"Dead wrong" on WMDs

George W. Bush resisted calls for a commission to investigate intelligence failures that led to the Iraq war. With the report out today, it's easy to see why.

By Tim Grieve
Published March 31, 2005 2:08PM (EST)

George W. Bush initially resisted calls to appoint a commission to study U.S. intelligence failures in the run-up to the Iraq war, and today it's easy to see why. Bush ultimately caved into political pressure and appointed a commission last February, and the commission has just delivered its report to the president. Its conclusion: U.S. intelligence was "dead wrong" in "almost all of its prewar judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction."

The commission said Iraq represented "a major intelligence failure" that resulted from an "inability to collect good information about Iraq's WMD programs, serious errors in analyzing what information it could gather and a failure to make clear just how much of its analysis was based on assumptions rather than good evidence."

And while the report says that the United States "simply cannot afford failures of this magnitude," it also says U.S. intelligence agencies remain unable to accurately predict the existence -- or non-existence -- of threats by other nations. "The bad news is that we still know disturbingly little about the weapons programs and even less about the intentions of many of our most dangerous adversaries," the commission says.

The good news? "If there is good news it is this: Without actually suffering a massive nuclear or biological attack, we have learned how badly the intelligence community can fail in struggling to understand the most important threats we face," the commission reports. "We must use the lessons from those failings, and from our successes as well, to improve our intelligence for the future, and do so with a sense of urgency."

The commission faults the Bush administration for not acting with a sufficient sense of urgency to date. "It's now been three and a half years since the Sept. 11 attacks," the commission says. "A lot can be accomplished in that time." The commission then notes that, in the three and a half years after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, "the United States had built and equipped an army and navy that had crossed two oceans, the English Channel and the Rhine; it had already won Germany's surrender and was two months from vanquishing Japan." By comparison, the commission said, change has been slow in coming -- when it has come at all -- in the U.S. intelligence community.

Tim Grieve

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

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