Cherry Picking the Facts on Pre-War Intelligence

Lawrence Korb and Matt Duss show how Fred Hiatt picks and chooses from the recent pre-war intelligence report to tell a one-sided story on Iraq.

Two members of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee hold up a copy of one of their early reports on pre-Iraq war intelligence. (AP/Dennis Cook)
Two members of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee hold up a copy of one of their early reports on pre-Iraq war intelligence. (AP/Dennis Cook)

Fred Hiatt’s Washington Post op-ed last week attempts to demonstrate that the most recent bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on prewar intelligence was misleading. Yet in doing so, Hiatt engages in the same type of cherry picking that he accuses the committee of, and that the Bush administration practiced in the run up to the invasion of Iraq.

In analyzing the report’s conclusions on Iraq’s nuclear program, for example, Hiatt states that the report notes that the president’s statements, “were generally substantiated by intelligence community estimates.” But he fails to note that the report goes on to say that the administration, “did not convey substantial disagreements that existed in the intelligence community about Iraq’s nuclear program.”

Hiatt makes a similar point about biological weapons production capabilities, chemical weapons, and weapons of mass destruction overall. Yet he fails to tell us that the report also says, “many statements made [by members of the Bush administration] regarding ongoing production [of WMD] prior to late 2002 reflected a higher level of certainty than the intelligence estimates themselves.”

In dealing with the relationship between Al Qaeda, Hiatt becomes even more selective. He points out that statements regarding Iraq’s contacts with Al Qaeda, “were substantiated by intelligence information.” But Hiatt does not tell us that the report also says, “policymakers’ statements did not accurately convey the intelligence assessments of the nature of these contacts, and left the impression that the contacts led to substantive Iraqi cooperation or support of al-Qaeda,” and, “statements and implications by the President and Secretary of State that Iraq and al-Qaeda had a partnership, or that Iraq had provided al-Qaeda with weapons training, were not substantiated by the intelligence.”

Hiatt’s conclusion that the intelligence community was, “tragically, catastrophically wrong” misses the point. Iraq was not a war of necessity; it was a preventative war of choice. Therefore, the burden of proof was on the administration to ensure that there was a case for war beyond a reasonable doubt, and that the American people and their elected leaders knew the whole picture, not just one side.

What if the Bush administration had told the Congress and the American people that there were substantial disagreements about Iraq’s nuclear program, or that it was more certain than the intelligence community about WMD, or that there was no substantive cooperation with or a partnership between Iraq and Al Qaeda?

Would the American people, or the Washington Post for that matter, have supported the war? We think not.

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Lawrence J. Korb

Senior Fellow

Matthew Duss

Policy Analyst