Deceptive intelligence reports — then and now, Part Two

Yesterday, in discussing the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the use of information provided by the Iraqi National Congress (INC), I tried to describe what reasonable use of such information would look like. I argued that given the difficulty of obtaining information about the situation in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and our urgent need for such information, it would have been foolish to ignore information just because it came from a source affiliated with the INC. But given the INC’s interest in having the U.S. topple Saddam, it would also have been foolish not to view such information skeptically, and not to vet it very carefully before using it all. And given the limits of our ability, even after careful vetting, to determine the reliability of this information, I argued that it probably would have been a mistake to reach any conclusion on any important factual question that could be reached only through (or with the added persuasvie value of) information we received via the INC.

I then said, based on my review of the “facts” section of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on this subject, that the evidence shows our intelligence community acted consistently with these principles. Nonetheless the Democrats on the Committee, with the help of Senators Snowe and Hagel, were able to insert amended conclusions that suggest the contrary. The key amended conclusion that I believe misleads and distorts is this one:

False information from the INC-affiliated sources was used to support key Intelligence Community assessments on Iraq and was widely distributed in intelligence products prior to the war.

If the statement that “false information from the INC-affiliated sources was used to support key Intelligence Community assessments on Iraq” means only that information from INC-affiliated sources that turned out to be false sometimes was cited in support of key assessments, this claim is not false. However, as I have argued, there was nothing wrong with citing INC-related information that had been carefully vetted and was believed to be true. The issue is not whether the information was used, but whether it played any real role in the judgments that were reached and, specifically, whether it caused intelligence officials to reach assessments other than the ones they would have reached without the INC-related information.

An honest set of conclusions would have addressed this issue directly, but the Democrats (lacking evidence to support the conclusion they desired and perhaps constrained by Snowe and Hagel) elected not to. Fortunately, Senator Roberts takes on this matter in his separate views (joined by Senators Hatch, DeWine, Lott, Chambliss, and Warner). Roberts agrees with the finding of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD Commission) that “INC-related sources had a minimal impact on pre-war assessments.”

For example, only one intelligence community assessment used INC-affiliated reporting at all — the WMD National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). And the NIE used only one INC-affiliated source in support of only one key judgment — that Iraq had a mobile biological weapons capability. But the CIA says that “even without [that] reporting, the bottom-line judgment at the time on Iraq’s overall mobile BW program would have remained the same.” (Information from another INC-affiliated defector appears in a text box in the NIE which describes a possible suspect nuclear facility, but that information is not included in the text or the key judgment section, and it played no role in the NIE judgment that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program).

As to the intelligence community’s view on links between Saddam’s regime and terrorists, the key document here — the CIA’s report Iraqi Support for Terrorism — includes information from two INC-related sources in one paragraph of the 32 page document. That paragraph refers to one of the defector’s information as exaggerated and the other’s as not first-hand.

Finally, Senator Roberts shows the Committee’s conclusion that INC-related information was “widely distributed in intelligence products prior to the war” to be quite misleading. He notes that INC-affiliated reporting appears in only about 20 intelligence community products regarding WMD programs and links to terrorism. The CIA alone produced more 40,000 such products. In any case, the real issue is not whether INC-related information was mentioned, but whether or to what extent such information was relied upon. The Committee’s factual findings confirm that the intelligence community as a whole treated this information in the manner describe by the Defense Intelligence Agency: “[we] considered this information — as well as other information of uncertain quality — as background information which had the potential of earning more credibility as additional data was collected, though it played no direct role in forming our assessments.” In other words, the information was used the way it should have been.

The Committee clearly spent substantial resources probing the role of the INC in the development of pre-war intelligence assessments. One would like to believe that these resources were expended in a good faith effort to find out what that role actually was. However, the question-begging and misleading nature of the Democrats’ amended conclusions strongly suggests that the Democrats — whom I assume pushed the Committee into this inquiry — were not acting in good faith. But despite their efforts at deception and obfuscation, we can now be confident, for what it’s worth, that the pre-war failures of our intelligence community did not result from reliance on information obtained from INC-affiliated sources.

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