“Myths About Intelligence”

Stuart Cohen, who was chairman of the National Intelligence Council when the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction was published, took on eight eight myths about our pre-war Iraq intelligence in yesterday’s Washington Post:
“The NIE judged with high confidence that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons and missiles with ranges in excess of the 150-kilometer limit imposed by the U.N. Security Council. It judged with moderate confidence that Iraq did not have nuclear weapons. These were essentially the same conclusions reached by the United Nations and by a wide array of intelligence services — friendly and unfriendly alike.
“The judgments presented in the October 2002 NIE were based on data acquired and analyzed over 15 years. Our judgments were presented to three different administrations and routinely to six congressional committees. And the principal participants in the production of the NIE from across the entire U.S. intelligence community have sworn to Congress, under oath, that they were not pressured to change their views or to conform to administration positions.
“Myth: We mistook rapid mobilization programs for actual weapons. Even with ‘only’ rapid mobilization capabilities, Hussein would have been able to produce and stockpile such weapons in the run-up to a crisis, with little risk of being caught. There is practically no difference in threat between the two.
“Myth: The NIE asserted that there were large WMD stockpiles and because we haven’t found them, then Baghdad had no WMD. We judged that Iraq probably possessed 100 to 500 metric tons of CW munitions fill. One hundred metric tons would fit in a back yard swimming pool; five hundred could be hidden in a small warehouse. We made no assessment of the size of Iraq’s biological weapons holdings, but a biological weapon can be carried in a small container. Lastly, despite considerable progress the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) is a long way from finishing its work.
“Confronting allegations about the quality of the U.S. intelligence performance have forced senior intelligence officials to spend much of their time looking backward. I worry about the opportunities lost because of this preoccupation, but also that analysts laboring under a barrage of allegations will become more and more disinclined to make judgments that go beyond ironclad evidence — a scarce commodity in our business. If this is allowed to happen, the nation will be poorly served and ultimately much less secure. Fundamentally, the intelligence community increasingly will be in danger of not connecting the dots until the dots have become a straight line.”

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