Bush Overstated Evidence On Iraq, Senators Report

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
New York Times
June 6, 2008
Pg. 1
By Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane
WASHINGTON — A long-delayed Senate committee report endorsed by Democrats and some Republicans concluded that President Bush and his aides built the public case for war against Iraq by exaggerating available intelligence and by ignoring disagreements among spy agencies about Iraq’s weapons programs and Saddam Hussein’s links to Al Qaeda.
The report was released Thursday after years of partisan squabbling, and it represented the close of five years of investigations by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence into the use, abuse and faulty assessments of intelligence leading to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
That some Bush administration claims about the Iraqi threat turned out to be false is hardly new. But the report, based on a detailed review of public statements by Mr. Bush and other officials, was the most comprehensive effort to date to assess whether policy makers systematically painted a more dire picture about Iraq than was justified by the available intelligence.
The 170-page report accuses Mr. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other top officials of repeatedly overstating the Iraqi threat in the emotional aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Its findings were endorsed by all eight committee Democrats and two Republicans, Senators Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.
In a statement accompanying the report, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, the West Virginia Democrat who is chairman of the intelligence panel, said, “The president and his advisers undertook a relentless public campaign in the aftermath of the attacks to use the war against Al Qaeda as a justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein.”
Dana Perino, the White House spokeswoman, on Thursday called the report a “selective view” and said that the Bush administration’s public statements were based on the same faulty intelligence given to Congress and endorsed by foreign intelligence services. Senator Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, the committee’s top Republican, called the report a “waste of committee time and resources.”
The presidential campaigns of Senators John McCain and Barack Obama had not responded by Thursday night to requests for comment on the Senate report.
The report on the prewar statements found that on some important issues, most notably on what was believed to be Iraq’s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs, the public statements from Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and other senior officials were generally “substantiated” by the best estimates at the time from American intelligence agencies. But it found that the administration officials’ statements usually did not reflect the intelligence agencies’ uncertainties about the evidence or the disputes among them.
In a separate report released Wednesday, the intelligence committee provided new details about a series of clandestine meetings in Rome and Paris between Pentagon officials and Iranian dissidents in 2001 and 2003. The meetings included discussions about possible covert actions to destabilize the government in Tehran, and were used by the Pentagon officials to glean information about rivalries in Iran and what was thought to be an Iranian “hit” team intending to attack American troops in Afghanistan, the report said.
The report concluded that Stephen J. Hadley, now the national security adviser, and Paul D. Wolfowitz, who was then the deputy defense secretary, “acted within their authorities” to send the Pentagon officials to Rome. But the report criticized the meetings as ill advised, and accused Mr. Hadley and Mr. Wolfowitz of keeping the State Department and intelligence agencies in the dark about the meetings, which the report portrayed as part of a rogue intelligence operation.
The two reports were the final parts of the committee’s so-called Phase 2 investigation of prewar intelligence on Iraq and related issues. The first phase of the inquiry, begun in the summer of 2003 and completed in July 2004, identified grave faults in the C.I.A.’s analysis of the threat posed by Mr. Hussein.
The report on Iraq on Thursday was especially critical of statements by the president and vice president linking Iraq to Al Qaeda and raising the possibility that Mr. Hussein might supply the terrorist group with unconventional weapons. “Representing to the American people that the two had an operational partnership and posed a single, indistinguishable threat was fundamentally misleading and led the nation to war on false premises,” Mr. Rockefeller wrote.
Mr. Bond and four other Republicans on the committee sharply dissented from the report’s findings and suggested that the investigation was a partisan smoke screen to obscure the real story: that the C.I.A. failed the Bush administration by delivering intelligence assessments to policy makers that have since been discredited.
In a detailed minority report, four of those Republicans accused Democrats of hypocrisy and of cherry picking, namely by refusing to include misleading public statements by top Democrats like Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mr. Rockefeller.
As an example, they pointed to an October 2002 speech by Mr. Rockefeller, who declared to his Senate colleagues that he had arrived at the “inescapable conclusion that the threat posed to America by Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction is so serious that despite the risks, and we should not minimize the risks, we must authorize the president to take the necessary steps to deal with the threat.”
The report about the Bush administration’s public statements offers some new details about the intelligence information that was available to policy makers as they built a case for war. For instance, in September 2002 Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “the Iraq problem cannot be solved by airstrikes alone,” because Iraqi chemical and biological weapons were so deeply buried that they could not be penetrated by American bombs.
Two months later, however, the National Intelligence Council wrote an assessment for Mr. Rumsfeld concluding that the Iraqi underground weapons facilities identified by the intelligence agencies “are vulnerable to conventional, precision-guided, penetrating munitions because they are not deeply buried.”
On Thursday, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democratic member of the intelligence committee, said that Congress had never been told about the National Intelligence Council’s assessment.