The stonewall continues.
On Thursday, President Bush’s commission on weapons of mass destruction intelligence released a 692-page report that harshly criticizes the US intelligence establishment. It notes that “the Intelligence Community was dead wrong in almost all of it pre-war judgments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. This was a major intelligence failure.” That’s no news flash. The Senate intelligence committee issued a report last July that said the same. But like the Senate committee, Bush’s commission–cochaired by Judge Laurence Silberman, a Republican, and former Senator Chuck Robb, a Democrat–ignored a key issue: whether Bush and his aides overstated and misrepresented the flawed intelligence they received from the intelligence agencies. As I wrote about days ago, Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the intelligence committee, promised last summer that his committee would investigate the administration’s prewar use (or abuse) of the WMD intelligence after the 2004 election, but more recently Roberts backed away from that vow, claiming such an inquiry would now be pointless. The commission, which claimed it found no evidence that Bush officials pressured intelligence analysts to rig their reports, notes in a footnote,
Our review has been limited by our charter to the question of alleged policymaker pressure on the Intelligence Community to shape its conclusions to conform to the policy preferences of the Administration. There is a separate issue of how policymakers used the intelligence they were given and how they reflected it in their presentations to Congress and the public. That issue is not within our charter and we therefore did not consider it nor do we express a view on it.
So two years after Bush launched the invasion of Iraq, there still has been no official inquiry into how he and his lieutenants handled the prewar intelligence. The question is whether Bush and other administration officials exaggerated the intelligence community’s overstatements. And the evidence suggests they did. Bush claimed Saddam Hussein was “dealing with” al Qaeda before the war, but the CIA had not reported that. Bush said Hussein had amassed a “massive stockpile” of biological weapons, yet the intelligence community had only reported (errantly) that Iraq had an active research and development program for biological weapons. Bush and his Republican allies in Congress have so far succeeded in keeping his role in the WMD scandal out of the picture. (Democrats, where are you?)
The presidential WMD commission found numerous problems within the intelligence community. It says, “we still know disturbingly little about the weapons programs and even less about the intentions of many of our most dangerous adversaries.” (This is bad news for anyone who wants to bomb Iran or North Korea.) The report is mostly depressing, as it describes severe dysfunctions within the intelligence establishment. But the commission casts little, if any, blame toward the person ultimately responsible for the intelligence community: the president of the United States. And the current president even bestowed upon former CIA director George Tenet, who was at the helm during this period of screw-ups, the presidential Medal of Freedom. (Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz received one, too. And yesterday the Rand Corporation released a report concluding that his Pentagon failed to plan adequately for the aftermath of the Iraq invasion. The Rand study says that stabilization and reconstruction issues “were addressed only very generally” and “no planning was undertaken to ensure the security of the Iraqi people.”)