A Democratic theme we're sure to hear repeated this fall is that President Bush "cherry-picked" intelligence on Iraq. But this isn't true, according to the bipartisan Robb-Silverman Commission, which investigated prewar intelligence:
"The commission found no evidence of political pressure to influence the intelligence community's pre-war assessments of Iraq's weapons programs . . . Analysts universally asserted that in no instance did political pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgments."
But should Mr. Bush choose to "cherry-pick" intelligence to justify a future conflict, he has a terrific model to follow in the report issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Sept. 8.
The report focused on the extent to which the intelligence community relied upon reporting from Iraqis affiliated with the Iraqi National Congress in making its estimates of Saddam's WMD programs and his links to terrorists. The INC was headed by Ahmed Chalabi, a favorite at the Pentagon, but persona non grata with the CIA and the State department.
The report concluded that defectors affiliated with the INC lied to provoke the United States into attacking Iraq and that the information they provided profoundly influenced the intelligence community's assessments of the threat posed by Saddam's regime.
I read the whole 205 pages, and was stunned by the degree to which the "findings" in the body of the report did not support the "conclusions" at the end of it.
I wasn't alone. The committee chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, said in his "additional views" that "if the public focuses only on the conclusions adopted by several members of this committee, they will not get the full story. The adopted conclusions are not supported by fact."
Two moderate Republicans Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine joined with Democrats to adopt "conclusions" designed more to abuse Mr. Bush than to convey what committee investigators actually found.
The most egregious example was when the committee voted, 8-7, to strip from the report this statement by Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks describing an American raid on Salman Pak, an Iraqi base southeast of Baghdad:
"This raid occurred in response to information that had been gained by coalition forces from some foreign fighters we encountered from other countries, not Iraq. It reinforces the likelihood of links between (Saddam's) regime and external terrorist organizations, clear links with common interests."
The reference to what was found at Salman Pak had to go because it clashed with the committee's "conclusion" that Saddam Hussein had no ties to al-Qaida. Saddam "was resistant to cooperating with al-Qaida or other Islamist groups," the committee majority concluded.
To come to that conclusion, the Democrats not only had to drop Gen. Brooks' statement down the memory hole, they had to ignore a mountain of other evidence of Iraq's links to terror groups, said Stephen Hayes, who dug into the mountain for a lengthy article in the current issue of The Weekly Standard.
Much of the evidence comes from before the Iraq war. President Clinton said ties between Iraq and al-Qaida justified his bombing of the al-Shifa chemical plant in Sudan in 1998. In 1999, CNN and ABC broadcast reports of meetings between al-Qaida and senior Iraqi officials.
More evidence of Saddam's terror ties has been gleaned from the files of the Iraqi intelligence service, captured after the fall of Baghdad.
"Where the report isn't tendentious and sloppy, it's confused," Mr. Hayes wrote. "Saddam Hussein and his cronies disclaim any relationship and yet the Senate report itself cites two authenticated documents in which the Iraqi Intelligence Service itself discussed the 'relationship' between Iraq and al-Qaida."
How does one reconcile the "conclusion" that the INC deliberately lied with the statement in the body of the report that the CIA could find "no evidence" that this was so?
"If you're trying to say that the INC is the one that pushed us to go to war because of the WMD reporting, that's wrong," a CIA officer is quoted as saying on page 144.
There is room for honest disagreement about what facts mean, but there can be no compromise on the facts themselves, Sen. Roberts said. "I will continue to draw the line when it comes to amending conclusions in a way that mischaracterizes or ignores the underlying facts," he wrote. And so should we.