the face of growing public and Congressional pressure, President Bush has
reversed his opposition to an independent investigation of flawed U.S.
intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Will
Americans finally get the critical examination they deserve into the
fraudulent claims used by the administration to justify its "preemptive"
Don't count on it. Early indications suggest that the commission is being
crafted by the White House primarily to deflect blame for its deceptions
about the threat posed by Iraq.
On Saturday the Washington Post reported that "Bush's shift in
position represents an effort to get out in front of a potentially
dangerous issue that threatens to cloud his reelection bid." As more
information about the President's plans hit the press on Sunday, some of
the bipartisan commission's politically fortuitous aspects became clear.
The investigation will get off to a slow start and won't report back until
well after the November elections.
Moreover, its appears that the commission's mandate will be structured to
help the Bush administration avoid responsibility for its distortions.
Furthering former chief weapons inspector David Kay's controversial
assertion that the faulty allegations about Saddam's arsenal had nothing
to do with the political pressures of an impending invasion, the
commission will go beyond Iraq to investigate intelligence about Iran,
Libya, India, and Pakistan.
This move to lessen the focus on Iraq and paint the CIA as broadly
dysfunctional serves the President well. Already some White House
officials are suggesting that, in the build-up to war, they were simply
making prudent estimates about Saddam's arsenal based on the best
intelligence available, which, they say, admittedly looks poor in
A real investigation would not let them off that easy. An independent
commission should have the power to look beyond technical
intelligence-gathering processes and examine questions about how the
administration used and misused intelligence findings in its push for war.
As the White House tries to shift blame to bodies like the CIA, it is
important to remember that its doomsday estimates about Iraqi chemical
weapons were part of a larger series of deceptions. Bush officials pushed
the idea that Saddam Hussein had connections to Al Qaeda and a menacing
nuclear weapons program well after such claims had been debunked by the
intelligence community. The President pretends that the empty-handed
search for WMDs has actually been a success, using amorphous but
frightening descriptions of "weapons of mass destruction-related program
activities." Other senior spokespeople have similarly stayed on the
attack. A New York Times article from last Friday reported that
Dick Cheney "was on the air again, talking about Mr. Hussein's mobile
biological weapons units, which now appear, Dr. Kay says, to have had no
The paper added an aside from one of the Vice President's staffers, who
said, "We'll have to get Cheney the new memo... As soon as we write it."
David Kay and Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the Senate
intelligence committee, each deny claims that the Bush administration
pressured intelligence analysts to produce exaggerated reports about
Iraq's weapons. However, a Times article from Sunday shows this
remains a live debate. Even while citing the denials, it quotes
intelligence officials, some still in the administration, who make clear
that the Bush administration was looking for intelligence that would
support its push for an invasion of Iraq, rather than making a tough
decision to go to war after a sober review of the facts.
"They took every piece of information that proved their point and listed
it," said an unnamed intelligence officer quoted in the article,
specifically referring to the presentation Colin Powell made one year ago
at the United Nations. "They would disregard or make fun of any contrary
evidence. They forgot they were making mere guesses, and even guesses have
to be taken with caution. They didn't hedge or caveat. Instead they would
say we're right and you're wrong and it's a matter of national security."
More disturbing still is Seymour Hersh's October 27 article in The New
Yorker. It describes in devastating detail how neoconservative hawks
working under Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld demanded that incriminating,
but unverified, reports about Saddam's weapons be sent directly to highly
placed Bush administration personnel. A select team of loyalists could
then decide for themselves what they would present to the public.
Hersh writes that "Kenneth Pollack, a former National Security Council
expert on Iraq, whose book The Threatening Storm generally
supported the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein, told me that what the
Bush people did was 'dismantle the existing filtering process that for
fifty years had been preventing the policymakers from getting bad
information. They created stovepipes to get the information they wanted
directly to the top leadership. Their position is that the professional
bureaucracy is deliberately and maliciously keeping information from
"They always had information to back up their public claims, but it was
often very bad information," Pollack continued. "They were forcing the
intelligence community to defend its good information and good analysis so
aggressively that the intelligence analysts didn't have the time or the
energy to go after the bad information."
"Pretty soon you say 'Fuck it,'" a senior Bush administration official
told Hersh, who writes that CIA senior analysts then "began to provide the
intelligence that was wanted."
It may well be true, as David Kay and others argue, that intelligence
officers since the Clinton era viewed Saddam Hussein with more trepidation
than was actually warranted, and that our nation's wider methods for
gathering and evaluating information deserve scrutiny. The government
should address these concerns. But the fact that distressing charges about
the Bush administration's uniquely politicized use of intelligence about
Iraq continue to surface on a regular basis points to the need for
something more. An independent inquiry must place intelligence failures in
the context of a war effort whose central justifications have consistently
President Bush's commission, fashioned as political damage control, isn't
likely to do the job. That is, unless pressure for a real investigation
continues to grow.
Mark Engler is a writer based in New York
City, and a commentator for Foreign Policy in Focus (www.fpif.org).
He can be reached via the web site
http://www.DemocracyUprising.com. This article first appeared at
AlterNet and is
reprinted with permission of the author. Research assistance provided by
Articles by Mark Engler