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The real failure in intelligence on Iraq

IN THE PAST two weeks, CIA Director George Tenet has testified behind closed doors at the Senate Intelligence Committee and publicly at the Senate Armed Services Committee about his agency's pre-war knowledge of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Tenet was asked why, in the words of former weapons hunter David Kay, US intelligence agencies had "gotten it wrong" about Iraq.


In this and other inquiries, however, the senators should stop asking why Washington saw weapons where there weren't any. Rather, they must ask -- and have answered -- why a plethora of publicly available information on the destruction and deterioration of Iraq's weapons capability was not processed into the equation about the scope of Iraqi firepower.

Without question, verifiable "on the plus side" data about the success of economic sanctions and the destruction of WMD materiel supervised by UN inspectors from 1991 to 1998 was consistently neglected by war planners, the press, and politicians. And classified intelligence should have augmented this data. But the inability or unwillingness to properly debit the 1990 estimates of Iraqi weapons with the discount factor of their degradation due to our own successful policies constitutes an intelligence debacle.

No more glaring example of this exists than the failure of analysts to properly prepare Secretary of State Colin Powell for his Feb. 5, 2003, presentation before the Security Council. A number of prohibited materials mentioned by Powell were, in fact, known to have been intercepted before entering Iraq. These materials included specialized aluminum tubes, vacuum tubes, a magnet production line, a large filament winding machine, fluorine gas, and other goods that could have nuclear weapons-related applications. Senators need to examine how and why such flawed testimony was permitted to move forward.

They also must assess why Washington continually miscalculated the findings of the UN's first inspection team about the destruction of chemical and biological agents in the mid-'90s. Then there is the question about the muted report of the UNMOVIC team of Hans Blix, which, in more than 230 unimpeded on-site inspections of suspected biological or chemical sites, found neither alleged stockpiles nor remnants.

The senators would do well to examine a proposition that eludes others in Washington: that the system actually worked. The inspections and sanctions programs that the United States vigorously enforced with many and varied partners successfully kept dangerous items out of Iraq despite Saddam's intentions. This reality was confirmed by more than UN sources. The British Joint Intelligence Committee report of September 2002 provided ample documentation of effectiveness but worried about post-1998 developments that could not be directly inspected. Various think tanks and our own research project detailed how and why sanctions made the reconstruction of what inspectors had destroyed highly unlikely.

Unless policy makers and the American people know why and how these accomplishments were not factored into prewar assessments of Iraqi capabilities, we will repeat the same intelligence and judgmental errors in the future.

This concern could not be more relevant as the United States engages in sensitive negotiations with Iran, Libya, Syria, and North Korea about nonproliferation. The Bush administration maintains that Libya's leader Moammar Khadafy has come clean on his WMDs due to successful preemptive war in Iraq. The Libyans and others note the importance of the sanctions against Libya in convincing Khadafy to surrender such weapons.

In light of the real intelligence failure regarding Iraq, will the CIA or the Senate actually ask the questions most relevant to arriving at a definitive answer about Khadafy?

George A. Lopez, of the Kroc Institute at the University of Notre Dame, and David Cortright, president of the Fourth Freedom Forum, are coauthors of "Winning Without War" and "Sanctions and the Search for Security."

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