CIA Declassifies ‘Oops’ Review on Iraq WMDs

John Glaser, September 05, 2012

In June, the CIA declassified a heavily redacted 2006 review of the intelligence failure on Iraq’s WMD in the lead up to the Bush administration’s 2003 invasion. Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, writing in Foreign Policy describes it as a mea culpa:

This remarkable CIA mea culpa, just declassified this summer and published here for the first time, describes the U.S. intelligence failure on Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction as the consequence of “analytic liabilities” and predispositions that kept analysts from seeing the issue “through an Iraqi prism.”

In reality, the document is much less remarkable when you consider how little a role the intelligence community’s findings played in the decision to invade Iraq. Much is made of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s WMD and how wrong it was, but as Paul Pillar – who was head of the CIA’s Mid East division during the march to war – has written, “the campaign to sell the war [emphasis in original] moved into high gear before the estimate was ever written.” And there is little in the document that speaks to the pressure the Bush administration heaped on the intelligence community to generate findings that would help justify the war, as opposed to ones that would get closer to the truth. Pillar also writes, “The interaction between Bush administration policymakers and the intelligence community about Iraqi weapons programs was entirely one of the administration’s pressing the community for juicier tidbits that would make more of an impression on the public when talking about Iraqi weapons programs.”

As Blanton notes, though, the document does acknowledge confirmation bias: ”Analysts tended to focus on what was most important to us — the hunt for WMD — and less on what would be most important for a paranoid dictatorship to protect. Viewed through an Iraqi prism, their reputation, their security, their overall technological capabilities, and their status needed to be preserved.” This is a reminder of how analogous the case of Iraq is to Iran right now. The case for war against Iran rests on a number of falsehoods, all of which flow from an inability to recognize the Iranian government’s central aim of self-preservation –  that is, “their reputation, their security, their overall technological capabilities, and their status,” none of which they seem willing to give up by building nuclear weapons (thereby losing what international support and credibility they have) and adopting an offensive posture (which would immediately invite war and possibly regime change).

Blanton writes that “the CIA took almost six years to release the report,” from the date of the declassification request, and asks, “How many years to learn the lessons?”




10 Responses to “CIA Declassifies ‘Oops’ Review on Iraq WMDs”

  1. At least we can be confident that the CIA is getting it right now.

    Excellent post, John.

  2. CIA slithers, Iraq is burned. John? Wouldn't "oops" be a war crime? Seems like it should be so.

  3. As a member of the Association Of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO), I can say that many CIA analysts concluded that invading Iraq would be an extremely poor choice and warned about the aftermath. The final intelligence estimate was contaminated and ignored all the data that said "No GO!" for the invasion. Dick Cheney made dozens of unprecedented visits to the CIA to intimidate low-level analysts with IQ's about 40 points higher than his, and the 5-step process involved in the collection, analysis and producing a final product for the President and Washington, DC policy makers was bastardized. Robert at Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) News at: _www.osintdaily.blogspot.com

  4. Thank you for exposing the intimidation practices of the Military Industrial Complex. Back when I worked for them I saw too much and they threatened me with Death under their badge of Federal authority if I did not falsely incriminate my self on Paper. It is interesting to note that The GHW Bush and James Baker owned the plant that manufactured the sarin nerve gas that Rumsfeld sold to Saddam who put the deadly instrument of warfare into common ordinance shells to deliver against Irani Human Waves attacks. I was exposed to sarin at Kafji Saudi Arabia Arabia/Kuwait on 5MAR91 from the sarin stock pile demolition on 3MAR91. Powell actually ordered the demolition and let 10,000 American gulf War Veterans die in order to cover it up, but some how suddenly found them again in 2003 to go to war with Iraq again.

  5. if you remember before they got their war in Iraq they kept telling the world that 3 mysterious ships loaded with biological and chemical weapons had left Iraq and were out on the sea somewhere, but then they got the ok for shock and awe and the 3 ships completely dissapeared from the military and media radar never to be spoken of again, also they claimed they knew that there was an alciada base just north of bagdad, but they never tried to explain why with thousands of sorties already been done in Iraq they did not bomb this location.

  6. Blanton writes that “the CIA took almost six years to release the report,” from the date of the declassification request, and asks, “How many years to learn the lessons?”

  7. The interaction between Bush administration policymakers and the intelligence community about Iraqi weapons programs was entirely one of the administration’s pressing the community for juicier tidbits that would make more of an impression on the public when talking about Iraqi weapons programs.”

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  10. Clinton Era was also sure of Iraq and WMD, 1998 bombing, look for "albright iraq 60 minutes" on google, etc. Was supposedly "worth it" for sanctions to supposedly result in 500,000 children's deaths in order to stop WMD.

    If Iraq had WMD, they had lots of time to destroy them or ship them off to Syria before west came, so never can prove.