- WASHINGTON -- The public
version of the U.S. intelligence community's key prewar assessment of Iraq's
illicit arms programs was stripped of dissenting opinions, warnings of
insufficient information and doubts about deposed dictator Saddam Hussein's
intentions, a review of the document and its once-classified version shows.
- As a result, the public was given a far more definitive
assessment of Iraq's plans and capabilities than President Bush and other
U.S. decision-makers received from their intelligence agencies.
- The stark differences between the public version and
the then top-secret version of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate
raise new questions about the accuracy of the public case made for a war
that's claimed the lives of more than 500 U.S. service members and thousands
- The two documents are replete with differences. For example,
the public version declared that "most analysts assess Iraq is reconstituting
its nuclear weapons program" and says "if left unchecked, it
probably will have a nuclear weapon within this decade."
- But it fails to mention the dissenting view offered in
the top-secret version by the State Department's intelligence arm, the
Bureau of Intelligence and Research, known as the INR.
- That view said, in part, "The activities we have
detected do not, however, add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently
pursuing what INR would consider to be an integrated and comprehensive
approach to acquire nuclear weapons. Iraq may be doing so, but INR considers
the available evidence inadequate to support such a judgment."
- The alternative view further said "INR is unwilling
to ... project a timeline for the completion of activities it does not
now see happening."
- Both versions were written by the National Intelligence
Council, a board of senior analysts who report to CIA Director George Tenet
and prepare reports on crucial national security issues. Stuart Cohen,
a 30-year CIA veteran, was the NIC's acting chairman at the time.
- The CIA didn't respond officially to requests to explain
the differences in the two versions. But a senior intelligence official,
speaking on condition of anonymity, explained them by saying a more candid
public version could have revealed U.S. intelligence-gathering methods.
- Last week, Tenet defended the intelligence community's
reporting on Iraq, telling an audience at Georgetown University that differences
over Iraq's capabilities "were spelled out" in the October 2002
- But while top U.S. officials may have been told of differences
among analysts, those disputes were kept from the American public in key
areas, including whether Saddam was stockpiling biological and chemical
weapons and whether he might dispatch poison-spraying robot aircraft to
attack the United States.
- Both documents have been available to the public for
months. The CIA released the public version, titled "Iraq's Weapons
of Mass Destruction Programs," in October 2002, when the Bush administration
was making its case for war. The White House declassified and released
portions of the NIE's key findings in July 2003.
- Knight Ridder compared the documents in light of Tenet's
speech and continuing controversy over the intelligence that President
Bush used to justify the invasion last April. There are currently seven
separate official inquiries into the issue.
- What that comparison showed is that while the top-secret
version delivered to Bush, his top lieutenants and Congress was heavily
qualified with caveats about some of its most important conclusions about
Iraq's illicit weapons programs, those caveats were omitted from the public
- The caveats included the phases "we judge that,"
"we assess that" and "we lack specific information on many
key aspects of Iraq's WMD (weapons of mass destruction) programs."
- These phrases, according to current and former intelligence
officials, long have been used in intelligence reports to stress an absence
of hard information and underscore that judgments are extrapolations or
- Among the most striking differences between the versions
were those over Iraq's development of small, unmanned aircraft, also known
as unmanned aerial vehicles.
- The public version said Iraq's UAVs "especially
if used for delivery of chemical and biological warfare (CBW) agents -
could threaten Iraq's neighbors, US forces in the Persian Gulf, and the
United States if brought close to, or into, the US Homeland."
- The classified version showed there was major disagreement
on the issue from the agency with the greatest expertise on such aircraft,
the Air Force. The Air Force "does not agree that Iraq is developing
UAVs primarily intended to be delivery platforms for chemical and biological
warfare (CBW) agents," it said. "The small size of Iraq's new
UAV strongly suggests a primary role of reconnaissance, although CBW delivery
is an inherent capability."
- There was substantial difference between the public version
of the estimate and the classified version on the issue of Iraq's biological
- The public version contained the alarming warning that
Iraq was capable of quickly developing biological warfare agents that could
be delivered by "bombs, missiles, aerial sprayers, and covert operatives,
including potentially against the US Homeland."
- No such warning that Iraq's biological weapons could
be delivered to United States appeared in the classified version.
- In a section on chemical weapons, the top-secret findings
said the intelligence community had "little specific information on
Iraq's CW (chemical weapons) stockpile." That caveat was deleted from
the public version.
- The classified report went on to say that Iraq "probably
has stocked at least 100 metric tons (MT) and possibly as much as 500 MT
of CW agents - much of it added last year."
- "Saddam probably has stocked a few hundred metric
tons of CW agents," said the public report.
- Deleted from the public version was a line in the classified
report that cast doubt on whether Saddam was prepared to support terrorist
attacks on the United States, a danger that Bush and his top aides raised
repeatedly in making their case for war.
- "Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short
of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW against the United
States, fearing that exposure of Iraqi involvement would provide Washington
with a stronger case for making war," the top-secret report said.
- Also missing from the public report were judgments that
Iraq would attempt "clandestine attacks" on the United States
only if an American invasion threatened the survival of Saddam's regime
or "possibly for revenge."
- - John Walcott contributed to this article
- © 2004 KRT Wire and wire service sources. All Rights