Senate Intel Panel Releases Two Iraq Reports

Paul Kerr

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released two reports Sept. 8 as part of the second phase of its inquiry into pre-war U.S. intelligence concerning Iraq’s suspected chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs.

One report compares pre-war U.S. intelligence assessments with information gathered following the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The other report evaluates the intelligence community’s use of information obtained from individuals associated with the Iraqi National Congress (INC), a group comprised of Iraqi exiles who opposed Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The first report reaches similar conclusions to those of a previous official U.S. government postinvasion investigation conducted by the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), the task force charged with coordinating the U.S.-led search for Iraqi prohibited weapons. The ISG had already debunked Bush administration officials’ pre-war claims that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons and had an active nuclear weapons program. (See ACT, December 2005.)

The intelligence community continues to review documents seized in Iraq. But a 2006 CIA retrospective, newly revealed in the intelligence committee report, states that such efforts are unlikely to yield new evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs. Noting that there “comes a point where the absence of evidence does indeed become the evidence of absence,” the CIA report adds that investigators “should have found at least some incidental reporting or references” if Baghdad had conducted “concealment and deception operations…to the scale necessary.”

In July 2004, the intelligence panel completed the investigation’s first phase, comparing the intelligence community’s pre-war assessments with the supporting pre-invasion intelligence. (See ACT, September 2004.) The second phase of the investigation is supposed to include an examination of Bush administration officials’ acquisition and use of intelligence, but it has been mired in partisan controversy. It began in June 2003 but has yet to be completed, despite repeated pledges from committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). (See ACT, April 2006.)

The Sept. 8 committee reports focus on the intelligence community. The panel did not release three other reports examining other executive branch offices. While the committee maintains it will issue the additional reports, no date has yet been set for this. One of the reports would compare U.S. officials’ public statements regarding Iraq’s WMD and terrorist-related activities with the available intelligence. The others will evaluate U.S. pre-invasion intelligence about the likely postwar conditions in Iraq and “intelligence activities” conducted by officials from the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy.

The Sept. 8 committee reports concentrate mainly on an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which judged that Baghdad possessed chemical and biological weapons and was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. An NIE is supposed to be the intelligence community’s most authoritative assessment of a given subject. (See ACT, September 2004.)

Iraqi Weapons: Predictions vs. Results

Largely recapitulating information contained in previous reports, the report comparing intelligence before and after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq reiterates that, during the 1990s, Iraq had destroyed its chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs.

The CIA retrospective described in the report concluded that then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein chose to withhold information about Baghdad’s illicit weapons programs from UN inspectors who began work in the country after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. But in a reaction to “unexpectedly thorough inspections,” Iraq later destroyed large amounts of “undeclared weapons and related materials” without the presence of the inspectors.

Baghdad decided to cooperate with the inspectors in 1995 following the defection of the Iraqi leader’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamel. According to the report, Iraq gave relevant documentation to the inspectors “in a genuine attempt to come clean on programs, albeit while attempting to save face,” apparently by blaming Kamel for concealing the documents.

Iraq believed at the time that this cooperation “would gain favor with the UN.” However, Baghdad’s disclosure instead validated the international community’s suspicions that the country had misled the inspectors, suspicions that “resulted in more intrusive inspections,” the committee report says. The UN’s reaction led Hussein to believe that WMD allegations by the United States and other countries were being used “as a pretext for regime change” in Iraq, according to the CIA retrospective.

Baghdad subsequently stopped cooperating with the inspectors, who were withdrawn in December 1998.

Apparently questioning a widely articulated theory, the CIA retrospective also notes that there is no evidence indicating that Hussein made “a concerted effort to maintain the illusion of WMD for the benefit of local adversaries,” such as Iran. Iraq had only a general “sense of the need to project power and military might,” the retrospective adds.

INC’s Role

The report evaluating the intelligence community’s use of information gathered from Iraqi exiles concludes that it used “false information from INC-affiliated sources.”

The 2002 NIE obtained data from two such sources. For example, the NIE contained a description, based on one source, of a new facility suspected of being part of a reconstituted Iraqi nuclear weapons program. The ISG later investigated the site but found no evidence that it had been “involved in nuclear-related work,” the intelligence panel report says. Subsequent intelligence community investigations have called into question the source’s credibility. According to the report, the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) believe that the source never actually visited the facility he described, despite his claims to the contrary. Some intelligence officials believe that the defector “may have been provided with information about the facility by someone else.”

False information from an INC-associated source was also used to corroborate the NIE’s contention that Iraq possessed mobile facilities for producing biological weapons agents, the report says.

Additionally, the DIA continued to issue reports from INC-associated sources after the NIE was published. For example, a November report stated that, according to a member of the Iraqi opposition, Iraq had been smuggling chemical and biological weapons to Syria. A January 2003 report cited a source who claimed that Iraq had conducted “unspecified nuclear activity” at two facilities during the spring of 2002.

The Senate report only discusses information that the INC provided to the intelligence community and does not address widespread concerns that U.S. policymakers may have used INC intelligence obtained through other channels. Indeed, an additional view authored by several Democratic senators cites a June 2002 memorandum from the INC to the Senate Appropriations Committee that identified officials from the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Office of the Vice President as recipients of INC-provided intelligence.

The senators also point out that a September 2002 public White House document cited information from an INC-affiliated defector to support a claim that Iraq had chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs.