In what may be the biggest blunder in the history of U.S. intelligence, American spy agencies were “dead wrong” on Iraq, dealing a blow to American credibility that will take years to undo, and spymasters still know disturbingly little about nuclear programs in countries like Iran and North Korea, a presidential commission reported on Thursday.
The commission’s bluntly written report, based on more than a year of investigations, offered a damning assessment of the intelligence that President Bush used to launch the Iraq war two years ago and warned that flaws are still all too common throughout spy agencies.
“We conclude that the intelligence community was dead wrong in almost all of its prewar judgments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction,” the commissioners wrote.
And at a time when the United States is accusing Iran of nuclear ambitions and pressuring North Korea on its nuclear programs, the report said: “Across the board, the intelligence community knows disturbingly little about the nuclear programs of many of the world’s most dangerous actors.”
The presidential commission, led by appeals court judge Laurence Silberman and former Virginia Democratic Sen. Charles Robb, called for a broad overhaul in the spy community to increase information-sharing and foster dissenting views.
“The flaws we found in the intelligence community’s Iraq performance are still all too common,” they wrote.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the president agreed the intelligence community needs fundamental change. He said its recommendations would be reviewed and acted on “in a fairly quick period of time.”
A key chapter in the report — on U.S. intelligence on alleged nuclear weapons programs in Iran and North Korea — was classified and not released publicly.
But sources familiar with that section said it was among the most critical, finding U.S. intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program in particular to be inadequate.
The White House has acknowledged intelligence shortcomings — national security adviser Stephen Hadley called data on Iran “hard to come by” — but the administration has made clear it stands by its policy of preemption.
A senior administration official said “there has been no change in our policy to confront threats before they have the opportunity to strike the homeland.”
IRAQ INTELLIGENCE ‘WORTHLESS OR MISLEADING’
The 600-page report sharply criticized the intelligence-gathering on Iraq by the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency and other agencies for producing “worthless or misleading” intelligence before a war fought over claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, none of which was found.
In what amounted to a direct assault on George Tenet, who was CIA director in the run-up to the Iraq war and gave the president his daily intelligence briefing, the commission found that “the daily reports sent to the president and senior policymakers discussing Iraq over many months proved to be disastrously one-sided.”
Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, accused of hyping the intelligence on Iraq in order to pursue a costly war with a deadly aftermath, escaped direct blame.
“The analysts who worked Iraqi weapons issues universally agreed that in no instance did political pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgments,” the report said.
But it added: “It is hard to deny the conclusion that intelligence analysts worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom.”
The commission recommended:
* creation of a national counter-proliferation center to combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
* establishing a separate National Security Service within the FBI that includes the bureau’s counterintelligence and counterterrorism divisions, as well as the Directorate of Intelligence.
* designate a point-person under the new director of national intelligence who will be responsible for both information sharing and information security “in order to break down cultural and policy barriers.”
* create a new Human Intelligence Directorate within the CIA to ensure the coordination of all U.S. agencies conducting human intelligence operations overseas.
Bush has nominated John Negroponte to become director of national intelligence, but he has yet to be confirmed by the Senate. The job was established to better coordinate intelligence in the wake of the Iraq failures.
The report warned that Negroponte faces a difficult task working with the CIA and Defense Department, which it called some of the government’s “most headstrong agencies,” and predicted “they will try to run around — or over” him.