The President's Commission on (deep breath) Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction has issued its report, and true to predictions, it indicts the CIA and other intelligence agencies for giving the president and Congress information that was "dead wrong" and accompanying this intelligence with a promise that the agencies had 90 percent confidence in its accuracy. Here, at last, is the accounting that has been wanting since our forces scoured the Iraqi countryside and found not a single WMD.
Specialists at missing the point, some members of the White House press corps demanded of the commission co-chairmen, former Sen. Chuck Robb and Judge Larry Silberman, whether the Bush administration was not really at fault for "pressuring" the intelligence agencies to produce estimates consonant with the administration's preferred policies. There were references to Vice President Cheney's famous ride to Langley to discuss the Iraq situation -- a visit many antiwar types were convinced had the effect of strong-arming the agency to tailor its intelligence to the administration's pattern.
This the chairmen stoutly deny. As the transmittal letter makes clear "... the commission found no indication that the intelligence community distorted the evidence regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. What the intelligence professionals told (the president) about Saddam Hussein's programs was what they believed. They were simply wrong."
Later, the report notes that "the intelligence community did not make or change any analytic judgments in response to political pressure to reach a particular conclusion, but the pervasive conventional wisdom that Saddam retained WMD affected the analytic process."
The question that should be foremost in the minds of reporters and everyone else is why the intelligence was so wrong. Simple-minded men like Sen. Ted Kennedy and Michael Moore avoid the problem by asserting that President Bush lied. Real grown-ups must grapple with the fact that our most important weapon in the war on terror -- the intelligence agencies -- are severely dysfunctional.
Admittedly, the intelligence business is difficult for outsiders to judge because, of necessity, their triumphs are mostly kept secret, while their failures make headlines. But even acknowledging that, the record of the CIA and its siblings has been terrible for 25 years.