U.S. went to war on a lie, Senate report says
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US went to war on a lie, Senate report says

By DOUGLAS JEHL
New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON - In a scathing, unanimous report, the Senate Intelligence Committee said Friday (Saturday in Manila) that the most pivotal assessments used to justify the war against Iraq had been unfounded, unreasonable and reflected major missteps on the part of American intelligence agencies.

The detailed, 511-page report, the result of a yearlong review, found in particular that the stark prewar judgment by American intelligence agencies that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons had not been substantiated by the agencies' own reporting at the time.

“Most of the major key judgments” in an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's illicit weapons were “either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting,” the committee report said.

“A series of failures, particularly in analytic tradecraft, led to the mischaracterization of intelligence.”

In 117 separate conclusions, the committee laid the blame squarely at the feet of what it portrayed as a sloppy, dysfunctional intelligence structure headed by George J. Tenet, the departing director of Central Intelligence. The report was the harshest congressional indictment of American intelligence agencies since the Church Committee report of the mid-1970s on abuses of power by the CIA.

Among the central findings, endorsed by all nine Republicans and eight Democrats on the committee, were that a culture of “groupthink” within intelligence agencies left unchallenged an institutional belief that Iraq possessed illicit weapons; that significant shortcomings in American human intelligence left the United States dependent on others for information about Iraq's illicit weapons programs; and that intelligence agencies too often failed to acknowledge the limited, ambiguous and even contradictory nature of their information about Iraq and its illicit weapons.

“In the end, what the president and the Congress used to send the country to war was information provided by the intelligence community, and that information was flawed,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, the panel's chairman.

Even Roberts, an ardent supporter of the war, said he was not sure that Congress would have authorized the war had it known of the flimsiness on which the prewar intelligence assessments were based.

At a campaign appearance in Pennsylvania, President Bush acknowledged that the administration had acted on flawed intelligence in going to war, but said he still believed that toppling Saddam Hussein had justified the conflict. A spokesman for Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said of the document: “Nothing in this report absolves the White House of its responsibility for mishandling of the country's intelligence. The fact is that when it comes to national security, the buck stops at the White House, not anywhere else.”

The Senate report was remarkable both for the severity of its criticism and the fact that it reflected a bipartisan consensus rarely seen on Capitol Hill. Democrats and Republicans alike said it underscored the urgency of moving quickly to overhaul the country's intelligence agencies.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the panel, said the intelligence failure in the case of Iraq “will affect our national security for years to come.”

At the Central Intelligence Agency, John McLaughlin, who takes over Sunday as the country's acting intelligence chief, said of the Senate criticism, “We get it.” But he said he still believed that “the judgments were not unreasonable when they were made nearly two years ago.”

 

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