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New WMD Report Slams Bush White House

A report authored by a leading think-tank represents the most serious blow thus far to the administration's case for war.
 
 
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Three leading non-proliferation experts from a prominent think tank charge that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush "systematically misrepresented" the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

In a 107-page report released Thursday, Jessica Mathews, Joseph Cirincione and George Perkovich of the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) call for the creation of an independent commission to fully investigate what the U.S. intelligence community knew, or believed it knew, about the true state of Iraq's WMD program between 1991 and 2003.

They say that the probe should also determine whether intelligence analyses were tainted by foreign intelligence agencies or political pressure. Cirincione told reporters, "It is very likely that intelligence officials were pressured by senior administration officials to conform their threat assessments to pre-existing policies."

The Carnegie analysts also found "no solid evidence" of a co-operative relationship between the government of ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaeda terrorist group, nor any evidence to support the claim that Iraq would have transferred WMD to al-Qaeda under any circumstances. "The notion that any government would give its principal security assets to people it could not control in order to achieve its own political aims is highly dubious," the report claims.

In addition the report, 'WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications', concludes that the United Nations inspection process, which was aborted when the agency withdrew its inspectors on the eve of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq last March, "appears to have been much more successful than recognized before the war".

The report, the most comprehensive public analysis so far of the administration's WMD claims and what has been found in Iraq, is likely to reinforce widespread allegations that Bush and his top aides deliberately misled Congress and the public into going to war.

Secretary of State Colin Powell's response has been to claim that he is "confident" of the claims that he presented to the U.N. Security Council last February. Powell says that his presentation represented the views of the intelligence community. "I was representing them," he said. "It was information they had presented publicly, and they stand behind it".

Media attention on the WMD issue has cooled since last month's capture of Saddam and a visible rise in the U.S. military's confidence in fighting the bloody insurgency. But the report is being released just as two congressional committees are resuming their own probes of U.S. pre-war intelligence on WMD, which were interrupted by the long Christmas recess.

The report also comes amid new indications that the administration itself has decided that its pre-war claims about Iraq's WMD were wrong.

The New York Times reported Thursday that a 400-member military team has been quietly withdrawn from the 1,400-member Iraq Survey Group (ISG) that has spent months scouring Iraq at a cost of nearly one billion dollars for evidence of WMD programs.

The withdrawal follows a previous cutback in mid-December, when ISG head David Kay had told his superiors at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) he planned to leave as early as the end of January. Kay, a former U.N. inspector who had long charged Saddam with holding vast supplies of WMD, submitted an interim report last October stating that no such weapons had been found. "I think it's pretty clear by now that they don't expect to find anything at all," said one administration official.

The Carnegie report comes on the heels of an extraordinarily lengthy article by Wednesday's Washington Post, which concluded that Iraq's WMD programs were effectively abandoned after the 1991 Gulf War. The article, which confirmed that Iraq was developing new missile technology, was based on interviews with the country's top weapons scientists and mostly unnamed U.S. and British investigators who went to Iraq after the war.

The Carnegie report is the most serious blow yet to the administration's credibility. The think-tank is the publisher of 'Foreign Policy' journal, and while its general political orientation is slightly left of center, it has long been studiously non-partisan, and also houses rightwing figures, such as neoconservative writer Robert Kagan. Carnegie President Mathews traveled to Iraq last September as part of a bipartisan group of highly respected national-security analysts invited by the Pentagon to assess the situation on the ground.

The report, which is based on declassified documents on Iraq filed by U.N. weapons inspectors and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), concedes that Iraq's WMD programs could have resumed and might have posed a long-term threat that could not be ignored. But, the authors write, "they did not pose an immediate threat to the United States, to the region or to global security."

Despite Vice President Dick Cheney's insistence early last year that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program, the Carnegie report concludes there was "no convincing evidence" that it had done so, and U.S. intelligence should have been aware of that fact. Similarly, with respect to Baghdad's chemical weapons, U.S. intelligence should have known that all facilities for producing them had been effectively destroyed and that existing stockpiles had lost their potency as early as 1991.

Uncertainties regarding Iraq's biological weapons program were greater, the report concludes. Dual-use equipment and facilities, however, made it theoretically possible for some limited production of both chemical and biological weapons to occur. As of the beginning of 2002, say the authors, the intelligence community was overestimating the chemical and biological weapons in Iraq, but had a generally accurate picture of both the nuclear and missile programs.

But in 2002, intelligence officials appear to have made a "dramatic shift" in their analyses. The fact that this change coincided with the creation of the Office of Special Plans (OSP) in the Pentagon -- a still-mysterious group of intelligence analysts and consultants hired by prominent hawks to assess the U.S. intelligence reporting -- "suggests that the intelligence community began to be unduly influenced by policymakers' views some time in 2002."

But beyond the failures of the intelligence community, the authors claim, "administration officials systematically misrepresented the threat from Iraq's WMD and ballistic missile programs" in several ways. To begin with, they treated the three different kinds of WMD as a single threat when, in fact, they represented very different threats. Second, they insisted without evidence that Saddam would give whatever WMD he had to terrorists. Third, they routinely omitted "caveats, probabilities, and expressions of uncertainty present in intelligence assessments from (their) public statements".

In addition, the Bush administration misrepresented findings by U.N. inspectors "in ways that turned threats from minor to dire."

The strategic implications of the failure of U.S. intelligence to provide accurate information on Iraq, when there was no imminent threat, should call into question the administration's new national security doctrine of pre-emptive military action, say the authors. As applied in Iraq, the authors say, "(The) doctrine is actually a loose standard for preventive war under the cloak of legitimate preemption."

Jim Lobe writes on international affairs for Inter Press Service, Oneworld.net, Foreign Policy in Focus and AlterNet.org.