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Report: Iraq intelligence 'dead wrong'

Bush says fundamental changes needed in spy agencies

Commission co-chairman former Sen. Chuck Robb with President Bush Thursday.
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Report calls U.S. intelligence on Iraq 'dead wrong.'

President Bush discusses the panel's report.
White House
Espionage and Intelligence

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a scathing report on the intelligence community, a presidential commission Thursday said the United States still knows "disturbingly little" about the weapons programs and intentions of many of its "most dangerous adversaries."

The panel also determined the intelligence community was "dead wrong" in its assessments of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities before the U.S. invasion.

"This was a major intelligence failure," said a letter from the commission to President Bush.

The panel -- called the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction -- formally presented its report to Bush on Thursday morning.

Bush praised the commission for presenting an "unvarnished look at our intelligence community."

He said the report's recommendations were "thoughtful and extremely significant," adding that the "central conclusion is one that I share -- America's intelligence community needs fundamental change to successfully confront the threats of the 21st century."

The commission lists numerous intelligence shortcomings and makes more than 70 recommendations in the almost 600-page report.

The report calls for a complete transformation of the intelligence community, which it described as "fragmented, loosely managed and poorly coordinated."

"The 15 intelligence organizations are a 'community' in name only and rarely act with a unity of purpose," the panel said in its overview of the report.

The report also expressed misgivings about U.S. intelligence on Iran, North Korea, China and Russia, but it said most of those findings were classified.

"We can say here that we found that we have only limited access to critical information about several of these high-priority intelligence targets," the report said.

The panel said it believes the intelligence community still knows little about the nuclear programs of many adversaries. It noted that in some cases, the community knows less than it did five or seven years ago.

The commission did cite some recent success stories, such as dismantling Libya's nuclear program and penetrating Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan's nuclear proliferation network.

'Serious errors'

After the intelligence failures in Iraq, Bush appointed the nine-member commission led by Laurence Silberman, a senior federal appellate court judge and a Republican who was in the Nixon and Ford administrations, and former Sen. and Virginia Gov. Chuck Robb, a Democrat.

An October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate warned that Iraq was pursuing weapons of mass destruction, had reconstituted its nuclear weapon program and had biological and chemical weapons.

The Bush administration used those conclusions as part of its argument for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

But the Iraq Survey Group -- set up to look for weapons of mass destruction or evidence of them in the country -- issued a final report saying it saw no weapons or no evidence that Iraq was trying to reconstitute them.

The commission's report said the principal cause of the intelligence failures was the intelligence community's "inability to collect good information about Iraq's WMD programs, serious errors in analyzing what information it could gather and a failure to make clear just how much of its analysis was based on assumptions rather than good evidence."

The report said analysts were "too wedded" to assumptions about Saddam Hussein's intentions.

"The single most prominent recurring theme" of its recommendations is "stronger and more centralized management of the intelligence community, and, in general, the creation of a genuinely integrated community, instead of a loose confederation of independent agencies."

The panel urged Bush to give broad authority to John Negroponte when he is confirmed as the director of national intelligence.

"It won't be easy to provide this leadership to the intelligence components of the Defense Department or to the CIA. They are some of the government's most headstrong agencies," the report warned the president.

"Sooner or later, they will try to run around -- or over -- the [director of national intelligence]. Then, only your determined backing will convince them that we cannot return to the old ways."

The report also called for changes at the FBI, including the creation of a new National Security Service that would merge the agency's counterterrorism and counterintelligence divisions.

The commission recommended establishing: a National Counterproliferation Center to oversee intelligence on nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; a new human intelligence directorate in the CIA; and mission managers to coordinate analysis on specific topics across the entire intelligence community.

'Much to be done'

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid faulted the report for failing to address "our national security policy-making process."

"I believe it is essential that we hold both the intelligence agencies and senior policy-makers accountable," the Nevada Democrat said.

Reid called on the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, "to investigate whether Bush administration officials misused intelligence."

CIA Director Porter Goss welcomed the report, saying the commission was "right to underscore the difficulty of gathering intelligence on the WMD issue." Goss agreed that there is a need for "more robust" intelligence collection and analysis.

"We can never be complacent," said Goss, adding "there is still much to be done" to transform the intelligence community.

In a prepared statement, former CIA Director George Tenet called the report a "serious" one with recommendations that require "careful consideration."

Tenet, who left the CIA last summer after a seven-year tenure, said he wished the commission had reflected more on how far the community has come in "rebuilding American intelligence."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat and vice chairman of the intelligence committee, said the report underscores that the intelligence community, Congress and the White House have "more work to do."

"The threat posed to our national security from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is real, lasting and growing," he said. "We must learn from our past errors."

Michael Chertoff, the new head of the Department of Homeland Security, said his agency has implemented numerous new policies to better safeguard the nation.

"We will utilize this report as guidance to strengthen these efforts," he said.

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