Intelligence: Faulty Claims of Intelligence Failure

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December 19, 2005: One of the major claims made by those who oppose continued assistance to Iraq is the fact that the intelligence was faulty. The charges often focus on the stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (chemical and biological) that have not been found, as well as assertions that the Administration has accused Saddam Hussein's regime of having something to do with the attacks of September 11, 2001.

The weapons of mass destruction issue got much of the focus prior to the war. The reason for this concern was quite obvious: Saddam Hussein could provide those materials to terrorists who would use them in an attack against the United States. When American forces went into Iraq in 2003, no stockpiles were found. In the summer of 2003, the first claims of an intelligence failure (or worse) were made.

It needs to be noted that intelligence is not exactly a science. The idea that intelligence agencies providing a very clear picture is more Hollywood than fact. Often, they deal in probabilities. They also miss things, even in the course of shining moments (such as the American codebreakers missing the presence of the Yamato and the Main Body at Midway in 1942).

These charges, however, were themselves a case of overstatement. Reports by David Kay and Charles Duelfer showed that Iraq was maintaining the ability to produce chemical weapons and long-range missiles. General Tommy Franks described the Iraqi programs as being the equivalent of a disassembled pistol. This is hardly a severe intelligence failure- it is more a case of intelligence agencies taking the worst-case scenario (a prudent measure in the wake of a terrorist attack that had killed nearly 3,000 people and the underestimation of Iraq's progress towards nuclear weapons after Desert Storm in 1991), and discovering that their assessments had been a little too pessimistic. In May of 2004, a sarin shell was used in a roadside bomb. American forces have also found at least one shell carrying mustard gas.

The other charge centers on the claims that the Administration has linked Saddam Hussein's regime to the September 11 attacks. This is an outright misrepresentation of what the Administration has said about the rationale for liberating Iraq. The threat posed by Saddam Hussein was reassessed within the context of the attacks. This is not to say that there are no signs of a relationship between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. One document recovered by a Toronto Star reporter in April, 2003, discussed bringing an envoy from bin Laden to Baghdad to "discuss the future of our relationship" with Osama bin Laden. There were reports of contacts as well. Two of the most intriguing are Mohammed Atta's reported meeting with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in April, 2001 and the actions of Ahmed Hikmat Shakir in Malaysia in January, 2000 (Shakir got a job as a greeter at Kuala Lampur's international airport via the Iraqi embassy in Malaysia (which controlled his work schedule, attended an al Qaeda summit, then left Malaysia). An evidence summary for one al Qaeda detainee indicated that he traveled to Pakistan with an Iraqi intelligence officer for the purposes of carrying out an attack on the American and British embassies in August, 1998. Another document recovered by the Department of Defense during Operation Iraqi Freedom is an al Qaeda training manual for chemical warfare that contained papers concerning Iraqi officials, training, equipment prices, and manuals for setting up a chemical weapons plant. These documents were dated February, 2002.

The claims that American intelligence suffered failures in Iraq are largely hype. Much of the evidence of such failures has been "cherry-picked" to cast the Administration in a bad light. In this case, the "failure" exists largely in the minds of the media and critics. -- Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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