Even the Bush administration seems to be giving up on ever finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq: the Pentagon might reassign arms inspectors to security work. Given that the WMD threat was the chief ground on which the U.S. went to war, some hard questions are being asked about the quality, not to say integrity, of pre-war intelligence; and some answers, as yet only suggestive and fragmentary, are trickling out, suggesting that the administration and/or the intelligence community were either flat-out dishonest or else culpably incompetent in dealing with Iraq intel. The blame game is on, with fingers pointing in all directions.
In his 'Capital Games' blog, Nation editor David Corn lays out the alternatives:
"If the prewar intelligence on Iraq's WMDs and the supposed connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda was shoddy, there are two options. Either the CIA misled Bush, or Bush misled the nation. Bush and his aides told the public that there was no doubt that Iraq possessed significant amounts of biological and chemical weapons, and Bush claimed that Hussein was 'dealing' with al Qaeda and at any moment could slip his WMDs to Osama bin Laden's murderous schemers. Was that what the intelligence definitively said or not?
If Bush based his prewar assertions on intelligence that he assumed to be solid but that actually was sloppy, he should be damn mad and sending heads rolling at the CIA, including that of CIA chief George Tenet. If Bush misrepresented less-than-definitive intelligence to make the case for war appear stronger, then he should be apologizing to the nation. So Democrats ought to be asking: was Bush ill-served by the CIA, or did he misuse its intelligence? Bush should either be beheading folks at Langley or acknowledging fault. But he is doing neither, and Democrats should be vigorously calling attention to that."
Currently, Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which was formed to investigate the intelligence blunder, are mulling a separate, independent investigation of how the White House handled pre-war intelligence. The Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, is drawing increasing heat for failing to ask the crucial question, namely, "Did policy-makers misuse prewar intelligence to justify an invasion of Iraq? Roberts seems to be leaning against the C.I.A. Last Friday, he said his committee's investigation had found that "the executive was ill-served by the intelligence community."
The CIA countered, as columinst Joe Conason writes in the New York Observer:
"The following day, three former C.I.A. officers shot back on behalf of their colleagues during a public hearing and press conference called by the Senate Democratic leadership. What Vincent Cannistraro, Larry Johnson and Jim Marcinowski said got little attention from the mainstream media. They described an ongoing clandestine war between the intelligence services and the Bush administration over Iraq.
As explained by Mr. Cannistraro, who served as the C.I.A.'s counterterrorism chief, 'We had a pattern of pressure directed at C.I.A. analysts for a long period of time, beginning almost immediately after Sept. 11. The pressure was directed at providing supporting data for the belief that Saddam Hussein was, one, linked to global terrorism and, two, was a clear danger not only to his neighbors but to the United States of America.'"
Seymour Hersh, in the October 27 issue of the New Yorker, makes a similar case. He thinks that the Bush administration bypassed the government's standard procedures for vetting intelligence, meaning Iraq info wasn't given enough scrutiny:
"The point is not that the President and his senior aides were consciously lying. What was taking place was much more systematic -- and potentially just as troublesome. Kenneth Pollack, a former National Security Council expert on Iraq, whose book 'The Threatening Storm' generally supported the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein, told me that what the Bush people did was 'dismantle the existing filtering process that for fifty years had been preventing the policymakers from getting bad information. They created stovepipes to get the information they wanted directly to the top leadership. Their position is that the professional bureaucracy is deliberately and maliciously keeping information from them.'"