On Backbone Radio, Ambrose misled on prewar WMD intelligence


On Backbone Radio, Jay Ambrose of the Independence Institute misleadingly stated that, before the Iraq war, "U.S. intelligence [told] us that there were weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq, and asserted that "intelligence agencies make huge mistakes." But while much of the U.S. prewar intelligence was faulty, U.S. intelligence officials did challenge the accuracy of reports about Iraq's purported WMDs.

On the December 31 broadcast of KNUS 710-AM's Backbone Radio, Independence Institute senior fellow Jay Ambrose misleadingly stated that, in the months before the Iraq war, "U.S. intelligence [told] us that there were weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq. Further, Ambrose -- former editor of the Rocky Mountain News and a member of the National Conference of Editorial Writers -- asserted that "intelligence agencies make huge mistakes" and that "I think that's why [the United States] went in" to Iraq. But while much of the prewar intelligence produced by U.S. agencies was indeed faulty, U.S. intelligence officials, including former high-ranking CIA official Tyler Drumheller, had in fact challenged the accuracy of the intelligence about Iraq's purported weapons of mass destruction.

Ambrose's comments regarding so-called intelligence "mistakes" came in response to a question from Denver Post columnist Susan Barnes-Gelt, another guest on the show, which is hosted by former Republican state senate president John Andrews.

From the December 31 broadcast of KNUS 710-AM's Backbone Radio:

BARNES-GELT: I have a question --

AMBROSE: But it's [laugh] --

BARNES-GELT: -- for you, Jay. You know, I think that the fundamental, the basic question, and I realize, as I just said, that it's water over the dam, but I think to this day Americans do not understand why we went into Iraq and how that was a response to 9-11, which everyone takes seriously. That's why we went into Afghanistan, but I still -- and I think I'm not a left-wing nut --

AMBROSE: You know, this is something I, you know -- I think if the people who are opposed to Iraq and made the argument against it that George Bush's father made, the sort of thing that is happening now is going to happen, that's essential -- instead of making this argument that we were lied into the war, we'd have had a much better discussion. The fact is that not only did the U.S. intelligence tell us that there were weapons of mass destruction there, so did the French intelligence, so did the German intelligence, so did Israeli intelligence. It wasn't -- and so did the Russian intelligence. People who opposed us going in said, uh, they have these weapons. That was not made up. And you can make mistakes; people seem to think the intelligence -- do you know how wrong the CIA was during the Cold War? Do you know that we didn't know the Soviet Union was going to collapse? I mean, [laugh] you know, intelligence agencies make huge mistakes; I think they made a huge mistake. I think that's why we went in.

However, while much of the intelligence the CIA produced before the Iraq war was indeed faulty, officials within the agency, along with other intelligence officials, nevertheless had called into question many of the Bush administration's most dramatic prewar claims before the United States' March 20, 2003, invasion.

As Media Matters for America noted, the CIA's Drumheller gave an interview on the April 23, 2006, edition of CBS' 60 Minutes. He revealed that the CIA told the Bush administration in the fall of 2002 that, according to a high-level source within the Iraqi government (whom 60 Minutes identified as then-foreign minister Naji Sabri), Iraq "had no active weapons of mass destruction program." That assessment of Iraq's WMD capabilities proved to be accurate, based on the September 2004 findings of the Iraq Survey Group. Drumheller said that the Bush administration "stopped being interested in the intelligence" when it received this report from the Iraqi source and that "[t]he war in Iraq was coming and they [the Bush administration] were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to justify the policy." During the interview, Drumheller told 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley, "It just sticks in my craw every time I hear them say it's an intelligence failure. It's an intelligence failure. This was a policy failure."

Moreover, the National Intelligence Council (NIC) -- the intelligence community's "center for midterm and long-term strategic thinking" -- along with the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) and the Department of Energy, disputed the administration's claims regarding Iraq's purported nuclear weapons program.

As Media Matters for America noted, The Washington Post reported on April 9 that the NIC -- which then reported to CIA Director and Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet -- produced a memo in January 2003 "unequivocal[ly]" debunking the claim that Saddam Hussein had sought to buy uranium from Niger for the purpose of reconstituting Iraq's nuclear weapons program.

The NIC memo apparently echoed a previous dissenting assessment of Iraq's nuclear capabilities offered by INR as part of an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that was available to the administration. INR disputed the majority view that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program at all, noting in the NIE that there was not "a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing what INR would consider to be an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons."

Media Matters also has detailed (here, here, here, and here) how members of the U.S. intelligence community challenged the accuracy of claims that Iraq had WMDs or was reconstituting its WMD programs.

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