Intelligence, My Eye
Kay was the perfect choice to head up Bush’s search for Weapons
of Mass Destruction. He was in Iraq in 1991 with the UN inspection
team. He was one of the most visible and vocal believers in
the existence of WMDs in Iraq. And he was one of those who
thought only an invasion and occupation would allow us to
find and destroy them.
In short, no one wanted to find WMD more than David Kay.
In this effort he had not only motive but also opportunity.
The inspection team could go anywhere and everywhere. And
it did, in an effort that cost over $400 million.
When Kay’s final report concluded that Saddam Hussein had
no weapons of mass destruction that should have been the story.
For one day it was. That day the front-page headline in The
New York Times declared, “Iraq Illicit Arms Gone Before
War, Inspector States.”
Then the story took a fascinating, although in retrospect
distinctly unsurprising twist. David Kay added an entirely
new charge to his mission: to explain why we were wrong. This
created a problem. For while David Kay’s self-interest in
finding weapons was the reason why he was the best person
to lead the search, his self-interest in justifying his own
predictive failure made him the worst person to explain why
we had gone to war given that WMD did not exist.
Not surprisingly, Kay first declared that “we were almost
all wrong.” Then he blamed the CIA, not the White House or
the Pentagon or the State Department. Indeed, he insisted,
“I think if anyone was abused by the intelligence it was the
president of the United States.”
Within days President Bush had called for an independent commission.
Its charge would be limited to discovering how the intelligence
community could have been so inept. The commission will report
back after the election. The newspapers are now full of stories
about intelligence blunders.
Have we suffered from collective amnesia?
Have we forgotten that there were highly credible people who
were telling the White House that Iraq did not have weapons
of mass destruction? Scott Ritter, former intelligence officer
and senior official in the UN’s inspection team in Iraq for
seven years was one such highly visible—and highly credible—critic.
Back in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm, Ritter told his
superiors something they not only didn’t want to hear but
didn’t believe: that the allies had failed to destroy any
Iraqi Scud missile launchers. He was later vindicated.
Ritter indicated that as of 1998, when the UN team was withdrawn
from Iraq, 90-95 percent of its capacity to produce chemical
and biological weapons had been eliminated. And there was
no evidence that Iraq had nuclear weapons.
In the halls of Congress and on the editorial pages of The
Wall Street Journal Ritter’s well-reasoned argument was
dismissed as the ravings of a lunatic. He was accused of being
in the pay of Saddam Hussein.
When asked about Ritter’s allegations, Richard Butler, Ritter’s
old boss at the United Nations weapons inspection team said
on CNN, “I don’t know why. I’m not a psychoanalyst.” David
Kay told Congress, “I cannot explain it on the basis of known
facts.” Secretary of State Colin Powell contrasted his own
scientific approach with that of Ritter, “We have facts, not
Ritter wasn’t the only credible skeptic. Have we forgotten
the repeated rebuttals of assertions by the White House of
mobile and underground biological labs by Hans Blix, head
of the UN inspection team in 2003? Have we forgotten the terse
refutation by Mohamed El Baradei, head of the International
Atomic Energy Agency, of the Pentagon assertion that Iraq
had nuclear weapons?
Have we forgotten the flurry of stories in national newspapers
in late 2002 and early 2003 that described how the White House
and Pentagon were pressuring the CIA to come up with “intelligence”
that would support their position? In March 2003 the Washington
Post quoted a senior administration official with access
to the latest intelligence who said, “I have seen all the
stuff. I certainly have doubts.” The United States, he said,
will “face significant problems in trying to find” such weapons.
Have we forgotten how Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
set up an intelligence unit in the Pentagon to help him undermine
the CIA’s cautionary intelligence reports on Iraq?
as it prepares for war against Iraq, the Pentagon is already
engaged on a second front: its war against the Central Intelligence
Agency,” wrote Robert Dreyfuss in The American Prospect
in December 2002. Dreyfuss quotes Vincent Cannistraro, a former
senior CIA official and counter-terrorism expert who describes
the “tremendous pressure on (the CIA) to come up with information
to support policies that have already been adopted.”
What should be done? First, insist that those who got it right,
like Scott Ritter, become regular commentators on Iraq on
network and cable news stations. Second, widen the mandate
of the commission so that it can examine whether and to what
extent the intelligence community was bypassed or compromised
by the White House and Pentagon. Third, ask the commission
to report back before the election.
And finally, stop asking David Kay for advice and counsel.
He’s admitted he was wrong. He’s refused to own up to the
reason for his mistake. Such behavior deserves no reward.