We Didn't Know Nothing

Click here for a link to a declassified US study on why no WMDs were found in Iraq. It is heavily redacted but enough of it comes through to trace the general narrative. The basic finding is that the CIA had been getting it wrong since the early 1990s.


Tragedy of Errors

Foreign Policy calls it a “classified mea culpa”. It highlights this section. “Given Iraq’s extensive history of deception and only small changes in outward behavior, analysts did not spend adequate time examining the premise that the Iraqis had undergone a change in their behavior, and that what Iraq was saying by the end of 1995 was, for the most part, accurate.”

There was no sudden intelligence failure caused by Blackwater, George Bush and Dick Cheney. The intelligence community had been getting it wrong for a long time. Analysts determined that Saddam Hussein had been engaged in a policy of “cheat and retreat” from 1991 and onward and thereafter saw things through that prism.

Once the lens had been fixed, it stayed fixed.

The report on page 4 says that the defection of Hussein Kamel al-Majid, “the son-in-law and second cousin of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. He defected to Jordan and assisted United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection teams assigned to look for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq” marked the turning point in Iraq’s program of deception. Probably believing the CIA now knew the truth, Saddam decided to play it straight. But as the report on page 4 says, the intelligence community didn’t believe Saddam even then.


The report will doubtless comfort those who never believed that George W. Bush had distorted intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq. But its principle significance is the manner in which it documents a decade long screw up.  The question it implicitly raises: why should anyone think that US intelligence is getting it right on Iran now?

The Iranians could have:

  • more
  • fewer
  • many more
  • no

nuclear weapons in development. Choose one answer and make sure you mark it heavily. The exam will be graded by history in a few decades. How do we know which the correct answer is? Well let’s ask the CIA. What could go wrong?

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