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June 2, 2022
Senate Committee Completes Iraq Intel Probe
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Peter Crail

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence June 5 completed its long-delayed investigation into U.S. intelligence on Iraq prior to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of that country. The final portions of the investigation entailed a comparison of prewar intelligence with speeches made by senior administration officials and an examination of the work carried out by two Pentagon offices, which compiled their own intelligence related to Iraq. (See ACT, March 2008. ) The committee began its examination of the prewar intelligence on Iraq in June 2003.

The report concluded that several specific administration claims related to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs were not supported by intelligence available at the time. The Bush administration had cited WMD possession as a key justification for the 2003 invasion and attributed their statements to faulty intelligence, in particular the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). The committee report indicates, however, that some of the inaccuracies in the statements by the administration were not based on the judgments of the intelligence community.

This investigation differed from the first committee report issued in July 2004 as well as several previous U.S. government reports, which had focused on the inaccuracy of prewar intelligence reporting about Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. The committee’s 2004 report concluded that many of the key judgments contained in a critical October 2002 NIE on Iraq were overstated. (See ACT, September 2004. ) Likewise, the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction stated in its March 2005 report that the intelligence community was “dead wrong in almost all of its prewar judgments” concerning Iraq’s suspected chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs. (See ACT, May 2005. )

The committee announced in February 2004 that it would conduct a second phase of investigations that would include an examination of prewar statements, not simply the accuracy of prewar intelligence information. (See ACT, March 2004. ) Democrats in particular wished to examine whether the prewar statements by the administration were supported by the intelligence community’s findings, while Republican lawmakers wished to limit focus to the quality of the intelligence itself. (See ACT, November 2003. )

Following the announcement of the phase two investigations, committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) stated during a July 9, 2004, press conference that the completion of the second phase “is one of my top priorities.” Yet, the process languished for several more years due to disagreements over the scope of the investigations and ground rules for requesting documents from the executive branch and interviewing administration officials. (See ACT, December 2005. )

In an effort on November 1, 2005, to bypass the lengthy deliberations, then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) invoked a rarely used rule to halt Senate operations and bring the body into a closed session. The two parties then formed a six-member task force to develop a plan for the investigation. The committee later issued reports on segments of its phase two investigation in September 2006 and May 2007.

The June report was subject to considerable partisan disagreement, in particular regarding the consideration of prewar statements by administration officials. Although approved by a bipartisan majority of 10 to 5, some Republican committee members sharply criticized the investigation as politically motivated.

Committee Vice Chairman Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-Mo.) and Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) issued a minority view with the report. In it, they claim that the Democratic majority refused to review statements made by the Clinton administration that were submitted by Republican members and did not allow individuals whose statements were reviewed by the committee to respond to the committee’s judgments. Their addendum includes a number of statements made by Democratic lawmakers and former Vice President Al Gore regarding Iraq’s WMD programs and ties to terrorist organizations.

Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller’s (D-W.Va.) additional views, submitted along with the report, stated that the committee decided not to review public statements made prior to the summer of 2002 or those made by “lower level” administration officials because “there were not deemed to be as central to the lead-up to the war in Iraq.”

Prewar Statements

The report and investigation focused on five major policy speeches made by senior administration officials. The speeches included President George W. Bush’s Sept. 12, 2002, address to the UN General Assembly; his 2003 State of the Union address; his October 2002 speech in Cincinnati; an August 2002 speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention by Vice President Dick Cheney; and Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech to the UN Security Council outlining Iraq’s violations of the council’s resolutions prohibiting the maintenance of WMD capabilities. In addition to these speeches, the committee reviewed a number of statements by senior administration officials between the summer of 2002 and March 2003.

The committee compared these statements with “hundreds” of finished analytical intelligence documents produced prior to March 19, 2003. The report also describes postwar findings regarding the intelligence, which proved much of the available intelligence to be incorrect, but did not use the postwar judgments as a basis for the committee’s conclusions.

Based on these comparisons, the committee arrived at 16 conclusions related to different facets of the administration’s case against Iraq, including Baghdad’s suspected nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs; its missile programs; and its links to terrorism, in particular its association with al Qaeda.

The committee concluded that many of the administration’s general statements related to Iraq’s unconventional weapons capabilities were substantiated by the available intelligence. In some of these cases, however, such as statements regarding Iraq’s WMD production capabilities and its development of unmanned aerial vehicles, the report states that the administration characterized their assessments with a greater degree of certainty than the intelligence judgments themselves did.

According to the report, the administration’s statements were not supported by the available intelligence in areas related to specific claims regarding Iraq’s proscribed weapons programs and its relationship with terrorist groups. For example, although the committee determined that statements about Iraq’s WMD possession were supported by the available intelligence, it judged that specific claims that Iraq “operated underground WMD facilities that were not vulnerable to conventional airstrikes” were unsubstantiated by the intelligence information.

Only one conclusion, related to statements suggesting that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was prepared to give weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups for attacks against the United States, was determined to have been “contradicted by available intelligence information.”

Although the bulk of the report draws conclusions from the comparison of statements by administration officials and available intelligence, it briefly raised a more endemic concern regarding the ability of the executive branch to “unilaterally declassify and divulge information” at its own convenience. The report suggests that such prerogative allows administration officials to selectively declassify and use intelligence that supports a policy position while ignoring intelligence that may undermine that position. The report does not expand on this concern.

The report did not compare administration statements on Iraq’s proscribed weapons programs against the information and assessments of the UN weapons inspectors, who conducted more than 760 inspections covering about 500 sites from November 2002 through February 2003. As early as Feb. 13, 2003, the chief UN inspector, Hans Blix, reported to the UN Security Council that there was no evidence either of active chemical or biological weapons programs or stockpiles. International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei reported that there was no evidence of a reconstituted nuclear weapons program. (See ACT, March 2003. )

According to sources familiar with the Senate Intelligence Committee report, neither the U.S. intelligence community nor the Bush administration apparently took action to reassess the October 2002 NIE findings on Iraq, which were based entirely on information gathered before the return of the UN inspectors in November 2002. (See ACT, October 2004. )

Pentagon Offices

In addition to its investigation into prewar statements on Iraq, the committee examined the intelligence activities carried out by two Department of Defense offices: the Office of Special Plans and the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group.

Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld established the Office of Special Plans, which was tasked with examining raw intelligence related to Iraq’s WMD programs, under the control of then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith. Feith also created the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group after the September 2001 attacks to examine links between terrorist organizations and host countries.

The committee’s review followed on the Defense Department’s own review of the intelligence production and dissemination of intelligence related to Iraq by Feith’s office. This report, issued in February 2007, stated that the office of the undersecretary of defense for policy produced “alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and al Qaeda relationship, which included some conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus” of the intelligence community. The report further stated that, although these activities were not illegal or unauthorized, they were “inappropriate.”

Congressional sources told Arms Control Today Feb. 15 that Roberts used the Pentagon investigation as an excuse to delay the committee’s investigation into Feith’s offices. (See ACT, March 2008. )

The committee’s investigation focused specifically on a series of meetings between Pentagon officials and a number of Iranians that were primarily focused on potential efforts for overturning the regime in Tehran.

The report concludes that the decision by deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to withhold pertinent information from the intelligence community and the Department of State before and after the meetings was “ill-advised.” The committee also criticized the Defense Department leadership for failing to conduct an interagency counterintelligence analysis of the potential influence of the Iranian nationals on U.S. officials.