CIA stands firm on Iraq assessment

CIA stands firm on Iraq assessment

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has issued a spirited defence of the now-suspect assertions that Iraq had secret arsenals of germ and chemical weapons, and says second-guessing its work may undermine analysts' willingness to make bold assessments in the future.

Although the CIA now concedes that it may have been completely wrong, its wide-ranging defence maintains that the conclusions it reached in its October, 2002, National Intelligence Estimate were justified and credible. The report served as the basis for Washington's efforts to persuade the world of the real and imminent danger posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime and underpinned U.S. President George W. Bush's justification for waging war to topple the dictator.

"If we eventually are proven wrong -- that is, that there were no weapons of mass destruction and the WMD programs were dormant or abandoned -- the American people will be told the truth; we would have it no other way," writes Stuart Cohen, a senior CIA official and acting chairman of the National Intelligence Council, which produced the report.

"I remain convinced that no reasonable person could have viewed the totality of the information that the intelligence community had at its disposal -- literally millions of pages -- and reached any conclusions or alternative views that were profoundly different from those that we reached," Mr. Cohen says in a statement posted on the agency's website.

Iraq didn't use chemical or biological weapons against invading U.S. forces last spring. In the seven months since the fall of Mr. Hussein's regime, no trace of active programs to produce banned weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological or nuclear -- has been unearthed, despite a massive U.S. effort and now-unfettered access. Only a single mobile laboratory, which may or may not be linked to germ-warfare production, and some components buried since the 1991 war in the Persian Gulf have been found.

Mr. Cohen also warns of the risks to future intelligence estimates if the spy community becomes preoccupied with allegations about past failures.

"The need to confront these charges [has] forced senior intelligence officials throughout U.S. intelligence to spend much of their time looking backward," he says in the statement. "I worry about the opportunity costs of this sort of preoccupation, but I also worry that analysts labouring under a barrage of allegations will become more and more disinclined to make judgments."

Mr. Cohen seeks to defend the U.S. intelligence community by debunking what he calls "10 myths" that have arisen since the war.

Myth No. 1 is that the "NIE favored going to war." Myth No. 10 is that the "NIE asserted that there were 'large WMD stockpiles' and because we haven't found them, Baghdad had no WMD."

He blames "media frenzy" for the now-widespread view that the spies were wrong.

Mr. Cohen's "debunking" essentially rests on two broad justifications: that the whole world, not just U.S. spies, had for the past 15 years been agreed that Mr. Hussein's regime was concealing weapons of mass destruction; and that no political pressure was applied to the CIA or other agencies to spin its findings and thus underpin the President's decision to go to war.

"The NIE judged with high confidence that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of the 150 kilometres limit imposed by the UN Security Council, and with moderate confidence that Iraq did not have nuclear weapons," Mr. Cohen says in the statement. "These judgments were essentially the same conclusions reached by the United Nations and by a wide array of intelligence services -- friendly and unfriendly alike. The only government in the world that claimed that Iraq was not working on, and did not have, biological and chemical weapons or prohibited missile systems was in Baghdad."

Mr. Cohen also challenges critics who suggest that U.S. intelligence agencies -- which had been proved woefully wrong after the 1991 Persian Gulf war when it emerged that Iraq had an advanced nuclear-weapons program about which U.S. spies knew nothing -- were determined not to get caught flat-footed again.

"In no case were any of the judgments 'hyped' to compensate for earlier underestimates," he says.

Finally, he credits the brutal effectiveness of the now-fallen Baathist regime for the failure -- so far -- of U.S. and international weapons experts to find any evidence of poison-gas or germ-warfare arsenals.

23:38 Gepost door AlphaGamma | Permalink | Commentaren (0) |  Facebook |

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