As coalition deaths in Iraq reached 1,000 last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued its much anticipated report on the intelligence that led the U.S. into war. The report offers a blistering critique of the CIA for exaggerating the threat of Saddam Hussein's illegal weapons. Among its conclusions: in 2002, two months after Vice President Dick Cheney claimed Saddam was pursuing nuclear and smallpox weapons, the CIA pumped up its assessment of both threats based on unsupported or nonexistent intelligence and on analysis that was "at minimum, misleading." The report quotes the CIA's highest-ranking analyst as saying she instructed her underlings to write a "speculative piece" that would "lean far forward" and "stretch to the maximum the evidence" in response to senior policymakers' interest in links between al-Qaeda and Saddam.
Will the report lead to any changes? President Bush called the report "useful" and has said he is "open for suggestions" on intelligence reform. But the President already shelved an overhaul plan by former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft after Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld objected to it. And the report put off until after the November election any examination of whether the faulty intelligence came about because of White House pressure. "It's designed to protect the Administration and put all the blame on the intelligence community," said a senior Republican. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has said he wants to give the next CIA director "true control over intelligence personnel and budgets all across the government." A top Democratic campaign official told TIME that, if elected, Kerry would name a Defense Secretary who would agree to give up the military's current control of 90% of the intelligence budget. In the belief that such broad changes need bipartisan support, Kerry wants that Pentagon chief to be a Republican. Of course, in Washington, such talk is easy. Reform is hard.
--By Massimo Calabresi