Weapons of mass deception

President Bush’s commission on weapons of mass destruction has found that failures throughout U.S. spy agencies led to botched estimates of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and is recommending dozens of changes to prevent future intelligence breakdowns, government officials say.

The commission also is expected to be highly critical of U.S. abilities to infiltrate Iran and North Korea, considered two leading threats today. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the report was not yet public.

The commission was releasing its final report, spanning more than 600 pages, Thursday after more than a year of work that included closed-door sessions with Bush and other top administration officials.

Numerous government reports have detailed intelligence failures since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. This commission is the first formed by Bush to look at why U.S. spy agencies mistakenly concluded that Iraq had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, one of the administration’s main justifications for invading in March 2003.

Bush also asked the nine-member panel to review the structure of the nation’s spy agencies and the major intelligence overhaul he signed into law in December.

Government officials said the commission levels criticisms across the 15 agencies that make up the intelligence community. The panel dissected the prewar estimates of the threat posed by Saddam and considered how any shortcomings are affecting intelligence assessments elsewhere, officials said.

The panel also considered a range of intelligence issues 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.

According to officials, the report:

– Recommends forming a new intelligence center to focus on weapons proliferation.

– Chastises intelligence agencies for their continued failure to share information, despite numerous reforms aimed at improving coordination.

– Stresses the need for ongoing training for analysts and operatives and new procedures for considering dissenting intelligence analysis.

– Calls on intelligence agencies to take concrete steps to ensure information from their sources is valid – a move prompted in part by an Iraqi defector who provided suspect information ultimately included in a top intelligence estimate.

– Proposes updating the FBI’s computers and creating a new national security division within the Justice Department.

A year ago, Bush formed the commission led by Republican Laurence Silberman, a retired federal appeals court judge, and Democrat Charles Robb, a former senator from Virginia, as it became clear that U.S. weapons inspectors were not going to find stockpiles of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan has 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.

Top intelligence officials were already taking steps to soften the impact of the criticism. The head of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which analyzes satellite imagery, told employees in an e-mail that they should “take on the lessons learned, and drive on.”

“You may find the report difficult to read and you may not agree with the commission’s analysis, opinions, or recommendations,” retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper wrote. “I understand that it’s much more difficult to be criticized rather than praised in public.”

On the Net:

The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction: http://www.wmd.gov

© 2005 The Associated Press