The threat that wasn't

The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction has harsh words for the CIA -- and for the White House.

By Tim Grieve
Published March 29, 2005 2:59PM (EST)

George W. Bush formally receives the report of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction this week. The report confirms much of what's already known by folks concerned about the slap-dashery and deceit that led to the war in Iraq -- a group that may or may not include the president and his administration.

As the New York Times reports this morning, the commission's report focuses on the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, the document the administration rushed through the intelligence system in 2002 and then used to sell the war. If the White House feels the need to grapple with the report at all -- the last days of Terri Schiavo may deny it much of an airing -- count on administration spinners to put the blame on George Tenet and the CIA, then take credit for the "reforms" put in place by Porter Goss. But while it's true that the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate was deeply flawed, the White House isn't exactly blameless here. The report delivers what an official familiar with it called "a hearty condemnation" of both the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The National Intelligence Estimate contained the suggestion that Saddam Hussein had imported aluminum tubes in order to make centrifuges for the production of uranium, but it also set forth dissenting views from some agencies. The administration trumpeted the former and simply ignored the latter. The defense put forward for then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice? She never read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.

As the Times notes, the commission's report also deals with the administration's contention that Saddam Hussein had a "line of unmanned aerial vehicles" that might be used to attack the United States. The Times says that the commission's report "ridicules the conclusion" that these vehicles, "which had a very limited flying range," could have posed a major threat. Yet that's exactly how Bush described them when he laid out the "threat" of Iraq in his October 2002 speech in Cincinnati. Bush said: "We've also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas. We're concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVS for missions targeting the United States." If you want to read the whole speech, you can find it at the White House Web site. It's in a section called "Iraq: Denial and Deception."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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