IRAQ INTELLIGENCE FAILURES: Australian Intelligence Reviewed

September 2004

By Scott Stinson

A recent investigation into Australia’s intelligence agencies asserts that Australia’s intelligence organizations “failed to judge accurately the extent and nature” of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs before the 2003 war, but commends Australian analysts for exercising more skepticism than their British or American counterparts.

The Australian Inquiry, a committee charged with evaluating the effectiveness of the Australian Intelligence Community (AIC), released its final report July 20, marking the third review in less than a month to analyze pre-war intelligence gathering and assessment. The Inquiry followed similar reviews conducted by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee and the Butler Committee in the United Kingdom. According to the Australian report, the intelligence used to generate international support for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq “was thin, ambiguous, and incomplete.”

However, the Inquiry, which was requested by Prime Minister John Howard and headed by former intelligence official Phillip Flood, praised the AIC for having applied “healthy skepticism” to individual pieces of intelligence. On the whole, AIC issued assessments that were “more cautious and seem closer to the facts as we know them” than assessments made by U.S. and British intelligence agencies, according to the Inquiry’s final document, the Flood report.

Nonetheless, Kevin Rudd, a spokesperson for the opposition Labor Party, used the Flood report to criticize Howard for leading Australia to war in Iraq based on inadequate, second-hand intelligence from the United States and the United Kingdom.

“A core failing brought out by this report is that he [Howard] didn’t make sure the intelligence agencies were properly resourced to give an independent, Australian view of all this foreign product,” Rudd said in a July 23 radio interview.

Meanwhile, Howard defended his decision to go to war in a series of public interviews. On a televised news program, he said, “The balance of probabilities supported the argument that Saddam [Hussein] did have weapons of mass destruction.”

Howard also denied claims that Australian, U.S., and British officials lied about the pre-war intelligence. “At no stage did we mislead the Australian public. At no stage did we manufacture intelligence, at no stage did we heavy intelligence agencies,” he said in a radio address.

The Inquiry did not support accusations that government officials purposely or inappropriately influenced AIC conclusions before the war but did issue several recommendations to enhance Australia’s intelligence capabilities, including the creation of a committee to coordinate and monitor activities of the six AIC agencies. Howard moved quickly to adopt almost all of the recommendations.

Since 2001, the Australian government has increased total intelligence funding by 88 percent and authorized a 44 percent increase in the number of intelligence staff members. Still, according to the Inquiry, the total Australian intelligence budget represents roughly just one percent of the total funds available for U.S. intelligence agencies.