The Intelligence Business
Published: May 7, 2006
We've been waiting for well over two years for the Senate Intelligence Committee to finally hold the Bush administration accountable for the fairy tales it told about Saddam Hussein's weapons. Republican leaders keep saying it is a waste of time to find out whether President Bush and other top officials deliberately misled the world. But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's bizarre responses the other day to questions about that very issue were a timely reminder of why this investigation needs to be completed promptly, thoroughly and fairly.
Unfortunately, Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate panel, is running it in a way that makes it unlikely that anything useful will come of it.
It is bad enough that Mr. Rumsfeld and others did not tell Americans the full truth — to take the best-case situation — before the war. But they are still doing it. Just look at the profoundly twisted version of events that the defense secretary offered last week at a public event in Atlanta.
Ray McGovern, an analyst for 27 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, stood in the audience and asked why Mr. Rumsfeld lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The secretary shot back, "I did not lie." Then, even though no one asked about them, he said Colin Powell and Mr. Bush offered "their honest opinion" based on "weeks and weeks" of time with the C.I.A. "I'm not in the intelligence business," he said, adding, "It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there."
First, there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Period. Second, neither Mr. Bush nor Mr. Powell spent long weeks with the C.I.A., whose analysts were largely cut out of the decision making. And that was because, third, Mr. Rumsfeld was, and is, very much in the intelligence business.
The Defense Department controls most of the intelligence budget and is the biggest user of intelligence. Mr. Rumsfeld also set up his own intelligence agency within the Pentagon when the C.I.A. and the State Department refused to tell him what he wanted to hear about Iraq. It was that office's distortions that formed the basis for what the administration told Congress and the public.
In Atlanta, Mr. Rumsfeld denied ever saying flatly that there were dangerous weapons in Iraq. Actually, he did, many times, even as late as March 30, 2003. On Sept. 27, 2002, Mr. Rumsfeld said there was "bulletproof" evidence of ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq, including that Iraq had trained Qaeda agents in chemical and biological warfare, and he repeated that myth in response to Mr. McGovern.
Which brings us back to the Senate committee. In 2004, Democratic members agreed to split the investigation of Iraq intelligence. The committee issued a report on how bad the information was, but put off until after the 2004 election the question of whether the administration deliberately hyped the evidence. Mr. Roberts tried to kill the investigation entirely, and after the Democrats forced him to proceed, he set rules that seem a lot like the recipe for a whitewash.
The investigation, known as Phase 2, is divided into five parts: Did officials' public statements reflect the actual intelligence? Why did the government fail to anticipate the postwar disaster in Iraq? Were there actually any W.M.D. in Iraq? Was the Pentagon's mini-C.I.A. a proper and legal operation? And did any of the disinformation provided by the Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi get into any "intelligence product"?
Mr. Roberts has so gummed up the first part of the investigation that it is going to take forever to complete and is unlikely to be of much clarity. The only public statements that matter are those by Mr. Bush and his top aides. But Mr. Roberts included any statement, by any public official, including members of Congress, going back to 1991.
Beyond dragging out the process further, the intent, obviously, is to suggest that Mr. Bush said the same things that Democratic senators and others did. That has no significance. They did not decide to have a war and had access only to the sanitized intelligence fed to them by the administration. Bill Clinton and Mr. Bush's father did think there were dangerous weapons in Iraq — back in the 20th century. By the time the war started, those weapons had long been eliminated by inspections and sanctions.
It is worth knowing why policy makers failed to anticipate the insurgency and other postwar nightmares, but the structure of this part of the investigation is flawed as well. The Senate investigation of Mr. Chalabi's involvement is limited to "intelligence products," which the C.I.A. produces. But it was not the C.I.A. that predicted rose petals in Baghdad and a virtually problem-free transition to democracy; it was Mr. Chalabi and his henchmen, creatures of Mr. Rumsfeld's team at the Pentagon. And it was the intelligence business that Mr. Rumsfeld now pretends not to run that used Mr. Chalabi's myths in an attempt to rebut the skeptical State Department and make dubious information seem more reliable.
It was helpful of Mr. Rumsfeld to remind us why this inquiry is still so important. The least Mr. Roberts and his committee can do is to finish the flawed investigation and make the results public.