Wash. Times wrongly claimed WMD report found Bush administration “did not distort” evidence

The Washington Times reprinted an April 19 United Press International (UPI) article, adding a paragraph with the false claim that the Robb-Silberman commission's report on U.S. intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction “said the Bush administration did not distort prewar intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program.” But the commission did not examine the use of intelligence by President Bush or administration policymakers, limiting its investigation to the U.S. intelligence community itself. While the article bore the byline of UPI homeland and national security editor Shaun Waterman, the original version of Waterman's article did not contain the false claim, which appeared only in the version printed in the April 19 Washington Times.*

The commission -- led by Charles S. Robb, former Virginia governor and U.S. senator, and Laurence R. Silberman, a senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit -- was charged with “reviewing the intelligence capabilities of the United States Intelligence Community ... with respect to threats such as those posed to the United States by Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).” The panel did not examine the use or misuse of that intelligence by the Bush administration. Silberman specifically addressed this fact in a March 31 press conference following the release of the report:

QUESTION: Could your report be read as an exoneration of the president's use of the intelligence, or did you not tackle that question?

SILBERMAN: We did not -- our executive order did not direct us to deal with the use of intelligence by policymakers, and all of us were agreed that that was not part of our inquiry.

Silberman expanded on this explanation that evening in an interview with correspondent Margaret Warner on PBS' The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer:

WARNER: When you started this work were there a lot of charges being made by critics of the administration and Congress, about news reports, about politicization. And there were two elements to this: One was that in some way policymakers exerted pressure on intelligence analysts to come up with certain conclusions, and two, that the president and others did not accurately convey the caveats that were in the intelligence when they spoke publicly. What are your conclusions on those two points?

SILBERMAN: Well, on the second point, we duck. That is not part of our charter. We did not express any views on policymakers' use of intelligence -- whether Congress or the president. It wasn't part of our charter, and indeed most of us didn't want to get into that issue because it's basically a political question and everybody knows -- you can look at the newspaper and see what people said and make your own judgment. On the former question, as to whether or not there was any policymaker effort to influence the intelligence, we found zip, nothing, nothing to support.

The Washington Times previously made the same false claim in an April 1 article by Times White House correspondent Joseph Curl. UPI is owned by News World Communications, the Unification Church-controlled company that also owns The Washington Times.