Jack Kelly: Fault analysis
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When David Kay, the just-resigned head of the Iraq Survey Group, said he had found no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and didn't think there were any there to be found, many editorial writers and columnists concluded that President Bush had misled the nation.
Jack Kelly is national security writer for the Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio (email@example.com, 412-263-1476).
"Iraq Posed No WMD Threat," headlined the Seattle Post-Intelligencer over its editorial. "Weasel Wording to Justify War" said the Palm Beach Post. "Kay Report Makes French Look Good," headlined the Dayton Daily News.
But Kay also said there was ample evidence of ongoing WMD programs in Iraq, and programs to build missiles with longer ranges than permitted by U.N. resolutions. There were indications, he said, that some weapons of mass destruction may have been moved to Syria. These statements received little attention from journalists.
"We have discovered hundreds of cases, based on both documents, physical evidence and the testimony of Iraqis, of activities that were prohibited under the initial U.N. resolution 687 and that should have been reported under 1441, with Iraqi testimony that not only did they not tell the U.N. about this, they were instructed not to do it and they hid the material," Kay told the Senate Armed Services committee Jan. 28.
U.S. intelligence agencies badly overestimated the amount of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and were wrong to think the Iraqi nuclear program had been restarted, Kay said. Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Ted Kennedy D-Mass., charged that President Bush had exaggerated the intelligence given him, or pressured intelligence analysts to exaggerate the threat. But Kay politely rebuffed them. Not only did the Clinton administration share the Bush view of the Iraqi WMD threat, so did the intelligence services of Britain, France, and Germany, Kay said.
"I actually think the intelligence community owes the president [an apology] rather than the president owing [one to] the American people," he said. "We were almost all wrong. I had innumerable analysts who came to me in apology that the world we were finding was not the world they had thought existed. ... Never -- not in a single case -- was the explanation 'I was pressured to do this.' "
Though Bush has never said Iraq posed an "imminent" threat, Kay told the senators he thought Saddam's regime had. "I think it was reasonable to conclude Iraq posed an imminent threat," Kay told the senators. "What we learned in the inspection made Iraq a more dangerous place, potentially, than we thought it was even before the war." Though Kay doubts large stocks of banned weapons will be found, Iraq's foreign minister expressed confidence Jan. 29 that they would be.
What Kay called a "fundamental fault analysis" needs to be undertaken to find out why U.S. intelligence was apparently so far off base on Iraq. But it can't be a partisan witch hunt.
The first thing to do is to put the failure of the CIA, NSA, et al. in perspective. The job of intelligence agencies is to ferret out secrets that other countries want to keep hidden. Dictatorships are awfully good at keeping things hidden. Kay suspects that Saddam thought he had a more robust WMD program than he did. Subordinates were lying to him and pocketing money. But if the dictator of Iraq didn't have a clue about Iraq's WMD programs, how reasonable is it to expect that the CIA would?
The first thing not to do is to hunt for scapegoats. In the wake of Kay's comments, some conservatives have been howling for the head of CIA Director George Tenet. But lopping off its head does little to change dysfunction in a large bureaucracy, and the CIA's problems long predate Tenet's arrival at Langley.
But if Tenet were to be fired, it's hard to disagree with former Assistant Defense Secretary Frank Gaffney that his replacement should be Kay. "Dr. Kay could be relied on to do what he has been doing ever since he got back from Iraq -- speaking truth to power," Gaffney said.
First Published February 1, 2004 12:00 am