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Impeach Bush

Editorials on CIA intelligence report
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
Posted on Mon, Jul. 12, 2004

(KRT) - The following editorial appeared in the Kansas City Star on Sunday, July 11:

CIA DESERVES SOME BLAME, BUT NOT ALL

In the thickets of espionage, good players must never lose their ability to question basic assumptions. Those assumptions must be subjected to periodic re-examination in light of new developments, fresh information and alternate hypotheses.

Like other organizations, however, intelligence agencies can suffer from bureaucratic inertia, lack of imagination and simple hostility to unconventional thinking.

Certainly these have been persistent problems in the U.S. intelligence system, and a new report from the Senate Intelligence Committee points again toward such problems in seeking to explain Washington's mistaken claims last year about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The devastating indictment of the CIA work on Iraq: "group think.'' The intelligence committee, led by Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, says assumptions that Iraq had certain chemical and biological weapons tainted the analyses that went to the White House and Congress.

Dissenting voices were reportedly downplayed by CIA Director George Tenet, who had nominal responsibility for the entire U.S. intelligence system.

The Senate panel argues that money alone isn't the answer to the CIA's problems, which is true. For many years, in fact, American intelligence was a case study in the perils of excessive funding.

The Senate committee's lengthy report deserves careful consideration by the American public.

But with a presidential election approaching, it should also be remembered that the administration and its supporters want to divert blame for White House mistakes on Iraq.

The CIA and Tenet, who is leaving the agency, should not be used as all-purpose scapegoats for the "group think'' on Iraq that took place among President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their other top advisers. They, too, had a responsibility to question their assumptions.

If the CIA work was skewed in a particular direction, it was in the direction that gave Bush and Cheney the answers they obviously wanted to hear.

Perhaps that's why the president in January - even after American inspectors in Iraq had essentially given up hope of finding large stores of chemical and biological weapons - was still expressing "great confidence'' in the U.S. intelligence system.

The administration wants to forget Bush's "great confidence'' comment now. As Tenet packs his bags, White House spokesman Scott McClellan is trying to spin the Senate committee's blast at the CIA as confirming "what we have said'' about the shortcomings of the intelligence system.

No doubt some in the intelligence agencies have their own bitter spin: We gave them the answers they wanted, and now we're taking the heat.

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The following editorial appeared in the Detroit Free Press on Sunday, July 11:

PRE-WAR FAILURES EXACT A HUGE COST

If it wasn't true, it would be beyond belief: The work of gathering intelligence for a presidential decision on committing America to war began with an unproven assumption that was never really checked out.

This failure of U.S. intelligence agencies to accurately assess the threat posed by Iraq will surely be one of the most costly blunders in U.S. history, whether measured in lives, dollars or international standing. And those costs continue to climb.

Left unsaid in Friday's scathing report by the Senate Intelligence Committee was to what extent the government's intelligence professionals were telling the hawks in the Bush administration what they wanted to hear about Iraq, and to what extent bad information was twisted further by the administration to bolster its case for war. Those issues should be addressed in subsequent committee reports. Every American in Iraq, every family that sent a loved one into this war, every taxpayer, is entitled to know.

The Intelligence Committee chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., generously said the U.S. mistakes were part of a ``global intelligence failure'' based on the widespread conviction that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was trying to get nuclear arms. But only a select few countries, led and encouraged by the United States, were willing to act on that fallacious conviction.

The Senate committee report is particularly and deservedly hard on the Central Intelligence Agency, which has lost enormous credibility in this fiasco. More significantly, the agency's shoddy work has cost the country a great deal of credibility as a global leader. The CIA obviously needs to be revamped, but that will have to occur on the fly because intelligence gathering remains a critical weapon in the war against terrorism.

Interestingly, the committee found that the CIA came to one reasonable conclusion - that there were no significant ties between Hussein and the Al Qaeda terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks on America.

But that one, the Bush administration appeared unwilling to believe.

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The following editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Sunday, July 11:

CIA'S CLEAR AND SHINING FAILURE

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Friday told Americans what most probably assumed, but still hated to hear: The CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies failed abysmally to accurately assess Iraq's weapons of mass destruction before last year's invasion.

The report offers new mountains of details, but they all point to this conclusion: We thought they had vast stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. Apparently, they didn't.

As you might expect, the blame for this mistake is widespread and manifold. The system failed on many levels, in different ways, and in countries around the world, in order for such a flawed assessment to be taken as truth.

There's no way to put a positive spin on this. But it is important to highlight what the panel didn't find. That is, it didn't find evidence that intelligence was mistaken because of political pressures from the Bush administration. Even though some Democrats dispute that, the panel's finding was clear and emphatic. What the president and others did with the flawed information will rightly be part of the next phase of the committee's work. But this country can't wait for more reports before it fixes the CIA and other intelligence operations.

The report documents failures at every point. The CIA, which had in the 1990s embraced technology and turned away from human intelligence gathering, had "no human intelligence sources inside Iraq" to collect information on WMD after United Nations inspectors were tossed out in 1998, according to Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the committee's chairman. The upshot: The CIA didn't penetrate Iraq's closed society and learn the truth about Saddam Hussein's capabilities.

The conclusions that analysts drew from sketchy and contradictory data represented the next level of failure. That was not only the fault of U.S. agencies, but of intelligence agencies elsewhere, the report says. All over the world, analysts fell victim to "group think" assumptions that Iraq had weapons that it did not, partly because of Iraq's evasions of UN inspectors in the 1990s. That analysis not only turned out to be "wrong," Roberts said, but it was also "unreasonable and largely unsupported by available intelligence." That is, analysts ignored or discounted contradictory information because of their assumptions that Iraq had the weapons.

That led to a third failure. Analysis of intelligence data is both science and art. That's why it's important for analysts to be completely forthcoming about what they don't know, what they merely believe, and to make sure that those gaps in knowledge are clear to those up the line who read these reports and take action based on them. By and large, that didn't happen here. In essence, most of the doubts and conflicting data were scrubbed from the reports, leaving, in many cases, a clear and shining mistake.

Opponents and supporters of the war will see in this Senate committee report what they want. Would its findings have changed the debate? Certainly. Would they have changed the decision to invade? That's impossible to say. WMD were not the only reason for going to war. That debate will continue, no matter what any report says.

But if all this report does is stir new animosities between pro- and anti-war Americans, then it will be a failure. Yes, it's vital to know what went wrong. But it's more important to use this report - and others to come - to fix the problems. This nation has mortal foes eager to exploit its intelligence weaknesses.

The task ahead is enormous. A few months ago, departing CIA Director George Tenet told the panel investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that rebuilding the nation's overseas spy networks will take five more years. Another CIA official testified that the CIA and FBI still can't share information efficiently. The Sept. 11 commission is due to report this month and may call for a sweeping overhaul of U.S. intelligence.

The Senate report, Roberts says, "cries out for reform." Last week's warning of a potential terrorist attack on the United States reminds us that reform can't come too soon.

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The following editorial appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Sunday, July 11:

CIA MUSTN'T BE LEFT ADRIFT

The central finding-cum-complaint of the Senate Intelligence Committee's new report on the CIA will surprise few Americans. On Friday, the committee reported that the basic justification for the invasion of Iraq - that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction - was based on false or overstated judgments by the intelligence agency.

The CIA's judgments were not only mistaken, but they also were "unreasonable and largely unsupported by the available evidence," said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who heads the committee. It's important to note that the panel's indictment was not a partisan attack; it was supported by Republicans as well as Democrats.

While the findings were not startling, they do underline the need for basic changes in the intelligence community, in both its leadership and in its culture. Simply, the country cannot afford to delay the appointment of a successor to CIA Director George Tenet. And that successor should not be Tenet's deputy, John McLaughlin.

Tenet had been under fire for his mistakes. Perhaps anticipating the committee's findings, he announced his resignation on June 3, effective today.

The White House originally intended to allow McLaughlin to run the agency until after the November election, when a permanent successor could be named. Fortunately, the White House is re-examining this timetable.

Delaying the transition could push back the installation of a new intelligence chief until the start of 2005 - later, perhaps, if Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., is elected president. Last week, senior administration officials warned that during this very period, Osama bin Laden and his chief lieutenants might mount another act of terrorism on the United States.

Even on an interim basis, McLaughlin is not the person to be running the CIA during these critical months. His public remarks show him to be oblivious to the need for sweeping changes in the agency. He recently told a group of business executives that the CIA's "shortcomings" resulted from "specific, discrete problems that we understand and are well on our way to addressing or have already addressed."

Clearly, there is much more work to be done. The committee blamed the CIA's misjudgments on "groupthink" assumptions about Iraq's weapons, intentions and capabilities. The panel concluded that agency analysts were not overtly pressured to provide supporting arguments for invading Iraq. However, it's clear that they operated in a supercharged climate of opinion that may have made them even more vulnerable to the temptation - prevalent in any bureaucracy - to try to please their bosses by telling them what they wanted to hear.

The purpose of the CIA is to produce reliable fact and opinion for the use of policy-makers. The agency can perform that job only if it is shielded, insofar as possible, from the pressures of politics. McLaughlin cannot be relied on to make the kind of changes that would provide that level of protection.

There is no convincing reason to believe that a Republican-controlled Senate would reject a qualified candidate nominated by a Republican president. The name of Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has been mentioned. Other candidates should be found. Soon. With bin Laden and other terrorists apparently not sitting on their hands, the administration and Congress can't afford to sit on their hands, either.

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The following editorial appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Sunday, July 11:

NATIONAL SECURITY: GROUP THIMK

The British spy novelist John Le Carre once put these words in one of his character's mouths: "It's easy to forget what intelligence consists of: luck and speculation. Here and there a windfall, here and there a scoop."

And here and there, according to the ranking minority member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, "the most devastating losses and intelligence failures in the history of the nation."

That's how West Virginia Democrat John D. Rockefeller IV characterized the committee's assessment of the performance of U.S. intelligence agencies in the run-up to the war in Iraq. Most of the committee's scathing report was made public Friday, although 20 percent of it was withheld because of security concerns.

What was released was enough for Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., to say that the CIA's prewar assessments were not only wrong, but "also unreasonable and largely unsupported by available evidence." In particular, he said, the agency's assessment of Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs were skewed by a collective "group think." Given the results, it could be called group "thimk."

Having failed to develop reliable spy networks - its chief source was nicknamed "Curve Ball" - the agency relied on electronic intelligence and satellite photos. Relatively insignificant pieces of evidence were overblown and overwrought by CIA analysts: One chemical truck became evidence of an entire chemical weapons program. Jealous of its turf and insecure in its analysis, the agency refused to allow other agencies to analyze its evidence.

Having gone to war for specious reasons, Rockefeller said, "Our credibility is diminished. Our standing in the world has never been lower. We have fostered a deep hatred of America in the Muslim world, and that will grow. As a direct consequence, our nation is more vulnerable today than ever before."

Panel member Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said the report is "only half the story." Writing on the op-ed page of The Washington Post, Durbin said, "What's missing is the ways the intelligence was used, misused, misinterpreted or ignored by administrative policymakers in deciding to go to war."

Democrats on the committee wanted those issues made public immediately, but committee Republicans didn't want to include them at all. The compromise: A second report on the administration response will be released after the Nov. 2 elections.

Anticipating bad news from the committee, outgoing CIA Director George Tenet made a farewell address to CIA employees Thursday, urging them to resist any efforts "to take us back in the wrong direction." Tenet said, "This institution is your own."

Not exactly. It belongs to the American people, not to bureaucratic insiders and whichever party happens to be in power. In the new world order, where terrorist networks and fanatics daily plot and launch attacks on our allies and interests, the CIA owes the American people - if not the world - a whole lot better effort, not tailor-made scoops and windfalls for the ideology du jour.

© 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Not for publication or retransmission without permission of KRT.

I like the use of the words "group think." Isn't this exactly what the media did? Not one reporter dared to ask for a single piece of solid evidence...ya know, like a picture or something similar. All we had were the words of Bush. The sad part is the Bush White House refused to give the Senate the Presidents Daily Briefings so there's no way to know what he was told. Since we don't know what he was told we don't know if he manipulated intelligence.

"Group Think" continues in the media and the White House. Even after we know the CIA was 100% wrong on every issue, not one person has been fired. Why is that? No one in the media dares to ask.

(hint to media: Because it's hard to fire someone for doing something Bush told them to do). God help us.