WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. intelligence agencies overstated the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and ignored contrary evidence in the run-up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, a Senate committee reported on Friday.
In a harshly critical report, partly blacked out for security reasons, the Senate Intelligence Committee took U.S. spy agencies to task for numerous failures in their reporting on alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons have been found.
But the committee absolved the Bush administration of charges that it put pressure on analysts to reach pre-set conclusions.
The report, which ran to more than 500 pages, said that conclusions in an October 2002 national intelligence estimate on Iraqi weapons programs “either overstated or were not supported by the underlying intelligence reporting. A series of failures, particularly in analytical trade craft, led to the mischaracterization of the intelligence.”
President Bush relied on U.S. intelligence suggesting that Iraq was aggressively pursuing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs as a key justification for his decision to go to war in 2003.
The bipartisan committee said it found no evidence that administration officials pressured agencies to change their judgments on Iraq weapons programs.
“The committee did not find any evidence that administration officials attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities,” it said.
It specifically cleared Vice President Dick Cheney, a leading advocate of the war, of charges that he tried to bend the evidence to fit his agenda.
“The committee found no evidence that the vice president’s visits to the Central Intelligence Agency were attempts to pressure analysts, were perceived as intended to pressure analysts by those who participated in the briefings on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs, or did pressure analysts to change their assessments,” the report said.
CIA Director George Tenet, who reportedly told Bush that it was a “slam dunk” that Iraq had such weapons before the war, announced his resignation last month and will step down on Sunday.
The report said, “Most, if not all, of these problems stem from a broken corporate culture and poor management, and will not be solved by additional funding and personnel.”
The report also said the U.S. intelligence community did not have any sources collecting information about Iraqi weapons programs after 1998 — the year U.N. weapons inspectors were pulled out of Iraq.
It found that U.S. agencies relied too heavily on defectors and foreign intelligence services for information but were unable to check the reliability of such reports. Iraqi exiles, who were eager to see the United States invade their country, have been accused of providing slanted and inaccurate information.
Less than 20 percent of the report was blacked out for security reasons. Senators harshly criticized the CIA for trying to keep more of the document secret and forced the agency to scale down its demands for secrecy.
The committee discussed reports that Iraq had developed mobile laboratories to produce biological weapons — a key U.S. contention before the war.
It found that agencies focused on reports that supported that conclusion and ignored information that contradicted it. No such mobile laboratories have been found.