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Why should the WMD Commission be taken seriously?

ASK THIS | March 30, 2005

A group of people without much experience in intelligence work, meeting in absolute secrecy, is not what it takes to produce a breakthrough when it comes to proliferation forecasting – a notoriously thorny issue. So when reporters examine the report from the White House WMD Commission, they should be asking some tough questions.

By John Prados



Q. Given that only one member of the White House's WMD commission has any intelligence experience, why should the American public take its conclusions seriously?


Q. It is central to research methodology that outside observers be able to replicate the data and reasoning of an inquiry. But how is this possible when the inquiry is undertaken in absolute secrecy? Why should the American public take this commission's conclusions seriously?


Q. The commission's basic charge was to examine intelligence capabilities regarding proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. What is there in this report that has not already been brought out by the Deutch Report on Proliferation, the Council on Foreign Relations report on the same subject, the Jeremiah report on the Indian Nuclear Weapons Tests, or the intelligence annex of the Rumsfeld Commission on the Ballistic Missile Threat?


Q. It's no secret that it's hard to develop intelligence about incipient nuclear weapons programs. That's been the U.S. experience for four decades. So, precisely because of all the well-documented limitations, how could the commission be in a position to draw any conclusions on this topic beyond simply restating the obvious?


Q. What recommendations in the commission report are designed to prevent the political use of intelligence on proliferation in the future?


Q. Given the clandestine nature of its preparation, how can the American people be assured that this report -- in particular given its focus on the bypassing and manipulation of intelligence in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq -- is not itself the product of intelligence manipulation?


The commission's members were carefully selected by the White House. Commission chairmen Laurence Silberman and Chuck Robb are political, quintessentially, and the rest of the members – with the exception of former deputy CIA director William Studeman -- have little or no intelligence background. If the object was to create a commission that was not going to look too deep, and would pay attention to White House interests, it was well selected. If the object was a serious study of intelligence on proliferation issues, then you could argue that their skills were not well suited for the job.


Thanks to U.S. intelligence experience with the Soviet Union, we know a lot about the methods – and limitations – for gathering intelligence on proliferation-related issues. In fact, proliferation issues have been under continuing review: Between 1995 and 2000 alone, at least four reports (those mentioned above) have dealt with this subject or aspects thereof. The reports uniformly conclude that either intelligence is inadequate, or analytical capabilities insufficient to cope with the glut of often-irrelevant information in the system.


If commissioners maintain their report is primarily about the Iraq intelligence, they should be asked to explain what they have that goes beyond the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on this subject, and what evidence they utilized to rule out political use of the Iraq intelligence. If commissioners say their report is more forward-looking, then they should be asked to explain how their recommendations are specifically designed to prevent the manipulations of intelligence that occurred in the Iraq case. If this question is not confronted there arise serious issues as to whether this inquiry had any value at all.


Outside Iraq
03/31/2005, 12:21 PM

I would like to know if the WMD's Commission, looked into what kind of relationship, Iraq may have had with other counties, that would had have storage for WMD. Does Iraq have any research weapons projects, OUTSIDE of Iraq?

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