by Hon. Carl Levin / United States Senate (February 23, 2004) –
Mr. President, there is now confirmation from the Administration’s own leading weapons inspector that the Intelligence Community produced greatly flawed assessments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq.
It is my opinion that flawed intelligence and the Administration’s exaggerations concerning Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction resulted from an effort to make the threat appear more imminent and the case for American military action against Iraq appear more urgent than they were.
However, regardless of whether one thought the threat was imminent enough to proceed as unilaterally as we did, our intelligence was so far off the mark, and the descriptions of that intelligence by the Administration were even further off the mark, that for the sake of the future security of this nation there needs to be an independent assessment not just of the intelligence, but also the characterization by the Administration of that intelligence.
Today I want to raise a related issue: how the Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet, misled the American people before the war about the status of our sharing of US intelligence information with the United Nations inspectors. Director Tenet, after 12 months of indefensible stonewalling, recently relented and declassified the material that I requested, which makes clear that his public testimony before the Congress on the extent to which the United States had shared intelligence with the United Nations on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs was false.
Prior to the war, the CIA identified 550 sites in Iraq as possibly having weapons of mass destruction or prohibited WMD materials or equipment. They were called suspect sites. 150 of those sites were so-called “top suspect sites” where the CIA believed it would be more likely to find such items. The 150 top suspect sites were in turn divided into three categories: high priority, medium priority, and low priority.
At two public hearings shortly before the war (on February 11 and February 12, 2003), I pressed Director Tenet on the issue of how many suspect WMD sites were shared with the United Nations. On February 12, Director Tenet said the following:
“When the inspections began, we drew up a list of suspect sites which we believe may have a continuing association with Iraq’s WMD programs. The list is dynamic. It changes according to available intelligence or other information that we receive. Of this set number of suspect sites, we identified a specific number as being highest interest, highest value or moderate value because of recent activities suggesting ongoing WMD association or other intelligence information that we received. As I said yesterday, we have briefed all of these high value and moderate value sites to UNMOVIC and the IAEA.”
Note that he did not say “some” or “most” of the sites; he said “all.”
I told Director Tenet at the time that he was wrong and that the classified numbers told a different story. On March 6, 2003, Director Tenet again stated in writing that “we have now provided detailed information on all of the high value and moderate value sites to UNMOVIC and the IAEA.”
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice made the same representation in a letter to me on March 6, 2003, when she said that “United Nations inspectors have been briefed on every high or medium priority weapons of mass destruction, missile, and UAV-related site the U.S. Intelligence Community has identified.”
On January 20, 2004, the CIA, after a year of resistance, finally declassified the number of “high and medium priority ‘top suspect’ WMD sites” where the CIA shared information with the UN inspectors prior to the war in Iraq. In doing so, they finally acknowledge that 21 of the 105 high and medium priority top suspect sites on the CIA list were not shared with the United Nations before the war.
Director Tenet Twice Gave False Information
So the record is now clear that Director Tenet twice gave false information on this matter to the public and to the Congress shortly before the war.
The January 20, 2004, letter from the CIA states their position: the position of the CIA is that it provided the United Nations “with the intelligence that we judged would be fruitful in their search.”
History will, and a thorough investigation would, determine the accuracy of that statement.
But the public can now judge the accuracy of Director Tenet’s public statements before the war that all high and medium priority top suspect sites were shared with the United Nations.
All such sites were not shared, and Mr. Tenet’s repeated statements were false.
Last February, Director Tenet could have answered honestly and said we have not given the UN inspectors all the high and medium priority top suspect sites and “here is why, Senator.” Instead he chose a different path – one of misstating the facts.
I can only speculate as to Director Tenet’s motive. If he had answered honestly and said that there were 21 high and medium priority top suspect sites that we had not yet shared with the UN, it could have put an obstacle in the path of the Administration’s move to end United Nations inspections and proceed to war. It would have been more difficult for the Administration to proceed to war without first having shared with the UN our intelligence on all high and medium priority top suspect WMD sites. And it surely would have reinforced widely held public and international sentiment that we should allow the UN to complete their inspections before going to war.
In other words, honest answers by Director Tenet might have undermined the false sense of urgency for proceeding to war and could have contributed to delay, neither of which fit the Administration’s policy goals.
The CIA Has a Long History of ‘Stonewalling’
For the last year I have attempted to have declassified the number of high and medium priority top suspect sites that the US did not share with the United Nations. The CIA stonewalled doing that for no reason that I can think of except that the facts are embarrassing to them. Surely, that is no reason to withhold information from the American people and to give inaccurate information repeatedly to Congress in public testimony. We rely on our intelligence agencies to give us the facts, not to give us the spin on the facts. The accuracy and objectivity of intelligence should never be tainted or slanted to support a particular policy.
What is badly needed – and what is lacking so far from this Administration – is candor about how we were so far off in our assessment of Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction.
That lack of candor is one of the many reasons an independent commission should be appointed by Congress – not just by the President – to look at not just how the intelligence came to be so flawed, but at how that flawed intelligence came to be further exaggerated by the Administration in order to support its decision to initiate military action.
One small part of this picture is this recent letter from the CIA that finally makes clear the truth: the CIA did not share all of the top suspect WMD sites in Iraq that Director Tenet said twice publicly before the war that it had shared with the UN inspectors. It is more evidence of the shaping of intelligence to fit the Administration’s policy objectives.
I would ask unanimous consent to enter into the Record the letter from the CIA on this matter.
>Copy of letter available at this link
Sen. Carl Levin, 269 Russell Office Building, U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510-2202. Phone (202) 224-6221, Fax (202) 224-1388, (202) 224-2816, 8:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.