Report Says CIA Distorted Iraq Data
Senate Panel Cites Exaggerations in Paper Made Public in 2002
By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 12, 2004; Page A01
In the only comprehensive assessment of Iraq's weapons of mass
destruction released to the public before the war, the CIA exaggerated
and distorted the evidence it had given Congress just days earlier,
according to the Senate intelligence committee's report released last
The White Paper, released Oct. 4, 2002, and based on a classified
assessment given to Congress, was the public's only look at the
intelligence that policymakers used to decide whether Iraq posed enough
of a threat to warrant immediate military action.
Yet the 28-page public document turned estimates into facts, left out or
watered down the dissent within the government about key weapons
programs, and exaggerated Iraq's ability to strike the United States,
the investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found.
The heavily redacted White Paper section of the Senate report amounts to
a pointed critique of the CIA's willingness to present an unbiased and
objective account of the Iraqi threat to the American public.
It also raises questions about the CIA's selective declassification of
material, a critique that was made by last year's joint Sept. 11
congressional inquiry and by the subsequent independent Sept. 11
In one case cited in the Senate report, a "key judgment" in the public
document asserted that Iraq could quickly produce and weaponize "lethal
and incapacitating biological weapons agents," including anthrax
bacteria, "for delivery by bombs, missiles, aerial sprayers, and covert
operations, including potentially against the U.S. Homeland."
The statement, the report said, "conveyed a level of threat to the
United States homeland inconsistent with the classified National
The classified version, the Senate report noted, asserted that Iraq
would try such attacks "if Baghdad feared an attack that threatened the
survival of the regime were imminent or unavoidable, or possibly for
revenge," and that such attacks would be carried out by special Iraqi
forces or intelligence operatives.
Three days after the public document was released, President Bush said
in a major speech to the nation in Cincinnati: "Iraq could decide on any
given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist
group or individual terrorists. Alliance with terrorists could allow the
Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints."
The report also notes that the White Paper dropped such qualifiers as
"we judge" and "we assess," making best estimates appear as fact.
Thus the classified report's language, "We assess that Baghdad has begun
renewed production of mustard, sarin, cyclosarin, and VX . . . " became
"Baghdad has begun renewed production . . . "
Also, the words "we have little specific information on Iraq's CW
[chemical weapons] stockpile" were removed from the unclassified paper.
"Removing caveats such as 'we judge' and 'we assess' changed many
sentences in the unclassified paper to statements of fact rather than
assessments," the report noted. In doing so, the White Paper
"misrepresented [the intelligence community's] judgments to the public,"
the Senate panel concluded.
The national intelligence officer who wrote the White Paper told the
committee that dropping "we judge" and "we assess" from the public
version was done for stylistic reasons. At the time the White Paper was
written, he told the panel, he was unsure whether it would be released
by the intelligence community or by the U.S. government, in which case
using "we" would not make sense.
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Report Says CIA Distorted Iraq Data
The committee, however, noted that an unclassified White Paper issued in
1998 "contained other words which expressed the uncertainty behind the
IC [intelligence community] judgments without using the word 'we.' " For
example, it referred to world experts and said "they believe" or "the
evidence strongly suggests" and "Iraq could."
A particularly controversial section of the NIE was the debate over
Iraq's attempts to obtain high-strength aluminum tubes for centrifuge
rotors as part of its nuclear program. The classified version for
lawmakers noted that the Department of Energy, the government's best
experts on nuclear technology, "assesses that the tubes probably are not
part of the [nuclear] program."
The unclassified White Paper said only: "Most intelligence specialists
assess this to be the intended use, but some believe that these tubes
are probably intended for conventional weapons programs."
Eliminating the names of the dissenting agencies or excluding dissent
altogether, as the paper did on the issue of whether Iraq was developing
unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver lethal agents abroad, "provided
readers with an incomplete picture of the nature and extent of the
debate within the Intelligence Community regarding these issues," the
Senate report said.
The NIE assembled the analyses of several U.S. intelligence agencies,
including the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Energy
Department's intelligence unit, which monitors nuclear matters. It was
the most extensive intelligence assessment of Iraq's chemical,
biological and nuclear weapons programs to be made public in several
The CIA began work on a public document after the agency's deputy
director at the time, John E. McLaughlin, attended a White House meeting
at which National Security Council deputies requested such a paper. Work
on the document began in May 2002, months before the classified NIE was
requested by the Senate intelligence committee.
Then-CIA Director George J. Tenet resisted producing the NIE for
Congress. Had the classified version not been produced, it would have
been much more difficult to detect the distortions between what the
intelligence community believed in private, and what it gave to the
When the public White Paper version was released in October, it sparked
strong protests from Democrats on the Senate intelligence panel who had
the classified version. They believed the public document slanted the
case toward the administration's view of the Iraqi threat. In
particular, Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), the panel's chairman at the time,
pushed the CIA to declassify more information.
Four days later, Tenet, in a letter to the committee, released more
information. Among the new items: The CIA believed that Iraqi President
Saddam Hussein would be unlikely to initiate a chemical or biological
attack against the United States unless provoked by U.S. military
"Should Saddam conclude that a U.S.-led attack could no longer be
deterred," he might launch a chemical-biological counterattack, Tenet's
Hussein also might "decide that the extreme step of assisting Islamist
terrorists in conducting a WMD [weapons of mass destruction] attack
against the United States would be his last chance to exact vengeance by
taking a large number of victims with him."
The CIA also declassified other elements of analysis that seem to back
up the president's assertion that Iraq has active ties to al Qaeda -- a
growing feature of the administration's case for considering military
action. Among the intelligence assessments linking Iraq to al Qaeda is
"credible reporting" that the group's "leaders sought contacts in Iraq
who could help them acquire WMD capabilities," according to the letter.
The Senate's request and Tenet's letter came when an increasing number
of intelligence officials, including former and current intelligence
agency employees, were concerned the agency was tailoring its public
stance to fit the administration's views.
Yesterday, speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," the Senate committee's
chairman, Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), said that had Congress known before the
vote to go to war what his committee has since discovered about the
intelligence on Iraq, "I doubt if the votes would have been there."
Roberts characterized some of the redacted parts of the Senate report as
"specific details that would make your eyebrows even raise higher."