Rich Lowry

On biological weapons (BW), there was a shift from saying that Iraq might have bioweapons to concluding that it definitely did. The dark influence of Cheney? No. The change began in 2000, when President Clinton was still in office. It was based on information from a (totally dishonest, as it turns out) source code-named Curveball. That year, the National Intelligence Estimate was updated to say: "New information suggests that Baghdad has expanded its offensive BW program by establishing a large-scale, redundant and concealed BW agent production capability."

If there was a fundamental problem in how policymakers and intelligence officials interacted, it was that policymakers, again and again, were not made aware of the thinness and questionable reliability of much of the information about Iraq. In other words, intelligence agencies poorly served Bush, Cheney, and the rest of the hawks, not the other way around.

On the one hand, it is understandable that the intel was so fouled up. We assumed that Saddam had the worst intentions. If he wasn't cooperating with the United Nations, he must have been developing something nasty. The report, over and over, says that these assumptions ? crucial to all the analysis ? had "a powerful air of common sense" and were "not unreasonable." On the other hand, there were so many frank factual errors and sloppy practices in all this that former CIA head George Tenet should have his recently awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom revoked.

In its recommendations, the WMD commission makes some nods toward decentralization. This after Congress rushed to "reform" intelligence last year by centralizing it. If we undo that reform and pass another, will intelligence be doubly effective because it will have been "reformed" twice? Bureaucratic shuffling is beside the point. What is most important ? and the WMD report usefully emphasizes this ? is that we get more agents on the ground and that the people running U.S. intelligence be more imaginative and risk-taking.

That's not easy. Would that the problem really were just getting Dick Cheney to butt out.

Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
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