Saturday, April 02, 2005

C.I.A. Answers Criticism With Pledge to Do Better

NY Times
April 2, 2005
C.I.A. Answers Criticism With Pledge to Do Better

WASHINGTON, April 1 - A day after a presidential commission harshly criticized its erroneous assessment of Iraqi weapons and weak reporting on other subjects, the Central Intelligence Agency said Friday that it was trying to give policy makers a more candid account of the reliability of intelligence it passed on.

"The intelligence community has acknowledged flaws in its findings on the Iraq weapons of mass destruction target," said Paul Gimigliano, a C.I.A. spokesman. "It has worked hard to improve its operational and analytic tradecraft across the board and to ensure that its customers get not only a judgment, but a clear sense of the strength of the sourcing and reasoning behind the judgment."

Mr. Gimigliano added, "Our goal is to do even better."

The commission, headed by Laurence H. Silberman, a senior federal judge, and former Senator Charles S. Robb of Virginia, grimly assessed all the intelligence agencies' work, not only on Iraqi weapons, but on such current threats as Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs.

The commission called the agencies' information about possible unconventional weapons in Iraq in the two years before the American-led invasion as "dead wrong," a collection of thin reports dressed up as reliable intelligence and based on information from sources who turned out to be liars.

The commission also made more than 70 recommendations to centralize power over the nation's 15 far-flung, competing spy agencies in the hands of a director of national intelligence. President Bush has nominated John D. Negroponte, a veteran diplomat, for the post.

A statement from the National Security Agency, portrayed in the report as lagging in technology and sometimes resistant to outside ideas, pledged the agency's cooperation.

In an interview Friday at the commission's offices in Arlington, Va., Mr. Robb and Judge Silberman said they were gratified by President Bush's initial reaction to the report in a 70-minute meeting Thursday.

"He expressed general enthusiasm about our report," Judge Silberman said. "He did not tell us that every jot and tiddle of our recommendations would be implemented."

Mr. Robb added, "The bottom line is, he didn't raise any specific recommendation that he felt was unworkable, unmanageable or undoable."

Both men said the president appeared quite familiar with the report, roughly 700 pages in its classified version and preceded by a 37-page summary.

"He went into our report in great detail," Judge Silberman said. "It was obvious that he'd certainly read the executive summary and he'd been briefed extensively on the rest of the report."

The commission co-chairmen said Mr. Bush had indicated that he knew some agencies would resist some proposed changes and hinted that he might have already heard arguments against the commission's ideas. He has assigned his homeland security adviser, Frances Townsend, to oversee carrying out the recommendations.

The two men said that they would meet privately on Tuesday with the Congressional leadership and the Senate and House Intelligence Committees to discuss the report.

Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, a West Virginia Democrat, said he believed that legislation approved in December to reorganize the intelligence agencies should be adjusted, something he will bring up with Mr. Negroponte during his confirmation hearing, scheduled for April 12.

"The D.N.I. should have more control of budget and personnel, and he should be given the mechanisms necessary to ensure quality, independent, and objective intelligence," Senator Rockefeller said.

Judge Silberman and Mr. Robb said only a handful of changes would require Congressional action. Most of the ideas, from reshuffling the C.I.A.'s clandestine service to creating a National Intelligence University, can be done at the president's order or at the direction of the national intelligence director, they said.

On other issues raised by their report, Mr. Robb and Judge Silberman said, the panel was shocked to learn of the loss of critical intelligence assets over the past 20 years as a result of leaks to the news media.

"We were stunned even in the war on terror to find out how leaks had so hampered that," Judge Silberman said. As a remedy, they suggested prosecuting leakers and discussed granting journalists a limited privilege to protect anonymous sources, setting out circumstances under which reporters would be required to disclose sources. But the panel could not reach agreement on such a proposal, they said.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting for this article.