom."
If President Bush wants to correct the errors that led to this massive intelligence failure, he will look to intelligence leadership – and to his own.
NOTE: Linked to Beltway Traffic Jam for 12/19/2005.