WASHINGTON – The U.S. intelligence community overstated the threat Saddam Hussein posed to the United States and used less-than-100 percent credible information to justify the war in Iraq, the Senate Intelligence Committee found in a scathing report issued Friday.
"Before the war, the U.S. intelligence community told the president, as well as the Congress and the public, that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and if left unchecked, probably would have a nuclear weapon this decade," Roberts said during the press conference. "Well, today we know these assessments were wrong."
The committee released its conclusions but not its recommendations and is still working with the CIA to declassify as much as possible; about 80 pages remain secret.
The report says U.S. intelligence analysts remained objective, but got careless, which may have led them to overestimate the threat Iraq posed to the United States, officials said. It also says U.S. officials relied too much on intelligence information from Iraqi dissidents and exiles who may have had their own agenda and didn't penetrate Saddam's inner circle effectively enough.
"The fact is, the administration, at all levels and to some extent, us [Congress], used bad information to bolster its case for war," Rockefeller said. "And we in Congress would not have authorized that war — we would not have authorized that war with 75 votes — if we knew what we know now."
"Leading up to September 11, our government didn't connect the dots. In Iraq, we were even more culpable because the dots themselves never existed," Rockefeller continued.
But the committee concluded that intelligence analysts were not pressured to change or tailor their views to support arguments for the invasion of Iraq.
"I think it's important to know that the intelligence they gave was under their judgment -- the right perception," Sen. John Corzine, D-N.J., told FOX News on Friday.
President Bush called it a "useful report" about where the intelligence community "went short."
"We need to know. I want to know. I want to know how to make the agencies better," he said at a political stop Friday in Kutztown, Pa. But "we thought there were going to be stockpiles of weapons ... I'll tell you what we did know — Saddam Hussein had the ability to make a weapon."
As it turned out Secretary of State Colin Powell used some flawed material to try to convince the United Nations to support war with Iraq.
But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, "The basic case was a correct one. Iraq wanted weapons of mass destruction."
Bush's presumptive general election opponent took the opportunity to point the finger of blame at the White House.
"Nothing in this report absolves the White House of its responsibility for mishandling of the country's intelligence," Mark Kitchens, spokesman for presidential hopeful John Kerry, said in a statement. "The fact is that when it comes to national security, the buck stops at the White House, not anywhere else."
CIA Deputy Director — and soon to be interim director — John McLaughlin responded to the report, noting that the CIA had just a month to put together the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, which concluded that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction — a big focus of the report.
"We understand that all that we have learned since then [Sept. 11] that we could have done better," he said. But "the Senate report is an in-depth look at essentially one document on one issue — an important one to be sure … in other words, it is wrong to exaggerate the flaws" about intelligence on Iraq and make it appear as if those shortcomings are characteristic of all the CIA's work.
No Evidence of 'Political Pressure'
The committee found no evidence that the intelligence community's mischaracterization or misinterpretation "was the result of politics or pressure," Roberts said. "In the end, what the president and the Congress used to send the country to war was info that was provided by the intelligence community and that information was flawed."
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., told FOX News that intelligence officers are trained to be "above political pressure."
"They're trained as part of their tradition to state the facts, to bring the evidence, to bring the truth to the president who's the ultimate user of intelligence," Shelby said. "Whatever environment you might be in, if it's one where there might be hostilities, it's up to the intelligence community to still stay with the facts and nothing else."
Outgoing CIA Director George Tenet (search) has always maintained that, "no one told us what to say or how to say it."
"The men and women of the American intelligence community are not motivated or guided by political or personal agendas," McLaughlin said. "They are highly skilled, highly dedicated professionals, committed to protecting and defending the American people."
The Partisan Rift
But in a sign that Democrats are at odds with Republicans over just how strong a role the White House may have played in allegedly "shaping" the intelligence, Rockefeller said the report simply doesn't recognize the "intense pressure" the intelligence community felt from the administration to support White House policies when "the most senior officials in the Bush administration" had already stated their conclusions.
"It was clear to us in this room … that they had made up their mind to go to war," Rockefeller said, adding that he regretted his vote authorizing the war.
Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett told FOX News that Rockefeller's comments were "quite disappointing."
"I think he used it as an opportunity to try to score political points against the administration," Bartlett said, although Rockefeller earlier insisted, "it's not politics, it's a matter of policy."
"The equation the president had to face in a 9/11 world is, are we going to face threats or are we going to let them fester?" Bartlett added. "We do know that Saddam Hussein was a threat and it was the right thing to do to remove him from power."
National security analyst Edward Turzanski said "there's some frustration" from Democrats because they didn't think the intelligence was honestly compiled and will argue that the administration "cherry picked" information that supported its policies.
The independent commission probing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, recently concluded that there was no connection between Iraq and the attacks but didn't rule out a general Iraq-Al Qaeda connection.
Riding the 'Assumption Train'
The group concluded that the intelligence community suffered from "collective group think" which led to the presumption that Iraq had an active and growing weapons of mass destruction program.
"This group think caused the community to interpret ambiguous evidence such as the procurement of dual use technology" to mean Iraq had an active weapons program, Roberts said. "It is clear that this group think also extended to our allies" and other nations, "all of whom did believe that Saddam Hussein did have active WMD program."
"This was a global intelligence failure," Roberts added.
The report also concluded that:
— In "a few significant instances," the NIE suffered from a "layering affect" where threat assessments were based on some uncertainties, which led to an "intelligence assumption train"
— Intelligence managers failed to encourage analysts to challenge assumptions and counsel analysts who may have lost their objectivity
—There were significant shortcomings on "almost every aspect on the intelligence community in human intelligence collection efforts against the Iraqi WMD target"
— After 1998 and the exit of U.N. inspectors, the CIA had no human intelligence sources inside Iraq who were collecting against the WMD targets; what sensitive information the CIA could get wasn't shared
"Most, if not all, of the problems stem from a broken corporate culture and poor management and cannot be solved by simply adding funding and personnel," Roberts said.
Tenet has maintained that in the past two years, human intelligence there has been dramatically boosted.
"In this case, we missed big time on 9/11 and we missed big time in Iraq and the CIA structurally, institutionally, has to take a lot of blame for that," former FBI special agent and Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating told FOX News.
Tenet, who is officially leaving the agency on Sunday, has been director of central intelligence for nine years. Lawmakers were asked if the move of Tenet — who has been praised by Republicans and Democrats alike for his leadership in the agency — will help reform the agency.
"I think it's very important that we quit looking in the rear view mirror and affixing blame ... that's not what this report is about," Rockefeller said.