In this special episode of “Intelligence Matters,” host Michael Morell speaks with five former senior CIA officers about the agency’s work before, during and after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. With personal recollections and reflections, Morell offers a candid walkthrough of what the CIA and other intelligence agencies assessed about Saddam Hussein’s intentions and weapons programs in the lead-up to the invasion, how intelligence was used within the U.S. government throughout this period, and how the consequences of the CIA’s missteps – as well as its successes — continue to reverberate today.
- Morell on CIA’s performance: “As many people know, some of our work reflected the worst the Agency had to offer. Few people know, however, that some of our work also reflected the best the Agency had to offer. If there is a theme to this episode, that is it. We are going to talk about the Agency’s work on Iraq with the help of five CIA officers who were either directly involved or who had a front row seat to the war. As a senior agency manager, I had a front seat as well. What you are going to hear are my personal views as well as the personal views of my five colleagues.”
- CIA’S assessment of Iraq: “So how wrong were we? We were wrong on the chemical weapons judgment, we were wrong on the biological weapons judgment, and we were wrong on the nuclear weapons judgment. Saddam no longer had these programs. He had stopped them. He had disarmed.”
- Intelligence confidence levels: “There is a big difference between saying, on the one hand, ‘Mr. President, we think he has these weapons, and we have high confidence in that view’ and on the other hand, ‘Mr. President, we think he has these weapons, but what you really need to know is that we only have low confidence in that.'”
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“Intelligence Matters” transcript: Michael Morell
Producer: Olivia Gazis
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and in this episode, we are going to look back at the war. Specifically, we are going to look at the many roles played by CIA during the war, and we are going to talk about the long-term consequences of the conflict.
In playing those roles, the Agency’s performance was mixed. As many people know, some of our work reflected the worst the Agency had to offer. Few people know, however, that some of our work also reflected the best the Agency had to offer. If there is a theme to this episode, that is it.
We are going to talk about the Agency’s work on Iraq with the help of five CIA officers who were either directly involved or who had a front row seat to the war. As a senior agency manager, I had a front seat as well. What you are going to hear are my personal views as well as the personal views of my five colleagues.
We will be right back with that discussion after a break.
I’m Michael Morell. And this is a special episode of Intelligence Matters.
“CBS Evening News” — March 19, 2003
VOG: This is the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather reporting from CBS News Headquarters in New York.
RATHER: Good evening. He said he wouldn’t. There’s no indication he did. No indication Saddam Hussein left Iraq tonight – the deadline for avoiding a U.S. invasion. An invasion that could come as soon as tonight.
The invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003, and it was just the start of what would become a years-long, complex mix of military operations, intelligence activities, and political initiatives to stabilize post-war Iraq and to deal with the consequences.
CIA’s work on the Iraq War included analysis and operation both before and after the invasion. We’re going to walk through it all.
Let’s start pre-invasion, and let’s start with the most well-known issue – CIA’s deeply flawed assessment that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had an active weapons of mass destruction program.
The Early Show – October 8, 2002
FRANKEL: President Bush is calling Saddam Hussein a homicidal dictator who poses a clear threat to the United States. Mr. Bush gave his reasons for confronting Iraq in a speech last night in Cincinnati.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.
FRANKEL: The president says these satellite photos show two operational nuclear installations inside Iraq and he argues the time to act is now.
Pres. BUSH: Saddam Hussein must disarm himself or, for the sake of peace, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.
CIA’s views on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were outlined in an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate or NIE. An NIE is the most authoritative product of the U.S. Intelligence Community. It is coordinated across the many agencies that make up the Intelligence Community, and it is approved by the head of each one.
In this NIE, which was titled “Iraq’s Continuing Programs of Weapons of Mass Destruction,”
CIA made four judgments about Iraq’s WMD programs – (1) that Saddam had chemical weapons, (2) that he had biological weapons, (3) that he was pursuing a nuclear weapon, and (4) that he was expanding his missile force in order to be able to deliver these weapons.
MAKRIDIS: Sadly, we were wrong on most of them.
MAKRIDIS I’m Andy Makridis and I was the president’s briefer from 2002 to 2004. And then after that, I ran the nuclear group. At the agency.
So how wrong were we? We were wrong on the chemical weapons judgment, we were wrong on the biological weapons judgment, and we were wrong on the nuclear weapons judgment. Saddam no longer had these programs. He had stopped them. He had disarmed.
For what it’s worth, we were mostly right on the missile judgment.
There were many reasons CIA was wrong on the WMD judgments, and those included both collection and analytic failures.
On collection, CIA and NSA, the National Security Agency, did not penetrate Saddam’s inner circle to the point where the United States would have known what Saddam had really done, what Saddam was really up to:
–that he had given up his WMD programs but did not want the Iranians to know, so he kept the disarmament a secret;
–that he thought the CIA was so good that it would see through that secret and know that the weapons were gone;
–that, once this happened, the U.S. would lift the sanctions against Iraq that were strangling his economy; and
–that once sanctions were lifted, Saddam would be free to re-arm.
We know this because Saddam told us this during his captivity. There is, of course, reason to be skeptical of Saddam, but we believed him because his mindset at that point was that he was certain to be executed, and he wanted his life story told. He was not dissembling. And, what he told us also fit the facts.
The collection failure is significant because had collectors seen what Saddam had done, the analytic failure on WMD could not, and would not, have happened.
Without good collection, however, the analysts were left on their own. And the analysts made their own mistakes. The causes of those mistakes were numerous, and I want to touch on just some of them, the ones I see as most important.
One resulted from the fact that Saddam in the 1980s, prior to the first Gulf War in the early 90s, did have chemical and biological weapons. And he did have a program to build nuclear weapons.
We knew that Saddam had WMD in the 80s. After all, he had used chemical weapons against the Iranians and against his own people in the 1980s. And, we monitored his nuclear program for years.
After the Gulf War, we even learned that Saddam’s nuclear program, at that point dismantled, was further along than we had known before the war. We had missed aspects of it.
This history colored the analysts’ approach to the question of whether he had WMD in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Andy Makridis shares with us the analysts’ mentality.
MAKRIDIS: The idea that he would sort of withdraw or pull back from his WMD programs just wasn’t in the cards. Of course, he’s trying to keep those things because they create regime stability. It’s his defense against the West. We won’t mess with you if you have WMD.
MAKRIDIS: It’s hard to think about. That someone will voluntarily stop the WMD programs, and certainly he was under extreme UN sanctions.
This first analytic mistake was a failure to be open to all possibilities.
This led to another analytic mistake: confirmation bias.
MAKRIDIS: We were looking for stuff that confirmed our hypotheses as opposed to looking at everything.
The analysts took confirmation bias to the extreme, even when considering what they were not seeing.
In the second paragraph of the paper’s summary, the analysts wrote what is in retrospect an amazing sentence. They said quote “We lack specific information on many key aspects of Iraq’s WMD programs.” Unquote.
MAKRIDIS: So right away, we’re telling the reader there’s a lot that we don’t know. However, we make relatively authoritative judgments, definitive judgments in the rest of the body of the key judgments.
MAKRIDIS: You’re left with this cognitive dissonance thing where one part of your brain saying, well, we don’t know. And then you read the rest saying, Yes, we do know.
Instead of asking, is it possible that we’re not seeing more because we are wrong, the analysts explained the lack of information by saying Saddam was practicing, quote “vigorous denial and deception efforts” Unquote. In making this point, the analysts pointed to something they knew – that Saddam had practiced extensive denial and deception of his WMD programs before the first Gulf War.
But history turned out to be a bad guide.
MAKRIDIS: For the first war, we underestimated across the board how far along Saddam was. And you can’t unknow that. And so when you come in and you say, we know he’s denying, because, clearly he was further along the first time. So there must be more we’re not seeing.
So, it turned out that Saddam was also undertaking denial and deception in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but this time it was working in reverse. He was pretending to have the weapons when he really did not. He was bluffing.
MAKRIDIS: He began to withdraw from his WMD programs in 91, 92, that timeframe after the after the Desert Storm. And he didn’t really make it public.
He continued to try to obfuscate all the things that he was doing. He was almost hiding weakness. He didn’t tell all the members of his regime. He created a lot of smoke.
Another analytic mistake that was made was what intelligence experts call “layering.”
MAKRIDIS: What you can see in some of these is a layering effect, and that’s sort of layering judgments one on top of other without carrying forward the uncertainties of each layer.
You’re left with a judgment that has a lot of uncertainty surrounding it, but you don’t see it.
A final error to mention is that the analysts did not put rigor into thinking about the level of confidence they claimed that they had in their judgments. On all the weapons judgments, the analysts said they had high confidence. But these confidence levels were an afterthought. They were not the result of rigorous critical thinking. They were based on the history we just discussed.
In fact, the text of the NIE included caveats, not a lot of them, but enough to notice. Had the analysts taken those caveats into account and had they rigorously assessed the dated nature of the information underlying their judgments and the poor quality of the sourcing behind that information, I believe their confidence would have been lower. I believe they would have had only “low” confidence — on a scale of low, medium, and high.
That would have led to a very different message to the President. There is a big difference between saying, on the one hand, “Mr. President, we think he has these weapons, and we have high confidence in that view” and on the other hand, “Mr. President, we think he has these weapons, but what you really need to know is that we only have low confidence in that.”
I think it is important to note here that, while I keep saying the analysts did this and did not do that, I do not mean to put responsibility only on the analysts. We mentioned the collection failure earlier. And by analysts, I mean anyone who did the work and anyone who was in the chain of command of that work. And that includes many senior people, including me. The analysts are not alone here.
One final point on the WMD analysis: There is a myth about the weapons judgment that still persists today.
The myth is that, within the Intelligence Community, only CIA got this wrong, that other parts of the Intelligence Community got the WMD story right. The two examples often given are the analysts at the State Department and the analysts at the Energy Department.
But the State Department analysts came to the same conclusions as their CIA colleagues on chemical and biological weapons. They only differed on nuclear weapons. The State Department analysts said there was not enough evidence to make a judgment that the Iraqis had restarted their nuclear weapons program. But they were with everyone else on chemical and biological weapons.
For their part, the analysts at Energy shared all of CIA’s judgments, including the nuclear weapons judgment. They too believed Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. Their only issue was that they did not believe one of the pieces of data that everyone else saw as supporting the nuclear weapons narrative.
MAKRIDIS: So, the idea that this was just CIA is wrong. And it’s demonstrably wrong because there was a lot of pieces of the intelligence community that jumped in and agreed. We were all fooled.
They all fell prey to the same mistake CIA made, as did every foreign intelligence service with whom we worked, as did the United Nations, and as did academics who seriously looked at the issue.
“The Early Show” — December 23, 2022
SMITH: ‘Show us the proof’ – that’s Iraq’s message to the U.S. and Britain in a new denial that it has weapons of mass destruction.
COWAN: The government’s chief science advisor wasted little time, arguing that Iraq has given the UN every shred of information it has about its weapons program. But if that’s still not enough, he offered to let the CIA into Iraq to see for itself
CSA: What we gave, is accurate. We know the full story. If you have another story, tell us.
The WMD story is where many commentators end the CIA and Iraq narrative. That CIA got WMD wrong. End of story.
But the story is much more complex than that, and the rest of the story is one in which CIA largely shined, with a few stumbles.
Let’s start with CIA’s pre-war assessment of Iraq’s links to Usama Bin Ladin and Al Qaeda.
This was critically important because the primary concern of President Bush was that Saddam might someday give his weapons of mass destruction to terrorists, most concerningly to Bin Ladin and Al Qaeda.
This was just a possibility, but when you are the president of the U.S. who just suffered the worst attack on the Homeland in the history of the country, you pay attention to possibilities, particularly when they are about the worst weapons ever developed by man.
WOOD My name is Kristin Wood, and I was the chief of the Iraq terrorism branch and the Office of Terrorism Analysis in the Counterterrorism Center prior to the war with Iraq.
WOOD: It’s very rare that a judgment has the consequence of potentially being a reason to go to war with another country.
For Kristin and her team of analysts working on Iraq’s links to terrorism, making judgments was not just important – it was also difficult.
WOOD: The biggest challenge in intelligence analysis is not there are ten facts to be found. There are ten data points to be found. We have all ten of them, and we put them all together and decide what it means. In the case of Iraq, there was a 10,000 piece puzzle to be solved to create the whole big picture. We had 100 pieces, but they weren’t all necessarily for the same puzzle.
There were two key questions on Iraq and terrorism: One, did Iraq have anything to do with 9/11. And two, did Iraq have a relationship with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of an ultra-extremist terrorist group called Ansar al-Islam.
Here is what the analysts said on each. On Iraq’s links to 9/11:
WOOD: There was no evidence that Saddam Hussein or Iraq had a link to 911.
WOOD: No ties to 9/11 in terms of either direction, control or even foreknowledge.
There appeared to be early contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda, but the analysts judged that those never evolved into an operational relationship.
WOOD: There wasn’t a formal arrangement between AQ and Iraq.
WOOD: After the war, we did learn we were right about the lack of a relationship between Iraq and AQ.
And some of those early contacts? We learned after the war that many of the most worrisome had never happened.
WOOD: We had senior military trainer who’d said they’d sent operatives to Iraq, that they’d provided chemical weapons training. They recanted it all. It turned out he lied about it.
The question about the Iraqi government’s relationship with Zarqawi and Ansar al-Islam was, analytically, a tougher one.
WOOD: Abu Musab al Zarqawi. He’d been a jihadist since the early nineties. He was involved in Al Qaeda’s failed millennium plotting. Targeting hotels and landmarks in Amman. We described him as loosely affiliated with al Qaeda. he went to Afghanistan, tried to meet with bin Laden in 99, it never happened. What reporting we had from the detainees said that he that Zarqawi himself thought al Qaeda was too moderate and too much focused on the United States. And bin Laden’s team thought that Zarqawi was a thug, maybe even a Jordanian intelligence plant , and way too extreme because he also believed that the Shia needed to be exterminated.
Whether tied directly to Al Qaeda or not, Zarqawi and his men, since the group was formed in 2001, were living in northern Iraq. There, they had contact with an Iraqi intelligence officer. And, Zarqawi had gone to Baghdad for medical treatment for a few months in 2002. For some in the Administration, these two data points were enough to prove a link between Saddam and Zarqawi.
But that is not the way the analysts saw it.
On the issue of the Iraqi intelligence officer meeting with the group, the analysts noted that they thought that Iraq’s interest was in monitoring the group, not collaborating with it. Iraq did not want Zarqawi and his followers to become a threat to Iraq, nor did it want them to commit a terrorist attack against the West and therefore draw American attention to Iraq.
The analysts noted correctly that the Iraqis could do no more than watch Zarqawi, as he and his Ansar al-Islam followers were in a location in northern Iraq where Saddam’s military or security services could not go, because of the no-fly and no-drive zones imposed on Iraq by the United Nations.
Likewise, on Zarqawi’s trip to Baghdad, the analysts did not believe that the trip was coordinated with the Iraqis.
WOOD: We really thought because he and about ten of his fellow terrorists were in Baghdad for several months that the Iraqis had to know. And that was further boosted by the fact that a foreign service said they told the IIS where they were. But the II S came back and said they couldn’t find them. So we thought, okay, they know they’re there, but there’s no reporting to us that says they’re directing them, that they’re involved with them, no control, no direction, and that there was not any sense that the Iraqi leadership was in any way. Authorizing their actions.
And like the Iraq-Al Qaeda link itself, we learned after the war that there was no Iraqi support for Zarqawi and his group. CIA was right on this aspect of the terrorism question too.
One consequence, though, is that after the invasion, after the collapse of a functioning Iraqi government, Zarqawi built a powerful terrorist group, Al Qaeda in Iraq, which would go on to kill many U.S. servicemen and which would eventually, after the US withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, become ISIS, which we continue to have to deal with today.
I want to make two other points about CIA’s work on the Iraq-terrorism link.
One, some of the terrorism analysts felt they were being pressured by some policymakers to see a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda.
WOOD: Absolutely. I know you probably got many phone calls. I know I did. I know that at the time, Director Tenet, deputy director, our beloved John McLaughlin, we had some all had some difficult conversations with members of the administration I felt like they cherry picked the information. And by cherry pick, I mean selectively picked reports that were provided to them by folks who had similar views. And they built a a pile of reports that said the same thing. But if you pulled them apart. Coming back to our 100 puzzle pieces. Right. They didn’t all fit to the same puzzle. The administration was definitely trying to get us to describe things in a different way.
And, two, the analysts felt that senior policymakers were saying things publicly that were inconsistent with the intelligence.
WOOD: President Bush told the press corps in November 2002 that Saddam Hussein is the threat because he’s dealing with al Qaeda. Vice President Cheney and September 2003 set of were successful in Iraq then will have struck a major blow at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 911. And there were many more comments from Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz. And it was short-handing what the intelligence said in the service of – I think their beliefs, at least that’s my opinion.
We are going to take a quick break. When we come back, we will discuss the important presentation to the United Nations by Secretary of State Colin Powell.
CBS News Special Report — February 5, 2003
RATHER: This is a CBS News special report – Dan Rather reporting from CBS News World Headquarters in New York. The secretary of state for the United States Colin Powell is appearing before the United Nations Security Council here in New York City to prevent, to present evidence Saddam Hussein is violating the council resolution.
Secretary Powell’s speech to the United Nations occurred in early February 2003. He tried to make the case for why the U.S. needed to go to war in Iraq and why the rest of the world should support us.
The speech covered both Iraq’s WMD programs and its ties to terrorism. Let’s look at how intelligence was handled in that speech.
CBS News Special Report — February 5, 2003
POWELL: I cannot tell you everything that we know, but what I can share with you, when combined with what all of us have learned over the years, is deeply troubling. The facts and Iraqis’ behavior, Iraq’s behavior, demonstrate that Saddam Hussein and his regime have made no effort, no effort, to disarm, as required by the international community.
Indeed, the facts and Iraq’s behavior show that Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction.
On the WMD portion of Powell’s speech, the Secretary’s presentation omitted the analysts’ caveats, although, to be fair, the caveats were not numerous. Nonetheless, they were lost. There was pressure from policymakers for those caveats not to be in the speech.
Here is Andy Makridis again, talking about the National Intelligence Estimate and the Powell speech.
MAKRIDIS: If I look at the body of the NIE, which had some mild caveats about some of the judgments, some of those caveats then got lost or just weren’t fully articulated in the key judgments. And now you take it up another level and you have a speech to the UN and more of that gets lost. So what strikes me in listening to the Powell speech, when I did and then and then looking at these other documents, is that he’s more definitive in his speech than if you read the whole NIE and you say, well, wait a second, that’s not exactly what was said here. But then again, I said the caveats were mild. They got milder or disappeared in the key judgments. And then by the time of the speech, they were sort of gone. And so it was a it was a much more declarative, declarative statement.
CBS News Special Report – February 5, 2003
POWELL: From his terrorist network in Iraq, Zarqawi can direct his network in the Middle East and beyond. Iraqi officials protest they are not aware of the whereabouts of Zarqawi or of any of his associates. Again, these protests are not credible.
On Iraq and terrorism, the Powell presentation was not about Al Qaeda and 9/11. It was about Zarqawi, and it implied a strong, dangerous link between Iraq and Zarqawi. It painted the contacts with the Iraqi intelligence officer and the medical visit to Baghdad as proof of a relationship. It was not what the analysts had assessed.
Kristin Wood again.
WOOD: We were listening to it and we were stunned because we had been intimately involved in the preparation for that in the days leading up to the speech. And we had to analysts full time doing fact checking, turning things back, editing. But it became direct statements of fact. Iraq harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of bin Laden. Baghdad has an agent in the most senior levels of Ansar al strong Islam. This agent offered al Qaeda a safe haven in the region, something we didn’t have anything about. He traveled to Baghdad, staying in the capital for two months while he recuperated to fight another day. While it is true he was in the capital, we don’t know that that was in any cooperation with the Iraqis at all.
The terrorism text was finalized in New York City in the last hours before the speech, and it was not sent to the analysts for them to comment on it. It should have been. Taking the analysts out of the process almost always ends in a mistake, and it did so in this case.
One final point about Iraq and terrorism: The last two paragraphs of the 2002 Iraq WMD NIE say that if Saddam were sufficiently desperate – that is, if his regime were at risk – that he might provide his weapons of mass destruction to Al Qaeda to attack the US homeland.
This was critical because it made the very link the President was concerned about.
But, in fact, there was quite an analytic debate within CIA about these two paragraphs that many senior officials at the Agency did not know about. I just learned about this in putting this episode together.
GREEN: My name is Jane Green. Before the invasion, I was the chief of the group of analysts who focused on Iraq.
GREEN: Most of my analysts were very experienced Iraq hands. They had studied all aspects of Iraq for years. Every one of them assessed that he would never we give WMD to terrorists or anyone else. Saddam was ruthless and cautious with a touch of paranoia. He did not believe in long term alliances. He assumed that any one of that weapons that anyone who received weapons from him would one day use them against Iraq.
Now here’s the other side to the argument.
Here is Kristin Wood again, the head of Iraq Terrorism team.
WOOD: The WMD community was so certain he had weapons of mass destruction and being in the terrorism shop. It seemed to me and to my analysts that it would be a poor. Analytic judgment to say that there’s something Saddam wouldn’t do. That he had a principle. He used to gassed his own people.
In the end, the analysts compromised and the NIE said Saddam might share WMD with Al Qaeda if his regime and his own existence were on the line. The analysts chose those two words carefully — “might” and “if.“
In retrospect, the analysts should have crafted the language to clearly state the existence of analytic differences and the reason behind those differences rather than to settle on a weak judgment that Saddam might do something if he found himself in extremis. Words like “might” and “if” get lost when policymakers read them. Policy officials likely saw this as the IC confirming the President’s worst fears. We could and should have done better in writing these two paragraphs.
CBS Morning News – February 5, 2004
ANCHOR: CIA Director George Tenet is going on the offensive. This morning, he’ll answer charges that his agency botched the estimates of Iraq’s weapons.
PLANTE: Sources tell CBS News that Tenet will point to intelligence successes not previously made public, and try to correct what they call ‘inaccuracies’ about what the CIA did and did not say about weapons of mass destruction.
Beyond Iraq and WMD and Iraq and terrorism, there was one other important analysis done prior to the war, this time about what post-war Iraq might look like.
Here’s Jane Green again.
GREEN: To quote Director Tenet from his book. He said, “Our prewar analysis of post-war Iraq was prescient.”
Jane highlighted for us one pre-war CIA analytic paper, written in August of 2002, titled: “The Perfect Storm: Planning for Negative Consequences of Invading Iraq.”
GREEN: Some of those consequences that we assessed could happen: Anarchy in Iraq. Regime threatening instability in Arab states. A surge of global terrorism against U.S. interests.
And another CIA assessment in January of 2003, we said Iraq would be unlikely to split apart, that a post-Saddam authority would face a deeply divided society with a significant chance that domestic groups would engage in violent conflict with each other unless an occupying force prevented them from doing so.
It was very difficult to get our message heard. Perhaps we should have said it louder, but it was certainly something that we were trying to get across – that the risks of this effort were substantial, both to the stability of Iraq and to the Middle East, as well as to our own troops.
Other CIA analysts shared the concerns of Jane’s analysts.
NAKHLEH: My name is Emile Nakhleh.
Emile studied the Middle East in great depth as an academic before coming to the Agency, including spending significant time in the region. At CIA, Emile established and ran the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program. He also ran the Regional Analysis program dealing with the Middle East at large.
NAKHLEH: I had serious concerns and several of my analysts shared those concerns.
Many of these concerns had to do with plans by some in Administration to remove from their positions any Iraqis who were members of Saddam’s Baath Party – so called, de-Baathification.
NAKHLEH: The whole issue of de-Baathification. They were talking about ultimately de-Baathification after the war. And they I must admit, they had no idea of the role of the Baath Party in Iraqi society that, for example, everybody had to have a party card membership card in order to get a job. You could not get a job in Iraq from a taxi driver to a university professor without getting having a Baath Party card.
And the issue that really concerned me was the interest and influence generations, centuries old interest and influence of Iran in Iraq, particularly southern Iraq, where Shia Islam started in the first place in the 7th century.
Emile did not think the Administration had enough Iraq policy experts, and he was worried about the lack of planning for what would come after combat.
34 NAKHLEH: For example, what tribes should we deal with? How should we engage? The Shia leadership, especially the Grand Ayatollah is in in southern Iraq, in Najaf and Karbala, whether to bring an indigenous leader or a leader from the outside, how to deal with the Sunnis after they lose power and prestige and stature in the country, how to distribute oil revenues among the ethnic sectarian groups Arabs, Sunni, Shia and Kurds.
In one of my last briefings I gave the vice president, I said, Mr. Vice President, you make the decisions. I don’t make policy. You were elected to make policy. I’m just giving you what our analysts bring to the table in terms of expertise from the field, and that if those questions are not answered, we will have serious problems on our hands.
Jane’s and Emile’s analysts turned out to be right about what Iraq would look like after the war.
CBS Evening News – June 17, 2003
MARTIN: As temperatures in Iraq climb higher and tempers grow shorter, senior officials in Washington admit the reconstruction program – which is supposed to put the country back on its feet – is at best sporadic and at worst chaotic. According to one official, J Paul Bremer, the American in charge of rebuilding Iraq, is making it up as he goes along.
Let me now switch from pre-invasion to post-invasion.
There are two stories here – one, the collection and analysis done by CIA on the deteriorating situation in Iraq and two, CIA’s support of the eventual stabilization of Iraq.
CIA officers on the ground in Iraq and the Iraq analysts in Washington were the first to see what was happening to post-war Iraq.
Both saw the emergence of the insurgency and then its growth. And they saw it almost immediately, within weeks of the end of combat operations in April 2003.
My name is Luis Rueda. During the time period, I was chief of EOG, which is the Iraq Operations Group.
Luis was responsible for all of CIA’s operations in country.
REUDA: Our officers were seeing a very rapid deterioration of the situation. U.S. forces were were not big enough to hold the country. Remember that the coalition administration inside Iraq had demobilized the army and they had told the army, go home. And they did. But all of a sudden, we had 450,000 armed men unemployed, which became very fertile recruiting ground for an insurgency. Services had been at least degraded significantly. So electricity, running water, things like that were not functioning, which creates an unhappy population. The coalition authority had de-Baathification, the government, which meant getting rid of anybody who belonged to the Baath Party. And as we had articulated, the vast majority of members of the Baath Party had to be Baath Party members to hold the job. It was like the Communist Party in Russia. So you had teachers, policemen. They weren’t committed bases. They just had to have the job. But all of a sudden they were out of jobs and law and order started to break down. And we started seeing this get worse and worse.
Jane Green again.
GREEN: In June 2003, I went to Iraq to serve the intelligence advisor to the leader who was Jerry Bremer. And I was also his briefer. I met with Bremer and with coalition ground forces Chief General Ricardo Sanchez, six days a week. During the six months I was there.
GREEN: We saw it right away. We saw looting of factories and other heavy industry, not just the taking of parts and equipment, but the dismantling of the facilities themselves, which was the equivalent of dismantling the Iraqi economy. It was astounding to see when we would see imagery of, you know, significant factories reduced to, you know, a few pieces of sheet metal, and then that sheet metal would be gone the next day.
The situation was becoming more and more dangerous.
GREEN: Soon we saw that weapons and ammunition storage depots were being emptied. We saw the rise of Shia militias with support from Iran. In some cases, the goal of some of these militias was to take revenge on the Sunnis and to make sure they never had the ability to subjugate the Shia populace again. We saw the Sunni tribes arming themselves. Sunni Shia shrines were being attacked and groups of Shia civilians were attacked.
GREEN: All the Sunnis then had left were the weapons and ammunitions that they had looted from the from the depots. And a deep resentment of coalition activities. The new Iraqi government faced fierce opposition in Sunni areas, and especially in strong Fallujah and Ramadi.
While the CIA’s assessment of the situation in Iraq was getting worse, some policymakers – and other government agencies, namely the Pentagon – pushed back.
GREEN: The Iraqis, in DOD’s eyes, were supposed to be rejoicing that Saddam’s regime was gone. And it took them a long time to accept our analyst judgment that the Iraqi people were devolving into civil war.
Here is Luis Reuda again.
REUDA At the end of the day, I remember there was a situation where Secretary Rumsfeld confronted agency briefers and said, what makes you use the term insurgency? We don’t think there’s an insurgency. And the briefer said, well, we’re using the Defense Department definition of insurgency and outlined that definition.
Once the Administration, led by President Bush, recognized that Iraq was descending into chaos, policy caught up. But several important months were lost.
CIA would ultimately support the administration’s efforts to stabilize Iraq.
REUDA: And one of the things they did was turn to the agency and and say we need additional assistance in trying to stabilize the country. So the CIA was tasked with working with with Bremer’s office, with the US military, with Central Command, to sort of bring together Iraqi leadership and work with them and support them in creating some type of stable government.
CIA was tasked with finding moderate Iraqi forces who could work together and then CIA supported them.
REUDA: We were not tasked with picking people. We were not tasked with deciding what the government was going to be like. We wanted that to be an Iraqi endeavor. The Iraqis had to decide. But we had to bring enough people, give them the wherewithal, whether it was, you know, training, advice or guidance to come together and form some kind of governing authority, then where they would choose, how they would run the country, who would run the country and this sort of thing.
One of the biggest CIA contributions to the stabilization was forming an Iraqi intelligence service.
And we also worked to develop a security apparatus, an intelligence service that would collect information on the terrorists, on Iranians, on efforts to destabilize any further, destabilize Iraq. And, you know, we realized that the Iraqis are much better at interacting with the Iraqis than the U.S. would be. So we helped to create a security apparatus to help the government stabilize.
CIA played a significant role in the stabilization of Iraq, a success that many to this day do not know.
What about the consequences? What were the consequences for the United States, for Iraq for the region, and for the CIA. Let’s turn to that discussion.
The most important consequences were two – one, the impact the war had on what Americans think of their own government and two, the impact it had on America’s credibility on the world stage.
I spend a great deal of time on college campuses, and I can’t tell you how often students question whether America’s role in the world has been for good or not. And, for those students who say no, they point first to the Iraq War and second to the 2008 financial crisis. These two events have led many Americans to question the competency and credibility of their own government.
Regarding America’s credibility in the world, some have argued that the Iraq War was the moment the U.S. ceded its global leadership role.
The consequences for the region were even worse.
Here’s Emile Nakleigh again.
NEKHLEH: And so after the invasion, we see the rise of Iran as a major player because of Iraq.
This is very, very huge. For the first time following the invasion, we saw the rise of what we call or what one academic friend of mine called the Shia Crescent in the region. So for the first time, you have the two largest Shia states in the world, Iran and Iraq, almost in an alliance that they did not have before ever,
That was the biggest regional implication.
Significant gains for Iranian influence, as predicted by Emile and his analysts before the invasion.
“CBS Evening News” — October 22, 2011
CORRESPONDENT: The war in Iraq may be over, but the politics of leaving have begun. The concern is the regime in Iran. Experts say the more the United States moves out of Iraq, the more Iran moves in.
The other significant consequence, which we discussed earlier, was the rise of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Emile explains how all of this affected, and still is affecting, our strategic position in the region.
NEKHLEH: After we removed Saddam, we got bogged down with the insurgency and the civil war. And the Arab states began to express serious concern about the efficacy of our presence there, that our presence there was contributing to the rise in in terrorism, contributing to the rise of Shia terrorism.
Finally, what were the consequences for CIA? Damage to its credibility for sure, which took some time to repair. But there was also a positive change for the Agency. Jami Miscik, who was the head of analysis, deserves immense credit for this, immense credit for saying “We made a mistake, let’s figure out why, and let’s learn from it.”
Jami created a task force to study what happened and then she ordered a multi-day stand down to teach every analyst in the organization the lessons learned. In my view, this had the most positive impact on the rigor by which analysts do their work at CIA than any other single moment in the history of the organization.
Here’s Andy Makridis again
MAKRIDIS: Some of the things that were put into place after afterwards were in particular sort of this alternative analysis issue where we really did try on big judgment to to come up with a variety of analytic techniques to sort of tease out, you know, the uncertainties. And there are a variety of techniques that people can read about. There’s pre mortems that’s sort of one of my favorite ones. But red teaming, double advocacy, brainstorming, alternative futures, competing hypotheses, these are all ways to sort of get at. Let’s take a look at this. And, you know, where are the weaknesses in our argument and lay those out for the policymakers. So, you know, today, when we’re making a big analytic judgment, we include how could we be wrong?
That’s the narrative I wanted to share. There is obviously much more to the story, but only so much can fit into a 40-minute podcast.
Let me end with one final thought:
I think the lessons of the Iraq War for both intelligence and policymakers are enormous.
For policymakers, it is to understand the inherent limitations of intelligence and to never put pressure on the IC to see things a certain way. Doing so leads to jumbled messages that do not serve the interests of the country.
For intelligence officers, it is also important to understand the inherent limitations of intelligence and to apply that understanding to the confidence one has in any judgment.
It is to be humble. And it is to know that, if you lose focus for any reason, the next big intelligence failure will be right around the corner.
Thanks for listening. I’m Michael Morell. Please join us again next week for another epidosde of Intelligence Matters.
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