- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Iraq WMD Commission: Why Was Intelligence “Dead Wrong”?

| Spring 2005

On March 31, 2005, the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, concluded that the "Intelligence Community was dead wrong in almost all of its pre-war judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction." Co-chaired by Laurence H. Silberman and Charles S. Robb, theWMD Commission presented its findings toPresident Bush after a year of intense researchand interviews.

Several Belfer Center experts asked to participate in the investigation included GrahamAllison, Ashton Carter, Elaine Kamarck, and Juliette Kayyem. Sean Davis, a recent Kennedy School graduate affiliated with the Preventive Defense Project, served as a professional staff member on the Commission. The Commission made a number of recommendations to correct intelligence community weaknesses, which it said included a lack of strong leadership and an over-reliance on assumptions, as well as poor information collection, information sharing, analysis, and communication.

In his meeting with Commission members, Graham Allison emphasized the need for "spies and shooters"  who could have helped prevent 9/11 and the intelligence failure in Iraq. He warned that "for the continuing absence of competent spies and shooters, the U.S. stands gravely vulnerable to a nuclear terrorist attack a thousand times deadlier than the assault on the World Trade Center and Pentagon."

In a formal hearing with the Commission, Ash Carter concentrated on the need to overhaul counterproliferation efforts as part of a greater intelligence management problem. Carter is cited in the report as describing "today's intelligence community as ‘not so much poorly managed as unmanaged.'"

Elaine Kamarck met with co-chair Charles Robb and with the Commission staff. She xplained how organizational innovation in the federal government might apply to the intelligence community. "For the  intelligence community to effectively monitor the new challenges which arise from nonstate based actors it will have to adapt its traditional organization- and look to new organizational forms, such as networks, as a way to monitor 21st century threats."

Juliette Kayyem, who also spoke with the Commission staff, summed up the Commission's objectives. "Previous commissions have approached intelligence reform by trying to assess how intelligence can be better shared and processed. This Commission tries to examine not how the deck chairs are arranged, but the content of how we actually get intelligence- from human intelligence sources to

how the intelligence community portrays doubt or equivocation. That is an important contribution, regardless of whether you agree that politics had anything to do with the WMD fiasco."

Sarah Dorland is a Belfer Center research


For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Dorland, Sarah. Iraq WMD Commission: Why Was Intelligence “Dead Wrong”?.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Spring 2005).

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