Let's Not Politicize Intelligence!

David Corn
That’s the cry of defenders of the Bush administration who warn against making the MIA WMDs a political issue. They criticize Democrats for raising questions about the Bush administration’s credibility. They say that George W. Bush is right to give the new commission a 2005 deadline for its final report, so that its verdict will arrive after the presidential election.

But shouldn’t Bush’s handling of the WMD intelligence be debated during the 2004 campaign? Bush is running on his national security record. An important part of that record is how he made his case for war — how he reviewed the intelligence, and how he presented it to the public.

Two weeks ago David Kay, the recently resigned chief WMD hunter in Iraq, triggered a round of trouble for the administration when he said that he had concluded that there were no chemical or biological weapons to be found in Iraq and that Saddam Hussein had not revved up his nuclear weapons program. And Kay testified that it was not that Hussein had hid or destroyed his WMDs or shipped them off to another nation. Kay said that his team had found no evidence that Hussein, in the years after the first Gulf War, had developed any significant WMD production capabilities. This of course, was a direct challenge to Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, and other Bush aides who before the war had declared — no ifs, ands or buts —that they knew that Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and had reconstituted his nuclear weapons program.

This has led to charges of a massive intelligence failure. But the failure is not the sole property of the intelligence community. The record is clear that on many occasions, Bush and his lieutenants made dramatic assertions about Hussein’s WMDs and his supposed connection to al Qaeda that were not supported by the intelligence. Three examples from a long list:

* In October 2002, Bush said Hussein had a "massive" stockpile of biological weapons. But the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq — purportedly the most authoritative summation of the intelligence on Iraq — said intelligence analysts believed Hussein had a bioweapons program, not a collection of produced weapons as CIA director George Tenet said on Thursday, "we had no specific information on…stockpiles."
* Before the war, Bush said Hussein was "dealing with al Qaeda" and "on any give day" could slip the mass-murderers of 9/11 chemical and biological weapons. The NIE contained no indication there was an operational alliance between Hussein and al Qaeda, and it noted that intelligence analysts believed it was unlikely Hussein would share any weapons with these terrorists

* Bush and Dick Cheney repeatedly claimed Hussein had revived his nuclear weapons program and was perilously close to producing a bomb. In December 2002 Bush even said, "We don’t know whether or not he has a nuclear weapon"— a remark suggesting Hussein might have one. But the NIE did say Hussein did not have any nuclear weapons. It also said that it would take Hussein five to seven years to produce a nuclear weapon if his program were "left unchecked." But with an inspection process under way and sanctions still imposed, that program was
quite checked.

There are plenty of indications that Bush went beyond the intelligence assessments to hype the WMD threat. He and Cheney stated that the intelligence left "no doubt" that Hussein had serious WMD stockpiles. But the intelligence did contain doubt. Some intelligence analysts did note there was not enough information to claim Hussein had chemical weapons stockpiles or an active nuclear weapons program. The Bush administration though, sold its war with sensational
and unambiguous assertions — which so far have not proven true. Will the new commission investigate all this? Kay said he believes the inquiry should cover whether the administration "abused" the intelligence. And Bush maintained, "I want to know all the facts." But on the matter of his use or abuse of the intelligence, he already knows the facts. He knows what he did. Why shouldn’t the voters come November?

David Corn, Washington editor of "The Nation," is author of "The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception."  He is a Fox News contributor.