President Bush’s commission on weapons of mass destruction is expected to call on U.S. intelligence agencies to take steps to ensure information flows more freely among them, breaking down long-standing barriers and cultures of secrecy, federal officials say.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity Tuesday, said change will require officials to find improved methods of sharing and coordination, beyond simply improving technology. A lesson learned from the report is that the information belongs to the entire government, not one agency, the officials said.
One official familiar with the commission’s workings said the report also goes into great detail on why prewar intelligence on Iraq’s weapons programs turned out to be flawed. The report is scheduled to be released Thursday.
The report examines factors that might have led to errors, the official said, such as whether policy-makers were seeking preconceived conclusions, whether foreign intelligence agencies had reached similar conclusions and whether analysts had too little information to work with.
The nine-member panel considered a range of intelligence issues going beyond Iraq, including congressional oversight, satellite imagery and electronic snooping. Among numerous soft spots, officials familiar with the findings say “human intelligence” – the work of actual operatives on the ground – is lacking.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a commission member, said the panel, led by Republican Laurence Silberman and Democrat Charles Robb, reached nearly unanimous conclusions.
“We argue over certain points, but there has never been any major disputes,” he said. “A lot of times it’s wording, and what words mean. We’ve had a remarkably congenial commission.”
In the three years since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. intelligence apparatus has been revamped. At Congress’ direction, the government is establishing a new intelligence chief – a director of national intelligence – and new centers to focus on counterterrorism and counterproliferation.
The report will stress the importance of management and leadership, officials said, as well as call for a renewed emphasis on questioning assumptions in intelligence analysis. Even before the report, intelligence analysts were faulted for rejecting information that contradicted presumptions that Iraq had active weapons of mass destruction programs before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
The report was expected to recommend steps to ensure a better flow of information among the 15 agencies that comprise the intelligence community. The commission will blame enduring cultures at each agency for driving decisions to prevent intelligence sharing among them, U.S. officials said.
The report took more than a year of work, and the White House has taken pains to signal it is taking the panel’s findings seriously. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush would discuss the report with Cabinet members on Thursday, immediately after the president meets with the full commission.
“Making sure we have the best possible intelligence is critical to protecting the American people,” McClellan said. “We will carefully consider the recommendations and act quickly on the recommendations as well.”
Bush created the commission under pressure after U.S. inspectors failed to find any Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, or WMD, despite prewar administration assertions about deadly stockpiles.
Under orders from Bush, the commission has assessed whether U.S. intelligence agencies are sufficiently organized, equipped and trained to warn the government about the threat of WMD from foreign entities, including terror groups.
Bush also asked the commission to consider the merits of the recent intelligence overhaul, including the new counterproliferation center and the post of national intelligence director. Bush has nominated former Iraq Ambassador John Negroponte for the job.
U.S. officials say the commission took apart the Iraq intelligence with a highly critical eye, including the misstated estimates on the former regime’s efforts to obtain yellowcake uranium from Africa, its biological weapons capabilities and its purported mobile weapons labs.
For each issue, such as biological weapons or nuclear weapons, the report looks at what intelligence agencies believed about the Iraq’s capabilities before the war and compares that with the findings afterward. It then seeks to explain the reasons for the discrepancies.
Underscoring what’s almost certain to be a political debate with the report’s official release, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee has already called on Bush to fix intelligence problems that she and other Democrats highlighted last year, including improvements in basic spying and re-evaluations of the Iran and North Korea weapons estimates.
“These tasks still require action,” Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said in a statement Tuesday.
Associated Press writers Jennifer Loven and Ken Guggenheim contributed to this report.