WASHINGTON -- In a hard-hitting report released Friday, the U.S. Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence said the CIA and other agencies used unfounded "group think" assumptions to assess the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before last year's U.S. invasion and reached conclusions that were often "overstated," "unreasonable" or "not supported by the underlying intelligence."
The 511-page report, the product of the committee's yearlong investigation of pre-war intelligence on Iraq, also pointed to severe management problems at the CIA. The agency's director, George Tenet, announced his resignation last month for personal reasons and leaves office Sunday.
While the committee's nine Republicans and eight Democrats voted unanimously to release the report, they expressed some differences about whether the Bush administration exerted undue political pressure on the intelligence community to provide assessments that supported a decision to go to war in Iraq. And Democrats lamented that a second phase of the committee's investigation -- into how the administration used the intelligence it received -- will not be completed until well after the November elections.
In a joint news conference to present the report, the committee's Republican chairman and Democratic vice chairman agreed that the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies had suffered a massive intelligence failure in assessing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs in Iraq before the March 2003 U.S. invasion.
The intelligence community had told the president, the Congress and the American public that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein possessed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and would, if left unchecked, develop nuclear weapons, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the committee chairman, told the news conference.
"Today we know these assessments were wrong," he said. But, as the report shows, "they were also unreasonable and largely unsupported by the available intelligence," he added.
Among other findings, Roberts said, "the committee concluded that the intelligence community was suffering from ... a collective group-think." He said this caused the intelligence community "to interpret ambiguous elements ... as conclusive evidence of the existence of WMD programs," referring to weapons of mass destruction.
But the group-think also extended to U.S. allies, the United Nations and other countries, he said.
"This was a global intelligence failure," Roberts said.
He said the committee found the CIA riddled by "a broken corporate culture and poor management," but he insisted that political pressure from the Bush administration did not produce the faulty assessments.
"In the end, what the president and Congress used to send the country to war was provided by the intelligence community, and that information was flawed," Roberts said.
"This report cries out for reform." Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the committee's vice chairman, called the assessments of Iraq before the 2003 war "one of the most devastating intelligence failures in the history of the nation." He said in the same news conference, "We in Congress would not have authorized that war with 75 votes if we knew what we know now."
While the government "didn't connect the dots" in analyzing clues before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he said, "in Iraq we were even more culpable, because the dots themselves never existed."
The intelligence failures detailed in the report will affect U.S. national security for generations to come, Rockefeller said.
"Our credibility is diminished," he said. "Our standing in the world has never been lower. We have fostered a deep hatred of Americans in the Muslim world, and that will grow. As a direct consequence, our nation is more vulnerable today than ever before."
In the news conference, Roberts and Rockefeller displayed the partisan differences that have surfaced over the issue of political pressure on the CIA, a subject that Rockefeller said had produced "major disagreements" on the committee. He said he felt "that the definition of pressure was very narrowly drawn in the final report" and that statements by Tenet and other CIA officials indicated that such pressure existed.
Roberts said there was pressure from policy-makers to be "forward-leaning" and come up with information. But he said, "I do not think there is any evidence of undue pressure on any analysts" with regard to assessments of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
Roberts and Rockefeller also differed on whether, in hindsight, the war in Iraq was justified.
In response to a question, Roberts said he thought that "the war would have been different" and would have more closely resembled the U.S. military actions in Kosovo and Bosnia in the 1990s than the invasion that was carried out last year.
"I think it would have been argued differently," he said. "I think perhaps the battle plan would have been different." But he said he probably would have voted for the war.
The thick report, which was heavily redacted by the CIA, represents the first phase of a two-part review of intelligence on Iraq. Left for the second phase -- in a second report likely to come out sometime next year -- is the issue of the Bush administration's use of the intelligence that was provided to it.