US intelligence analysts in some cases had little current, reliable information to go on when judging whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD), according to a former analyst now heading the government's internal review of the matter.
Despite pressure from Bush administration officials who were trying to build a case for war, the analysts cataloged some uncertainties about the data in internal intelligence reports and did not exaggerate their findings, Richard Kerr, a retired senior analyst and former deputy director of central intelligence, said in an interview.
Some Democrats in Congress say those doubts never reached the public. In the two months since the ouster of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, US and British forces have uncovered none of the chemical and biological stockpiles that the US cited as a basis for going to war.
Critics have accused the administration of exaggerating or mishandling intelligence to persuade Americans and the world to support military action in Iraq.
Kerr is leading a team of three other retired intelligence officers in a review of the performance of the CIA and other agencies. They have submitted an initial report to CIA Director George Tenet.
A CIA spokesman declined to comment on the contents of Kerr's report but said it was part of a long-planned "lessons-learned" evaluation of the intelligence community's prewar performance that was proposed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
The foundation of the US information on Iraq's weapons programs was discoveries after the 1991 Gulf War, Kerr said. But after UN weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998, much of the information dried up, leaving the US government to discover what it could from satellite images, intercepted communications and spies and refugees.
But solid information was sometimes lacking. What the intelligence agencies did learn seemed to confirm their conclusions that Iraq indeed had active programs to make chemical and biological weapons and to develop nuclear weapons, said Kerr.
"There was, in some areas, a dearth of hard, detailed intelligence," he said. "That presents a real problem for intelligence analysts."
Still, he said, "it would have been very hard for an intelligence analyst to determine that there were no weapons of mass destruction programs. There was a lot of information over time."
Kerr predicted that more evidence of weapons programs would yet be found in Iraq but acknowledged the search might be fruitless. "It's a set of judgments," he said. "It may be wrong. It may not be completely accurate."
In discussing the report, Kerr primarily described his finding that the integrity of the intelligence process was maintained. Efforts to gauge the accuracy many of agencies' prewar predictions will have to wait until a more thorough search of Iraq is completed, he said.
Congressional intelligence oversight committees are conducting preliminary inquiries.
Critics have raised a variety of questions: Was bad information collected and wrongly believed? Were the analysts wrong or inappropriately influenced? Did the Bush administration not accurately reflect the real intelligence in its statements to the public and UN?
In the run-up to the war, intelligence analysts faced intense pressure from Bush administration officials seeking information to prove Iraq was a threat, Kerr said.