WASHINGTON - The U.S. intelligence community gave lawmakers debating whether to wage war on Iraq a deeply flawed and exaggerated assessment of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, according to the results of a year-long, bipartisan Senate investigation released Friday.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said either the intelligence community "overstated" the evidence that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons and was actively reconstituting its nuclear program, or that the claims were "not supported by the underlying intelligence."
The report refutes every major weapons assessment laid out in a key 2002 intelligence estimate provided to lawmakers before the war and cited by Bush administration officials to justify publicly the case for an invasion. The findings also offer a broad indictment of the way the CIA carried out its core mission, accusing the agency's leadership of succumbing to "group-think," of being too cautious to slip spies into Iraq and of failing to tell policy-makers how weak their information really was.
Asked Friday if he believes Congress would have supported the use of force if it had been aware of this information before lawmakers voted, committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said, "I don't know." He said he would have voted for war on humanitarian grounds and would have considered it more "like Bosnia and Kosovo." U.S. ground troops did not fight in those conflicts.
Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (W.Va.), the committee's ranking Democrat, was more emphatic. "We in Congress would not have authorized that war, in 75 votes, if we knew what we know now," he said. U.S. standing in the world "has never been lower, and as a direct consequence our nation is more vulnerable today than ever before."
In a 440-page report that came to 117 conclusions, the committee said the intelligence community correctly determined that "there were likely several instances of contacts between Iraq and al-Qaida throughout the 1990s, but that these contacts did not add up to an established formal relationship." The panel also concurred with the CIA's conclusion that "there was no evidence proving Iraqi complicity or assistance in an al-Qaida attack," including the Sept. 11, 2001, strikes at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The committee also concluded that the CIA overstated what it knew about Iraq's attempts to procure uranium in the African nation of Niger, and that it delayed for months examining documents that would prove to be forgeries, resulting in reports to policy-makers that were "inconsistent and at times contradictory." No one at the CIA told the National Security Council of concerns about the credibility of the Niger intelligence as President Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech was drafted, contrary to officials' previous assertions, the report said.