Representative Walter Jones was out of place when he sat down at the dais in a committee room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Monday. He had come to participate in an unofficial hearing being held by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. And Jones is neither a Senator nor a Democrat. He is a hawkish Republican from North Carolina. But he asked one of the most poignant questions of the afternoon.
Before him were a panel of veterans of the intelligence wars that had raged before the invasion of Iraq: retired Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff of Secretary of State Colin Powell; Paul Pillar, former national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia; Carl Ford, former assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research; and Wayne White, a former Iraq analyst at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
Each man had offered an explanation of what had gone wrong with the prewar intelligence, and generally they excoriated the Bush administration. Wilkerson noted that “our national leaders had used intelligence in a careless manner and that there should be “some kind of accountability” for that. Pillar accused the Bush White House of having turned the “textbook model of intelligence-policy relations…upside down.” He explained: “Instead of intelligence being used to inform policy, it was used primarily to justify a decision already made.” Ford blasted the entire intelligence community for turning out lousy analysis. He maintained that “we” got the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s WMD “wrong because we aren’t very good at analysis….Unfortunately it represents one of our better analytical efforts.” And White said that policymakers–including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice–routinely “turned a blind eye to intelligence inconsistent with their Middle East agenda.”
The witnesses went over many of the known horror stories of the prewar intelligence battles: the aluminum tubes cited by the White House as proof Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear weapons (which actually were for rocket launchers); the mobile biological weapons labs (which actually were for producing hydrogen for weather balloons); Saddam’s alleged training of al Qaeda in biological and chemical weapons (which was sourced to an al Qaeda commander who recanted his story).
So after all this, Representative Jones, who had voted to grant Bush the authority to invade Iraq, had a question. He noted that “my heart has ached ever since I found out that the intelligence…was flawed and possibly manipulated.” He said that he had written letters to relatives of every American soldier who has died in Iraq–8000 letters so far. “What perplexes me,” he said, “is how in the world could [intelligence] professionals see what was happening and nobody speak out?”