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Monday, February 16, 2004

BASIC Report on Iraq WMD

While several analysts at the Washington DC-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace wrote a much-publicized and very critical report about the US use of intelligence on Iraq WMD, I haven't seen much US discussion of a similar report produced by the British-American Security Information Council (BASIC), which was released in January 2004.

The BASIC Report is called "Unravelling the Known Unknowns: Why no Weapons of Mass Destruction have been found in Iraq" and was authored by David Isenberg and Ian Davis (this is the pdf version, which requires an acrobat reader). Their main finding, from the Executive Summary, is succinct:
The conclusion is inescapable: there is nothing to be found. This means that President Bush and Prime Minister Blair made a WMD mountain out of what, at best, was a molehill....

The main conclusion is that the failure to find banned weapons in Iraq suggests very strongly that the UN weapons inspectors succeeded in their mandate, and that the Iraqi government complied with its obligations.
The authors of the BASIC report conclude, as David Kay and I have, that
The failure to find any banned weapons means that it will be harder to trust intelligence reports about North Korean, Iranian or other "rogue state" threats. Already, in the crisis over North Korea's nuclear ambitions, China has rejected US intelligence that North Korea has a secret program to enrich uranium for use in weapons.
BASIC also points out, as I have, that the Bush and Blair governments likely distorted the intelligence they had by overselling the threats:
In fact, a very large number of US intelligence professionals, diplomats and former Pentagon officials have notably gone on record, not off the record as is usually the case, to criticise the Bush administration for its distortion of the case for war against Iraq.

Overall, therefore, the evidence clearly suggests that the US and UK governments did not have the intelligence to back up their pre-war claims, and that there was plenty of publicly available information on Iraq's weapons programs that was systematically ignored in the months preceding the war. Thus, the previous confidence in Iraq's possession of advanced WMD appears to have been based on a combination of US and British intelligence misjudgements and the result of distortion by members of the Bush administration and Blair governments.
The BASIC report acknowledges that some of the intelligence was also probably wrong and the authors thus reserve judgment "until further information becomes available."

Will the President's Commission reveal these problems? Don't hold your breath. Consider Senator John McCain's words on this topic, from February 6, 2004:
"The president of the United States, I believe, did not manipulate any kind of information for political gain or otherwise," the Republican senator told reporters on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich, Germany.
Thanks to blogger Micah Holmquist for this last link.

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