'We were all wrong," David Kay, the Bush administration's former top weapons sleuth in Iraq, recently told members of Congress after acknowledging that there were probably no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Kay insisted that the blame for the failure to find any such weapons lay with the U.S. intelligence community, which, according to Kay, provided inaccurate assessments.
The Kay remarks appear to be an attempt to spin potentially damaging data to the political advantage of President George W. Bush.
The president's decision to create an "independent commission" to investigate this intelligence failure only reinforces this suspicion, since such a commission would only be given the mandate to examine intelligence data, and not the policies and decision-making processes that made use of that data. More disturbing, the commission's findings would be delayed until late fall, after the November presidential election.
The fact, independent of the findings of any commission, is that not everyone was wrong.
I, for one, was not. I did my level best to demand facts from the Bush administration to back up their allegations regarding Iraq's WMD and, failing that, spoke out and wrote in as many forums as possible in an effort to educate the publics of the United States and the world about the danger of going to war based on a hyped-up threat.
In this I was not alone. Rolf Ekeus, the former head of the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, has declared that under his direction, Iraq was "fundamentally disarmed" as early as 1996. Hans Blix, who headed UN weapons inspections in Iraq in the months before the invasion in March 2003, stated that his inspectors had found no evidence of either WMD or WMD-related programs in Iraq. And officials familiar with Iraq, like Ambassador Joseph Wilson and State Department intelligence analyst Greg Theilmann, both exposed the unsustained nature of the Bush claims regarding Iraq's nuclear capability.
The riddle surrounding Iraq's WMD was solvable without resorting to war. For all the layers of deceit and obfuscation, there existed enough basic elements of truth and substantive fact about the disposition of Saddam Hussein's secret weapons programs to permit the Gordian knot to be cleaved by anyone willing to try. Sadly, it seems that there was no predisposition on the part of those assigned the task of solving the riddle to do so.
Bush's decision to limit the scope of any inquiry to intelligence matters, effectively blocking any critique of his administration's use - or abuse - of such intelligence, is absurd, especially when one considers that the Bush administration was already talking of war with Iraq in 2002, prior to the preparation of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) - the defining document on a particular area of the world or specified threat - by the director of Central Intelligence.
According to a Department of Defense after-action report on Iraq titled "Operation Iraqi Freedom: Strategic Lessons Learned," a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times in September 2003, "President Bush approved the overall war strategy for Iraq in August last year." The specific date cited was Aug. 29, 2002 - eight months before the first bomb was dropped.
The CIA did eventually produce a National Intelligence Estimate for Iraq, but only in October 2002, after Bush had already decided on war. The title of the NIE, "Iraq's Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction," is reflective of a predisposition that was not supported either by the facts available at the time, or by the passage of time.
Stu Cohen, a 28-year veteran of the CIA, wrote in a statement published on the CIA Web site on Nov. 28, 2003, that the Oct. 2002 National Intelligence Estimate "judged with high confidence that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles in excess of the 150-kilometer limit imposed by the UN Security Council. … These judgments were essentially the same conclusions reached by the United Nations and a wide array of intelligence services - friendly and unfriendly alike."
Cohen said the October NIE was "policy neutral" - meaning it did not propose a policy that argued either for or against going to war. He also stated that no one who worked on the NIE had been pressured by the Bush White House.
Cohen is wrong in his assertions. The fact that a major policy decision like war with Iraq was made without the benefit of an NIE is, in and of itself, policy manipulation.
I worked with Cohen on numerous occasions during this time, and consider him a reasonable man. So I had to wonder when this intelligence professional, confronted with the totality of the failure of the CIA to accurately assess the WMD threat, wrote that he was "convinced that no reasonable person could have viewed the totality of the information that the intelligence community had at its disposal - literally millions of pages - and reached any conclusions or alternative views that were profoundly different from those that we reached."
I consider myself also to be a reasonable person. Like Cohen and the intelligence professionals who prepared the October 2002 NIE, I was intimately familiar with vast quantities of intelligence data collected from around the world by numerous foreign intelligence services (including the CIA) and on the ground in Iraq by UN weapons inspectors, at least until the time of my resignation from Unscom in August 1998. Based on this experience, I was asked by Arms Control Today, the journal of the Arms Control Association, to write an article on the status of disarmament regarding Iraq's WMD.
The article, "The Case for Iraq's Qualitative Disarmament," was published in June 2000 and received broad coverage. Its conclusions were dismissed by the intelligence communities of the United States and Britain. But my finding - that "because of the work carried out by Unscom, it can be fairly stated that Iraq was qualitatively disarmed at the time inspectors were withdrawn [in December 1998]" - was an accurate assessment of the disarming of Iraq's WMD capabilities, much more so than the CIA's October NIE or any corresponding analysis carried out by British intelligence services.
I am not alone in my analysis. Ray McGovern, who heads a group called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, or VIPS, also takes umbrage at Cohen's "no reasonable person" assertion. "Had he taken the trouble to read the op-eds and other issuances of VIPs members over the past two years," McGovern told me, he would have found that "our writings consistently contained conclusions and alternative views that were indeed profoundly different - even without having had access to what Stu calls the 'totality of the information.' And Stu never indicated he thought us not 'reasonable' - at least back when many of us worked with him at CIA."
The fact is that McGovern and I, together with scores of intelligence professionals, retired or still in service, who studied Iraq and its WMD capabilities, are reasonable men. We got it right.
The Bush administration, in its rush to war, ignored our advice and the body of factual data we used, and instead relied on rumor, speculation, exaggeration and falsification to mislead the American people and their elected representatives into supporting a war that is rapidly turning into a quagmire. We knew the truth about Iraq's WMD. Sadly, no one listened.
The writer was chief UN inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998 and is the author of "Frontier Justice: Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Bushwhacking of America."
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