US Intelligence Struggles with Iraq WMD Failures 20 Years On

by Ryan Lee
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Rep. Jason Crow has some things in his office at the U.S Capitol that remind him of war. On a shelf, he has his military ID tags, pieces of a mortar shell and part of a shrapnel that was stopped by his bulletproof vest.

About 20 years ago, when he was 24-years-old, Crow was a leader of a group called a ‘platoon’. The people in it had to carry items like gas masks and special suits over their clothes so they would stay safe if the enemy used chemical weapons.

Nowadays Crow works on committees which look after the US military and secret services. He still remembers the problems that happened back then in Iraq very clearly.

The person from Colorado said that his experience changed his life and it has a major influence on most of the things he does.

The Iraq War was a major learning experience for American intelligence agencies and those working in the field. It triggered changes that meant the CIA no longer had control over other spy agencies, while also leading to new rules designed to help analysts make better decisions based on available sources, and determine if any of this information was false or biased.

The U.S. Intelligence didn’t get it right when they said that Iraq had nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs which made many people think the war would be a good idea. This hurt America’s reputation in the long run because they were wrong.

About 300,000 people in Iraq died during a period of 20 years. Unfortunately, 4,500 U.S. soldiers also died and the U.S. had to spend around $2 trillion dollars to battle the Islamic State group which became active in Iraq and Syria after 2011 when the U.S. withdrew from both countries.

Using the phrase “weapons of mass destruction” means that enemies and allies both want to know what will happen in the future. For example, before Russia invaded Ukraine, US intelligence told everyone it was going to happen.

The current US Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, said the intelligence team now follows stricter rules when analyzing things and making sure nothing gets missed.

After we made a bad judgement about whether Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) back in 2002, we gained important lessons. For example, to do better in the future, we needed more structured ways of thinking and analyzing things and also stronger rules for making these kinds of decisions. All these steps are helping us to make even better judgements that can help protect our safety as a nation.

A recent survey from Big Big News-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research has revealed that only 18% of United States grown-ups have a lot of trust in the government’s intelligence agencies. 49% stated they have “some” confidence and 31% said they don’t have very much faith.

After the attacks on the United States of America by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush decided to send troops into Afghanistan where a group called Taliban was giving a place for a man named Osama bin Laden and his organisation al-Qaida to have training camps.

Bush’s government also wanted to take action against Iraq because it was considered dangerous for American people in the Middle East.

Back in the 1980s, Iraq was trying to get a nuclear weapon and also had chemical and biological weapons programs. They were accused of not telling inspectors all the details about these programs before they got kicked out in 1998.

The Bush government argued that when these inspectors came back in 2002, Saddam Hussein’s government was still hiding facts about the programs- but they found nothing showing the programs were being used again.

In 2002, the U.S. had an idea that Iraq wanted to buy stuff like uranium and aluminum tubes for making machines and was even trying to build mobile labs for making weapons. They also thought that Iraq had drones which could spread nasty poisons and kept up to 500 tons of chemical weapons stored somewhere safe. Some people also said that there were connections between Iraqi officials and leaders from al-Qaida even though evidence showed the two sides were not friends at all.

Most of the claims made before the invasion were proved wrong after only a few months. After looking hard, they couldn’t find any weapons that they thought were there initially. More studies later told us that this was because people may have used old information or even lied in order to make these false claims.

President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell gave speeches repeating these same wrong beliefs before the war started.

Retired Col. Larry Wilkerson said that before his death in 2021, General Powell said he’d be associated with Iraq forever. People still argue about if the Bush administration would’ve invaded without the misinformation about weapons of mass destruction.

In 2006, a White House spokesperson said that President Bush made the choice to go to war in Iraq based on intelligence they got from an ‘intelligence community’. But some former intelligence officials said that the Bush administration chose to use all of the information they had available at the time to try and prove that Iraq was connected to al-Qaeda.

After the September 11th terror attacks, Congress discussed creating big changes to the American intelligence system. This was because it was believed that some of these attacks happened because the CIA and FBI were not sharing information with each other.

In 2004, legislators created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to take over the leadership role from the CIA. This office oversees all other intelligence agencies, produces a daily briefing for the president, and is responsible for assembling a team of highly skilled analysts.

People who back ODNI say that this agency can help resolve differences between other agencies, usually due to different ways of thinking or working. But other people are not in favor of ODNI because they believe it adds too much extra work.

The CIA improved its program for analysts which focused more on alternative possibilities and used “red teams” (or groups) to question the results that have been found. It also made sure that there was a lot more sharing of information so the people analysing data could be sure it was accurate.

Michael Allen was a person who worked in the Bush White House. He wrote a book called “Blinking Red” which was all about how they changed up their intelligence system in 2004. According to him, after Iraq, the U.S. government had become much more open to different opinions when it came to intelligence matters.

The Energy Department thinks that the COVID-19 virus might have come from a Chinese lab. The FBI also agrees with this opinion, but other organizations don’t think it came from a lab or are not sure where it came from.

The U.S. has learned an important lesson : to always take some time to check the facts before believing something, listen to different views from diffrent agencies, and not just take whatever is heard at face value. Tom Allen, Managing Director of Washington-based Beacon Global Strategies, stated this himself.

The USA has been giving Ukraine help, including details on how to better defend themselves. They have also shared information about what Russia might do. Even though the American intelligence teams foresaw that Russia would attack, they thought that it wouldn’t take very long for the Ukrainian troops to lose.

While in Congress, Crow has asked the agencies to look into how they decide if foreign countries can stand up in a fight. Two years ago, American intelligence didn’t predict correctly that the government in Kabul that was supported by Washington would struggle once America left Afghanistan.

“The war in Iraq has had a lasting impact on our reputation,” said Crow. “But we have chance to do better now and make sure that we take the lessons of the past with us into the future.”

Crow was thinking back on his time after high school, when he decided to join the Wisconsin National Guard. After the attacks of 9/11, he moved to active duty and remembers those times even now. He knows how important it is for military forces to be used correctly.

He pointed to a picture on the wall across from his shelf of Iraq War mementos. It was of his company at Fort Bragg, an Army base in North Carolina, before they deployed to the Middle East.

“There are soldiers in that photo who aren’t here anymore because they died,” he said sadly. “I still think about them.”

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