Somehow, ‘dead wrong’ just doesn’t cover it

The findings of the commission detailed to investigate why the United States so badly botched the issue of Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction make for very depressing reading.

U.S. intelligence agencies, as the whole world now knows, were “dead wrong” about Iraq.

It’s clear that the intelligence community, in the absence of hard information pointing one way or another – what little data it did have the commission called “either worthless or misleading” – told the White House what it wanted to hear.

And because this supported the Bush administration’s predetermined policy positions, the White House was happy to hear it. Absent everywhere along the line was any kind of tough-minded skepticism. The mind-set seemed to be to get along, go along.

The saga of the aluminum tubes would be funny if the breakdown in analysis were not so serious. The CIA got wind that Iraq was trying to buy a certain kind of aluminum tubes on the black market. Many in the intelligence community knew that these tubes were in fact parts for an Italian-made rocket. But others determined, on no great evidence, that they were nuclear centrifuges. No one wanted to rock that boat so centrifuges they became _ bogus proof that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program.

This would be just interesting history except that the commission says the intelligence community _ the 15 agencies charged with that function _ knows “disturbingly little” about the nuclear capabilities of Iran and North Korea.

Reform after reform has called for greater cooperation among the agencies, particularly between the CIA and FBI. But despite professions of good intentions, little seems to be happening. Describing one interagency impasse, the commission reported, “Time and again we have uncovered instances like this, where powerful agencies fight to a debilitating stalemate masked as consensus, because no one in the community has been able to make a decision and then make it stick.”

The commission came up with 74 recommendations _ many of them by now beginning to sound repetitive _ that the administration would be wise to heed. One in particular stands out: Giving the new intelligence czar, John Negroponte, budget authority over the intelligence agencies. The fact that the director of national intelligence does not have clear authority to make a decision stick has been identified as one of the weaknesses of the new intelligence reform law.

The recommendations for institutional changes are well and good, but the commission makes clear that the agencies need to be pushed, prodded, questioned and badgered from the very top. “Dead wrong” is dead dangerous.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)