Washington The latest intelligence-failure report to land on President Bush's desk raises serious questions about his policy of pre-emptive action against potential foes: How can he order such strikes if he doesn't have solid information?
Findings by the special presidential commission also could complicate American efforts to mend fences with allies who opposed the Iraq war. U.S. officials might have a hard time persuading other nations to accept new American intelligence on the world's next hot spot after being "dead wrong," as the panel put it, on Iraq.
"Obviously the report creates severe doubt about the administration's ability to implement a policy of pre-emption," said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, a Virginia-based think tank.
"The past failures of our intelligence system have already alienated key allies. Now these findings seem to signal that we can't rely on available intelligence to make such decisions in the future," Thompson said.
The panel, headed by senior federal appeals court Judge Laurence Silberman, a Republican, and former Virginia Democratic Sen. Charles Robb, called for a broad restructuring in the intelligence community, better sharing of information and a process for encouraging dissenting views.
The panel's 600-page report accused spy agencies of producing "worthless or misleading" intelligence on Iraq's weapons capabilities. And, the panel added, "we still know disturbingly little about the weapons programs and even less about the intentions of our most dangerous adversaries." It kept sections dealing with North Korea and Iran classified.
Asked about the possible effect of the findings on the U.S. policy of pre-emption, Robb said: "We did not get into policy matters, period ... and we're not going to go there now."
At a separate briefing, Fran Townsend, Bush's White House-based homeland security adviser, also sidestepped the question. "I'm going to demur here. This is well beyond my remit," she said. "I'm really looking right now at the process of going through the report and analyzing the commission's recommendations."
In many ways, the report emphasized what was already widely known in the intelligence community and by those who oversee it: not enough spies on the ground, a Cold War-vintage bureaucratic system that encourages turf battles, and a pervasive group-think culture.
After all, the CIA and its sister agencies were missing things well before Iraq, well before the days leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.