Now that Harry Reid has gotten the Senate up in arms about the Bush’s administration’s faked intelligence on pre-war Iraq, it’s time to call in the spooks.
In the past couple of months, I’ve been talking to a lot of them, partly to put together my profile of Porter Goss’s tenure at the CIA, the cover story in this month’s American Prospect. I can tell you, there are a lot of angry spooks who would love nothing more than to come talk to the Senate about the administration’s malfeasance.
In my humble opinion, a main wrong that has be righted in the post-game analysis so far over Iraqi WMD is the notion that the CIA and other agencies weren’t pressured by the administration’s big-foot policy people.
Here’s an excerpt from my Prospect story citing Richard Kerr, the CIA veteran who headed an internal CIA task force that examined the agency’s work on Iraq’s WMD:
In fact, analysts were pressured, and heavily so, according to Richard Kerr. A 32-year CIA veteran, Kerr led an internal investigation of the agency’s failure to correctly analyze Iraqi weapons-of-mass-destruction capabilities, preparing a series of four reports that have not been released publicly. Kerr joined the CIA in 1960, serving in a series of senior analytic posts, including director of East Asian analysis, the unit that prepared the president’s daily intelligence brief, and finally as chief of the Directorate of Intelligence. For several months in 1991, Kerr was the acting CIA director; he retired in 1992. A highly respected analyst, Kerr received four Distinguished Intelligence Medals; in 1992, President George Bush Senior gave him the Citizen’s Medal for his work during Operation Desert Storm.
Two years ago, Kerr was summoned out of retirement to lead a four-member task force to conduct the investigation of the weapons-of-mass-destruction fiasco. His team, which included a former Near East Division chief, a former CIA deputy inspector general, and a former CIA chief Soviet analyst, spent months sorting through everything that the CIA produced on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction prior to the invasion, as well as interviewing virtually everyone at the agency who had anything to do with producing the faulty intelligence estimates. The Kerr team’s first report was an overview of what the CIA said about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction before the war compared with what Kerr calls the postwar “ground truth.” The second looked specifically at a classified version of the important October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, which the administration used to build its case for war. The third looked at the overall intelligence process, and the fourth was a think piece that considered how to reorganize the management of intelligence analysis “if you could start all over again.”
Kerr’s four reports, with a fifth now under way, were viewed as the definitive works of self-criticism inside the agency and were shared with the oversight committees in Congress, outside commissions, and the office of the secretary of defense. Unlike the outside reports that looked at the same issues, however, Kerr’s concluded that CIA analysts felt squeezed -- and hard -- by the administration. “Everybody felt pressure,” Kerr told me. “A lot of analysts believed that they were being pressured to come to certain conclusions … . I talked to a lot of people who said, ‘There was a lot of repetitive questioning. We were being asked to justify what we were saying again and again.’ There were certainly people who felt they were being pushed beyond the evidence they had.”
In particular, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other administration officials hammered at the CIA to go back time and time again to look at intelligence that had already been sifted and resifted. “It was a continuing drumbeat: ‘How do you know this? How do you know that? What about this or that report in the newspaper?’” says Kerr. Many of those questions, which began to cascade onto the CIA in 2001, were generated by the Office of Special Plans and by discredited fabricators such as Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress and a secret source code-named “Curveball.” As a result, says Kerr, the CIA reached back to old data, relied on several sources of questionable veracity, and made assumptions about current data that were unwarranted. In particular, intelligence on Iraq’s biological and chemical weapons program, much of which was based on data collected in the 1980s, early ’90s, and more spottily until the end of the United Nations inspection regime in 1998, was parsed -- and, some would argue, cherry-picked -- in order to reinforce the administration’s case.Tomorrow: Venezuela? Take a look at William Arkin’s must-read blog “Early Warning” for what’s he’s been writing on Venezuela this week. All eyes are on the Middle East, as usual,. But someone (guess who?) is looking at Venezuela.