In a scathing 618-page report released last week, a presidential commission found that U.S. intelligence agencies were "dead wrong" in their judgment that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and warned the U.S. still knows "disturbingly little" about some of its chief adversaries.
"On the brink of war and in front of the whole world, the Unites States government asserted that Saddam Hussein had reconstituted his nuclear weapons program, had biological weapons he had stockpiled, and was producing nuclear weapons," The Associated Press quotes the report as saying. "All of this was based on the U.S. intelligence community, and not one bit of it could be confirmed when the war was over."
The panel, called the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, concluded that the intelligence community was "dead wrong in almost all of its prewar judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction" and said the flaws it found are still "all too common," the AP reports.
The commission expressed concern regarding U.S. intelligence on Iran, North Korea, China and Russia, but noted those findings were classified. The report also warned that in some cases the intelligence community knows less than it did five years ago.
"To win the war on terror, we will correct what needs to be fixed," President Bush said during a press conference with the panel's co-chairmen, former Senator Chuck Robb and retired Judge Laurence Silberman.
Bush appointed the nine-member committee a year ago to investigate faulty intelligence reports in 2002 that said Iraq was housing weapons of mass destruction — reports the president used as the basis for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. However, the Iraq Survey Group, which was hired to look for and find evidence of WMDs, issued a final report saying it found no evidence of the claims.
Last week's report comes as the latest blow to the intelligence community, which has undergone a string of scrutinizing investigations since the September 11, 2001, attacks. "The demands of this new environment can only be met by broad and deep change in the intelligence community," the report said, calling the current structure "fragmented, loosely managed and poorly coordinated."
The commission called the daily intelligence briefings that the president received "flawed" and condemned their use of "attention-grabbing headlines and repetition of questionable data," which gave the impression of evidence of WMDs, when that was found not to be the case.
The FBI was also criticized for its failure to improve intelligence operations, the AP reports. The report warned of the potentially disastrous consequences that could result from its lack of cooperation with the other agencies on overseas terrorism cases.
"There is no more important intelligence mission than understanding the worst weapons that our enemies possess, and how they intend to use them against us," the report said. "These are their deepest secrets, and unlocking them must be our highest priority."
The panel included a list of 74 recommendations, including a complete overhaul of the intelligence community. Also at the top of the list was the necessity to back new Director of Intelligence John Negroponte in his efforts to prioritize U.S. intelligence, according to CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller.
John Lehman, a 9/11 Commission member, told Time magazine recently that a complete rebuilding of the intelligence community is long overdue. "We now have a providentially appointed body giving us clear evidence that the U.S. intelligence establishment is truly dysfunctional and simply not working," he said.
CIA Director Porter Goss said in a statement that the intelligence community appreciates the commission's constructive criticism and will work to solve the defects. "We acknowledge mistakes when we make them," he said.