U.S. intelligence agencies have a mixed record in supplying data to policy-makers and in the past have missed important events, senior defense and military leaders said yesterday.
“We’re living in a time of surprise and where it is possible to be surprised,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon. “And we were surprised on September 11, and 3,000 people lost their lives.”
Mr. Rumsfeld spoke after the announcement last week that President Bush has formed a commission to look into intelligence failures, including those related to Iraq’s weapons. He said he uses intelligence cautiously in making decisions that involve the lives of military forces.
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that U.S. intelligence agencies have had both successes and failures.
“It is not a perfect art, and it’s certainly not a perfect science,” said Gen. Myers, appearing with Mr. Rumsfeld. “But I am convinced they’re trying to do the best work they can do for this country of ours. They have had great successes, and they sometimes miss the mark. That’s the nature of their business.”
Former CIA weapons inspector David Kay disclosed recently that U.S. intelligence agencies were wrong in asserting that Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical and biological arms.
The CIA has said arms inspectors in Iraq need more time to complete the search for hidden, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in Iraq.
Mr. Rumsfeld said three years ago he told Congress that shortcomings of U.S. intelligence are one of the things that “kept me up at night in this job.”
“I said it because I’ve been around long enough to know that in a big, complicated world with closed societies, people determined not to have you know something, and with the growing lethality of weapons and the increasing availability of those increasingly lethal weapons, your margin for error is less,” he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the presidential commission announced last week is looking to better arrange intelligence capabilities to “help defend the American people in this new century,” and that both he and Gen. Myers have not made a decision in the past three years based on “perfect information.”
“Policy-makers end up giving advice based on the best information available at that time, and you constantly want to get the best information,” he said. “So that’s why you do lessons learned. That’s why you have reviews of things.”
Mr. Rumsfeld said before the conflict that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons. So far, no weapons have been found.
On Capitol Hill, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, yesterday said Mr. Bush did a “great job” on Sunday during a television interview of “bringing some perspective back” to the war on terror. Mr. Bush appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Mr. DeLay said the furor over weapons of mass destruction has “dumbed-down and diminished” the war on terror.
“Saddam Hussein was the weapon of mass destruction,” Mr. DeLay said.
Mr. DeLay said he realizes that “a lot of things are sacrificed” in a presidential election year. “America’s unity of purpose in this war on terror shouldn’t be one of those things,” he said.
Amy Fagan contributed to this report.