Senate WMD Report Whacks CIA, Not Bush
At the press conference for the report's release, I asked Roberts the following question: Since 800 Americans lost the lives because of a phony threat assessment--and thousands of GIs lost limbs and the American taxpayers are out up to $200 billion--don't the relatives of the dead and injured and the rest of us have a right to know, before the election, whether the Bush Administration mishandled or misrepresented the intelligence?
The committee, he replied, "couldn't get it done" by now. This was, Roberts claimed, "a top priority," but he added that there were only twenty "legislative days" left in the Senate session, implying that was not enough time. "It is a priority," he repeated. But when another reporter asked, "In time for the election?" Roberts did not respond. Rockefeller then remarked that committee staff was not limited by the amount of days the Senate would be in session and could work on this matter through August and September. "The thought that we cannot get this done by the end of the year escapes me," he said. And a senior committee aide told me that this sort of project could be completed within months. "It is not hard work," he commented.
In hailing the committee's effort to produce a public version of its classified report--the CIA tried and failed to censor half of the report--Roberts said, "We believe the American people have a right to know." But he is not concerned about the people's timely right to know about Bush's use--or abuse--of the intelligence.
In an addendum to the report, Rockefeller and two other Democratic members of the committee--Carl Levin and Richard Durbin--criticize Roberts' decision to put off this part of the investigation. They note:
In the months before the production of the Intelligence Community's October 2002 Estimate, Administration officials undertook a relentless public campaign which repeatedly characterized the Iraq weapons of mass destruction program in more ominous and threatening terms than the Intelligence Community analysis substantiated. Similarly, public statements of senior officials on Iraqi links to terrorism generally, and Al Qaeda specifically, were often based on a selective release of intelligence information that implied a cooperative, operational relationship that the Intelligence Community did not believe existed."
In addition to casting all the blame at the CIA, the Senate intelligence committee also helps the Administration by declaring that the intelligence community's mistakes were not made in response to pressure from the hawks of the Bush White House. "The Committee found no evidence," the report says, "that the [intelligence community's] mischaracterization of exaggeration of the intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capabilities was the result of political pressure."
But Rockefeller, Levin and Durbin argue that Bush officials made "high-profile statements" about the threat from Iraq "in advance of any meaningful intelligence analysis and created pressure on the Intelligence Community to conform to the certainty contained in the pronouncements." More specifically, they point to a statement made by Richard Kerr, a former deputy CIA director who conducted an internal review of US intelligence on Iraq. He said, "There was a lot of pressure [on the analysts], no question. The White House, State, Defense, were raising questions, heavily on WMD and the issue of terrorism. Why did you select this information rather than that? Why have you downplayed this particular thing?.... Sure, I heard that some of the analysts felt pressure." The CIA ombudsman, according to this addendum, told the committee "that he felt the 'hammering' by the Bush Administration on Iraq intelligence was harder that he had previously witnessed in his thirty-two-year career with the agency. Several analysts he spoke with [who were involved in preparing a report on Iraq and Al Qaeda] mentioned pressure and gave the sense that they felt the constant questions and pressure to reexamine issues were unreasonable." Tenet, too, told the committee that some agency officials raised with him the issue of pressure.