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Presidential Commission Blasts US Intelligence Shortcomings

  • Robert Raffaele

A U.S. presidential commission says America's spy agencies were "dead wrong" in most of their pre-war assessments of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The panel released its report Thursday - nearly one year after President Bush formed it to study the United States' pre-war intelligence failures in Iraq.

In a declassified version of its nearly 700-page report, the panel called pre-war assessments that Iraq had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction, a "major intelligence failure." Those assessments were the centerpiece of the Bush administration's initial argument for the Iraq invasion.

The report was presented to President Bush Thursday, who told reporters he agreed with its central conclusion: America's intelligence community needs fundamental change.

"The President and his national security team must have intelligence that is timely, and intelligence that is accurate," says President Bush.

On the subject of Iraq, commissioners placed much of the blame on what they call the intelligence community's "inability to collect good information about Iraq's W-M-D programs."

Commission co-chair Judge Lawrence Silberman says analysts had little concrete information about the weapons Saddam Hussien possessed. He says they made assumptions, based on that information, about what Saddam might do.

"And although it was perfectly reasonable for them to speculate or to assume, what the intelligence community should have done is said 'Look, we don't have - - very little evidence of this, we really don't know. And that would have been justifiable," says Judge Silberman.

However, the panel said it had NO proof that agencies distorted evidence to bolster the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq.

The panel said the U.S. needs an intelligence community that is "truly integrated," with a greater sense of imagination and willingness to take risks. Co-chairman and former U.S. Senator Charles Robb.

“We recognize that the United States took a hit. The community recognizes it. Everyone that we've talked to recognizes it. But we simply can't punt at that point. We're trying to put a constructive pathway, if you will, to restoring that confidence," says Senator Robb.

Among its recommendations, the report called on President Bush to give John Negroponte, the new Director of National Intelligence, broader powers for overseeing the nation's 15 spy agencies. It also called for sweeping changes at the FBI - including combining the bureau's counterterrorism and counterintelligence resources into a new office.

The report, however, praised spy agencies for their role in leading Libya to renounce its weapons programs, and exposing the nuclear proliferation network of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan.

Judge Silberman and Senator Robb say members of the panel will brief the U.S. House and Senate intelligence committees about the report

next week.

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