Send in the clowns

A long-standing joke among career soldiers notes the term “military intelligence” is, in fact, an oxymoron.

Today, the public learns the same is true for the civilian intelligence community.

Forget the finely-honed intelligence operations of Tom Clancy’s works of fiction or the fantasy Central Intelligence Agency portrayed in television and film. Today’s report on the United State’s incredible blunder on Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction shows a bumbling, confused American intelligence apparatus where rumor is presented as fact, information is accepted without verification and truth is discarded when it does not fit pre-conceived notions.

The long-awaited report by President Bush’s commission on intelligence proves what most outside the administration already knew – the prime rationalization for invading Iraq two years ago was based on a lie. Saddam Hussein’s so-called cache of chemical and nuclear weapons did not exist but this nation’s intelligence apparatus ignored real information and used rumor and a bunch of false intel to craft an assessment that fit the Bush administration’s predetermined conclusion.

Much of the blame falls on the CIA under former director George Tenet but the entire U.S. intelligence community gets a share of the blame. Competing agencies that don’t talk to each other, each trying to curry favor with the White House, cobbled together a flawed assessment that provided a flimsy, untrue, excuse for war.

But the report stops short of placing blame where it really belongs – the Oval Office in the White House. From the day he took office, George W. Bush planned to invade Iraq. He hinted at it during his inaugural address on January 20, 2001. Once taking office, he directed the Pentagon to draw up contingency plans for such an invasion.

Bush is a stubborn, arrogant man and any aide or political appointee who disagrees with him quickly falls out of favor. The word spread throughout the agencies in Washington: the man doesn’t want information that runs contrary to his beliefs or conclusions. If you want to survive in a Bush administration, bring him news that agrees with his view of the world.

Honchos at the CIA, the National Security Agency and the FBI got the word. They set out to prove only what Bush incorrectly believed: Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and stood poised to use them against the United States and its allies.

When Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network struck on September 11, 2001, the White House expanded the directive to include a perceived link between Hussein and the al Qaeda leader.

The agencies downplayed or discarded information that did not agree with Bush’s preconceived notions. Intel assessments headed for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue were edited or rewritten to fit the Bush agenda to justify war with Iraq at any cost.

Truth lost out to political expediency. The rationales presented to the American people and Congress in late 2002 and early 2003 were based not on fact but on a pre-determined course put in place two years earlier. Weapons of mass destruction did not exist. Neither did the claimed “proof” of a link between Hussein and bin Laden.

Bush used false information to justify a war that history may well prove was not only unnecessary but one that – in the long run – may do more harm than good. The war has strengthened the resolve of our enemies and outraged even longtime allies of the United States. The damage to this nation’s reputation may never be repaired.

The report today should include an addendum with the names of every American who has died in Iraq because each person involved in this horrible debacle shares responsibility for every one of those needless deaths.