Tags: Former | CIA | Official | Spells | Out | Iraq | Intel

Former CIA Official Spells Out Iraq Intel Problems

Sunday, 01 February 2004 12:00 AM

Kerr spent six months looking at the secret U.S. intelligence on Saddam’s WMD, including the crown jewels presented every morning to Bush and his top advisers—the President’s daily brief.

Kerr said one problem may have been that the CIA tried to distill complex matters too simply in the top-secret brief, with the result that its claims about Saddam’s arsenal were not adequately conditioned and caveated.

"You're trying to make an argument, you often are caught up in that," he said. Looking at the Iraq intelligence in general, "you can find places where they’re fairly careful and cautious," Kerr told TIME, "and other times where they carried the argument probably farther than they had evidence for ... There can clearly be some improvements."

Tenet may hope Kerr’s internal review will take some of the steam out of an even more scathing review, expected this week, by the Senate Intelligence Committee, TIME’s Michael Duffy reports. That panel, controlled by Republicans, has worked for weeks on its own, 300-page confidential draft report on the prewar WMD intelligence.

Knowledgeable sources tell TIME that the Senate report will probably tag the agency for failing to conduct a zero-based assessment of Saddam’s arsenal—that is, a brand-new study with no underlying assumptions about his weapons. Such a review was performed in 1991 before the first Gulf War, but not this time around.

The product of 175 interviews by staff members on the panel, the Senate committee report is expected to take particular aim at Tenet, sources said, for giving lawmakers his personal assurance in closed-door hearings that WMD stocks would be found in Iraq.

"He was telling the senior people in the Administration," said one source, "that the weapons were absolutely there, that they were certain the stuff was there." Tenet, as a result, "is locked in. He has nowhere to go." A senior intelligence official said Tenet will be perfectly comfortable telling the Senate committee that the Iraq Survey Group is still at work and that it is premature to come to any conclusions about WMD in Iraq.

Instead of hunting for weapons themselves, Kay and his staff set about interviewing Saddam’s weapons scientists, engineers and doctors, working in part off U.N.-compiled lists going back several years. The names on Kay’s roster ran into the thousands. Some were dead, and some refused to talk, but after the team had spoken to 75 percent of the experts, Kay was "perplexed that not a single thing had shown up. Knowing Iraqi efficiency, it seemed hard to believe that they’d scrubbed everything so cleanly. A number of us were getting really concerned."

By late June Kay thought that perhaps Saddam had a modern, just-in-time delivery system for WMD and had been able to dispose of both weapons and raw materials quickly when the U.S. invaded. But then he realized that Saddam wasn’t "even that organized." Looking back on it, Kay said, "This wasn’t a blinding flash. It was a slow accretion of evidence that was all pointing in the same direction." Kay was struck that he couldn’t find any sign of the logistical network of trucks and drivers and construction workers required of a sophisticated weapons program. "If that stuff doesn’t exists,’’ he said, "it means the stuff you’re looking for doesn’t exist."

Some agency analysts had predicted that a number of mysterious mobile trailers found in Iraq were for the manufacture of biological weapons. These staff members were shipped out to the field to prove their hunch. Kay reported that several returned deeply upset from the trailers, which, it turned out, were for manufacturing hydrogen for use in weather balloons. "They said to me, ‘I’m sorry we can’t find what we told you existed,’" Kay recalled.

Yet some analysts would not give up the fight. Kay told of a months-long tug of war between those back in Washington who believed and those in the field who could see with their own eyes. Kay tried to rotate the former into the field because, as he put it, "the people who stuck to their guns the longest" were the ones who never went to Iraq.

What CIA analysts imagined to be dispositive evidence of Saddam’s nuclear ambitions turned out, in Kay’s judgment, to be proof of plain, old-fashioned greed. For months the Administration claimed that finely machined aluminum tubes, imported with ever higher tolerances—that is, precision in their specifications— were part of a campaign to produce gas centrifuges for the production of weapons-grade nuclear fuel.

But after examining the tubes and talking to the scientists who procured and used them, Kay became convinced that the increasing tolerances were to meet not technical requirements but financial ones.

A senior White House official told TIME Bush might go along with a blue-ribbon panel, though the President wants to let the Iraq Survey Group continue its work. Kay having resigned his post, the group is now under the leadership of Charles Duelfer, another veteran arms inspector. Bush, the official said, continues to stand by Tenet, in part because foreign intelligence agencies also missed the WMD.

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Kerr spent six months looking at the secret U.S. intelligence on Saddam's WMD, including the crown jewels presented every morning to Bush and his top advisers-the President's daily brief. Kerr said one problem may have been that the CIA tried to distill complex matters...
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Sunday, 01 February 2004 12:00 AM
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