In this morning’s WaPo Walter Pincus adds another piece to the story of how the Bush administration got the WMD case wrong.
The former CIA official who coordinated U.S. intelligence on the Middle East until last year has accused the Bush administration of "cherry-picking" intelligence on Iraq to justify a decision it had already reached to go to war, and of ignoring warnings that the country could easily fall into violence and chaos after an invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
Paul R. Pillar, who was the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, acknowledges the U.S. intelligence agencies' mistakes in concluding that Hussein's government possessed weapons of mass destruction. But he said those misjudgments did not drive the administration's decision to invade.
"Official intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs was flawed, but even with its flaws, it was not what led to the war," Pillar wrote in the upcoming issue of the journal Foreign Affairs. Instead, he asserted, the administration "went to war without requesting -- and evidently without being influenced by -- any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq."
"It has become clear that official intelligence was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made, that damaging ill will developed between [Bush] policy-makers and intelligence officers, and that the intelligence community's own work was politicized," Pillar wrote.
This is not a new story. On Feb. 3, 2004 the WaPo printed my letter contending that the administration had shown the existence of WMD programs but had failed to demonstrate that the weapons existed and were ready to be used. Yet Operation Iraqi Freedom was justified in part because of this threat.
Administration officials had good reason to be fooled. The intelligence community underestimated Iraq’s nuclear weapons program before the first gulf war. Iraq had used Chemical Weapons on the Kurds. Both Saddam and Iraqi émigrés wanted the world to believe that Iraq had WMDs. Saddam wanted to dissuade his neighbors. The émigrés wanted to persuade the US to
Administration officials were following the old proverb: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
Even with all the signs pointing in one direction the intelligence community implicitly acknowledged that it had a weak case. Alan Reynolds demonstrated that the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, carefully read, did not make the case for WMD and did not justify starting war.
Pincus quotes former National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East on how political pressures shaped intelligence assessments.
In his article, Pillar said he believes that the "politicization" of intelligence on Iraq occurred "subtly" and in many forms, but almost never resulted from a policy-maker directly asking an analyst to reshape his or her results. "Such attempts are rare," he writes, "and when they do occur . . . are almost always unsuccessful."
Instead, he describes a process in which the White House helped frame intelligence results by repeatedly posing questions aimed at bolstering its arguments about Iraq.
The Bush administration, Pillar wrote, "repeatedly called on the intelligence community to uncover more material that would contribute to the case for war," including information on the "supposed connection" between Hussein and al Qaeda, which analysts had discounted. "Feeding the administration's voracious appetite for material on the Saddam-al Qaeda link consumed an enormous amount of time and attention."
As this blog pointed out on December 19, 2005, it is time to revisit the conclusion of the Robb-Silberman commission 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)
I'm still a Bush supporter, but the democrats could get me back if they ever discover that diversity includes pro life opinions