Weak human intelligence-gathering capability and limited data prevented U.S. intelligence analysts from figuring out that Iraq did not have large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, the CIA’s former chief arms inspector told Congress yesterday.
“It turns out we were all wrong, probably, in my judgment, and that is most disturbing,” David Kay told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“I believe that the effort that has been directed to this point has been sufficiently intense that it is highly unlikely that there were large stockpiles of deployed, militarized chemical and biological weapons there,” said Mr. Kay, who resigned earlier this month as director of the Iraq Survey Group.
The testimony set off a debate among Republican and Democrat committee members over whether the Bush administration used faulty intelligence as a basis for going to war in Iraq.
“When lives are at stake and our military is going to be placed in harm’s way — in other words, when we decide to go to war — it is totally unacceptable to have intelligence that is this far off or to exaggerate or shape intelligence for any purpose by anybody,” said Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and ranking member of the committee.
Committee Chairman Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, defended the Bush administration and said hidden arms might yet be found.
“We better not pronounce ‘we’re all wrong’ yet, because I think until we have finished the work … I think we better hold such conclusion in abeyance,” Mr. Warner said.
Iraq was found to be working on chemical, biological and nuclear arms “on a large scale,” Mr. Warner said.
Mr. Kay said the Iraqi government’s cheating and lying to United Nations contributed to the intelligence failure because it led analysts to jump to false conclusions.
None of the intelligence analysts involved in producing estimates on Iraq’s arms told him they were pressured to skew analyses to support policy, Mr. Kay said.
Instead, analysts told him that they had limited information on the arms programs.
U.S. intelligence also lacked human agents on the ground and relied too much on information from foreign intelligence services, he said.
An overemphasis on the use of electronic and photographic intelligence resulted in bad intelligence, he noted.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, accused the Bush administration of manipulating intelligence on Iraq’s weapons to justify going to war.
Mr. Kay, in his testimony, said it was not the president who had misused intelligence. Intelligence analysts got their assessments wrong and, as a result, “abused” the president.
Mr. Kay said he concluded that with 85 percent of the work of the 1,400-member Iraq Survey Group complete, he is convinced that intelligence indicating Iraq had large stocks of chemical or biological arms and developed nuclear program were wrong.
Systematic looting after the fall of Baghdad in April led to the destruction of documents that might have shed light on the hidden arms, Mr. Kay said.
As a result, when the work of arms searchers is finished, “there is still going to be an unresolvable ambiguity about what happened,” he said.
Mr. Kay said he supported removing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from power because of the danger that his “totally corrupt” regime would sell weapons-related goods to terrorists or other rogue states.
“In a world where we know others are seeking [weapons of mass destruction], the likelihood at some point in the future of a seller and a buyer meeting up would have made that a far more dangerous country than even we anticipated with what may turn out not to be a fully accurate [intelligence] estimate,” he said.
Communications intercepts of Saddam’s conversations before the war indicated there was “secret stockpiles” of arms, but they never were found, Mr. Kay said.
Also, reports that Iraq had deployed chemical weapons for use against advancing U.S. and allied troops also turned out to be false, he said.
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