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The New York Sun
Friday, 1 April, 2005

Libya May Be Hiding Germs, Chemicals, Report Warns

Libya May Be Hiding Germs, Chemicals, Report Warns

BY ELI LAKE - Staff Reporter of the Sun
April 1, 2005

WASHINGTON - Since entering a deal to abandon its nuclear program at the end of 2003, the Libyan government has been less than forthcoming about the scope of its biological and chemical weapons programs.

That is one conclusion in a massive report released yesterday by a bipartisan commission originally tasked to examine the failure of the American intelligence community to accurately predict the extent of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program. The 10-person Silberman-Robb commission, chaired by federal appeals court judge Laurence Silberman and a former Democratic senator from Virginia, Charles Robb, concluded in blunt language that, "the Intelligence Community was dead wrong in almost all of its pre-war judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction."

The harsh judgment of America's intelligence analysts echoes the critiques of both the Iraq Survey Group, commissioned by the CIA to find the weapons that President Bush said were in Iraq, and a hard-hitting Senate Select Committee on Intelligence review issued last summer.

Unlike those reports, though, the commission provides a more comprehensive assessment of America's intelligence on other targets. While the unclassified version of the report left blank a section on America's information regarding Iran and North Korea's nuclear program, the classified version is said to find America's grip on both countries' weapons programs severely lacking. "Across the board, the intelligence community knows disturbingly little about the nuclear programs of many of the world's most dangerous actors," the report found.

Buried inside the unclassified report is disturbing news regarding the extent of Libyan compliance in a deal Mr. Bush announced on December 17, 2003, whereby Muammar Gadhafi agreed to abandon nuclear weapons and renounce international terrorism. Since then, American officials concluded in September that Libya had sufficiently abandoned its nuclear program.

The deal was worked out by American and British intelligence officials throughout 2003, resulting in the president's startling announcement on December 17 of that year that America would proceed to normalize ties with Tripoli in exchange for its compliance with the terms of the British and American governments. At the time, the agreement was touted by the White House as a foreign-policy success.

While praising the CIA for accurately predicting Libya's clandestine efforts to build nuclear weapons and the missiles that could launch them, the report goes on to state, "It is clear that Libya has been considerably less forthcoming about the details of its chemical and biological weapons efforts than about its nuclear and missile programs." That said, the report adds that most intelligence analysts believe that the programs, if they do exist, would be on a small scale.

The report's disclosure that Tripoli has failed to fully disclose its likely smaller chemical and biological weapons programs is apace with the regime's recent failures to meet the president's expectations for political reform. The Sun reported last month that a report from Physicians for Human Rights asserted that Libyan human rights activist and opposition leader Fathi al-Jahmi is dangerously ill and has not been afforded proper medical care in prison. Last year, the FBI unraveled a plot whereby Mr. Gadhafi was willing to pay for the assassination of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.

The Silberman-Robb commission, which is so critical of the intelligence community for erring on the side of caution with regard to Iraq's arsenal, warns that America should be vigilant about Mr. Gadhafi's disarmament commitments down the road. "It remains true that the mercurial regime may suddenly shift its plans and intentions, leading to a covert resuscitation of these programs that the Intelligence Community will be expected to detect," the report reads. In its conclusions on the Libya chapter, it reads, "There is little doubt that important questions remain about Libya's WMD programs."

The report's authors also say that collecting intelligence on Libya has become a relatively low priority and that needed resources on the Libya target have been redirected to other pressing policy concerns. There is only one CIA analyst now charged with tracking Libya's missile program, for example.

While raising new doubts about the Bush administration's deal with Mr. Gadhafi, the report strongly dispels the widespread partisan criticism that the pre-Iraq war intelligence failure resulted from political pressure: "The Commission found no evidence of political pressure to influence the Intelligence Community's pre-war assessments of Iraq's weapons programs." Indeed, the report finds that in no instance did intelligence analysts say that political appointees pressured them to overestimate the size or scope of Iraq's biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons program. "We conclude that it was the paucity of intelligence and poor analytical tradecraft, rather than political pressure, that produced the inaccurate pre-war intelligence assessments."

This should come as a blow to many leading Democrats, who argued during the campaign season that the White House manipulated the intelligence in a rush to war. While the report did not examine how the intelligence was used in public speeches, it recommends more interaction between political leaders and the intelligence community.

In one area, the report partially exonerates the Iraqi National Congress, a frequent target of war critics who said that the organization's intelligence was foisted upon the CIA - leading to the inaccurate assessment of Iraq's weapons programs.

The report also clears the Iraqi National Congress of charges leveled in the press that a defector code named "Curveball" was put up by the organization to influence America's assessment that Iraq had mobile biological weapons labs. "The CIA's post-war investigations were unable to uncover any evidence that the INC or any other organization was directing Curveball to feed misleading information to the Intelligence Community," the report states. "Instead, the post-war investigations concluded that Curveball's reporting was not influenced by, controlled by, or connected to, the INC."

In a statement yesterday, INC leader Ahmad Chalabi said, "We welcome this report as a vindication of the INC. We have consistently stated that the INC played a very small role in U.S. intelligence reporting on Saddam's WMDs and the report proves that."

Key Silberman-Robb Recommendations

The Silberman-Robb commission makes 74 recommendations to President Bush, most of which its authors concede will require new legislation. Here are five of the major recommendations:

* Mr. Bush should provide the new director of national intelligence with the political support necessary to control not only the budgets, but also the tasking and hiring authorities of the 15 intelligence agencies he is tasked to integrate.

* Make the FBI's counterintelligence and counterterrorism divisions a single national security unit within the bureau. While the Attorney General and FBI director should retain some authority over this unit, the new director of national intelligence should have the ability to coordinate the bureau's intelligence functions into his directorate.

* Press policy-makers to challenge intelligence assessments. While the report says that policy-makers and political appointees should accept when their assumptions are not meted out by the intelligence, it also encourages a more rigorous challenge of intelligence analysts. "This is not 'politicization'; it is a necessary part of the intelligence process," the commission writes in the transmittal letter to Mr. Bush.

* Rethink the daily intelligence briefings for the president. The report criticizes the CIA for providing Mr. Bush with "attention-grabbing headlines and repetition of questionable data." It says the briefs should provide more context on the intelligence delivered each morning. It also says the director of national intelligence should not even be in those meetings because it would detract from his task to assess long-term intelligence trends.

* Broaden the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence jurisdiction to include budget authority over tactical and joint military intelligence programs. Currently, the committee only recommends budget priorities to the Senate Armed Services Committee.


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