Bush Oversimplified Iraq Intelligence, Report Says
By Jeff Bliss
June 5, 2008

June 5 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell exaggerated and oversimplified intelligence about the threat Iraq posed before the U.S. invaded the country in March 2003, according to a Senate report.

In their speeches, Bush and his deputies failed to note disagreements among intelligence agencies and made too much of links between former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and al- Qaeda, said the report, which the Senate Intelligence Committee released on its Web site this morning.

The report also found that some administration statements on Iraq's nuclear, chemical, biological weapons capability jibed with U.S. intelligence at the time.

``The report documents significant instances in which the administration went beyond what the intelligence community knew or believed in making public claims,'' Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, wrote in the report.

The report echoes earlier criticism from Congress that Bush and Powell distorted intelligence that showed Iraq was developing nuclear or chemical weapons, said Loch Johnson, a political science professor at the University of Georgia in Athens who has written extensively about intelligence.

``Here is some further evidence that Bush, Cheney, Powell and others said things to the public that were in direct contradiction with our best intelligence reports at the time,'' he said in an e-mail.

`Partisan Exercise'

In comments attached to the report, four committee members, including Senator Christopher Bond of Missouri, the panel's senior Republican, said the report's conclusions were politically motivated.

``The report released today confirmed our early suspicions,'' Bond wrote. The investigation ``has indeed resulted in a partisan exercise.''

The report was released after four years in which Democrats and Republicans accused each other of politicizing its contents. While the Republicans pressed for including statements from President Bill Clinton's administration and Democratic lawmakers, the report focuses only on Bush administration speeches.

White House Response

At the White House, spokeswoman Dana Perino said there was nothing especially new in the report concerning Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction.

``We had the intelligence that we had, it was fully vetted and it was wrong,'' Perino said. ``We certainly regret that, and we've taken measures to fix it.''

``Intelligence is never going to be a perfect science,'' Perino said. ``We've been as forthcoming as we possibly can.''

A second report released today by the committee criticized Defense Department officials for not keeping intelligence officials better informed about meetings with Iranian dissidents in Rome in December 2001.

Those meetings yielded information about the use of Iranian ``hit teams'' to take out U.S. facilities and personnel in Afghanistan and tunnel complexes that housed Iranian weapons, the report said.

Two Republicans, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, joined the committee's eight Democrats in supporting the two reports' conclusions.

The reports are the final in a series the committee has released examining the mistakes made by intelligence and administration officials who insisted Hussein had the weapons.

Pre-War Speeches

The report on administration officials' comments focuses on five speeches Cheney, Powell and Bush gave before the Iraq war, including Powell's much-criticized Feb. 5, 2003, speech to the United Nations' Security Council and Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech and 2002 address the UN General Assembly.

The report said Bush and others exaggerated the possibility that Iraq would use unmanned aerial vehicles to carry weapons to be detonated in the U.S. Top administration officials also failed to express the shortcomings in Iraq's biological weapons program that intelligence agencies had noted, the report said.

The Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the Department of State's intelligence unit, thought there wasn't evidence that Iraq had a nuclear program, disagreeing with the assessment of other agencies. This dispute wasn't mentioned in comments by Powell, Cheney or Bush, the report said.

Disputing Rumsfeld

Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat on the intelligence panel, told reporters in Washington this morning that he's urging an investigation into former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's 2002 assertion that Iraq had underground weapons facilities impervious to bombs dropped from planes.

Intelligence didn't support the existence of the bunkers, which were one justification given for invading Iraq with ground troops, Wyden said.

The report pointed to Bush's infamous assertion that Iraq was trying to buy uranium in Africa, which has since been discredited, and to administration officials' incorrect assertions that aluminum tubes were meant for nuclear bombs, not conventional ones.

Republicans who opposed the report highlighted statements by Democrats such as Senator Hillary Clinton of New York and panel chairman Rockefeller that Hussein was developing nuclear weapons and had ties to al-Qaeda, a connection that has since been discounted.

Democratic staff members briefing reporters this morning said Bush and other administration officials had access to more complete intelligence, including doubts about the African uranium story and the use of the aluminum tubes.

Earlier Reports

Earlier reports by the committee focused on foul-ups in pre-war intelligence collection and analysis as well as Hussein's relationship with al-Qaeda and the role of the Iraqi National Congress, an anti-Hussein group, in providing intelligence.

On Nov. 1, 2005, partisan rancor spurred Democratic leaders to call a highly unusual closed session of the Senate to discuss delays in the then-Republican-controlled committee issuing the report on the administration's handling of intelligence. Democrats took over running the committee after mid-term election victories in 2006.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Bliss in Washington jbliss@bloomberg.net.

Last Updated: June 5, 2008 16:22 EDT

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