Weapons Of Mass Destruction

Weapons of Mass Destruction in the United States

Central Intelligence Agency History: The CIA and Weapons of Mass Destruction

The CIA also came under criticism in 2003 and 2004 for its claims prior to the U.S.-Iraq War that the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate on “Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction,” released in 2002 and partially declassified in 2003, was advanced as the official justification for President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. The report said Iraq possessed chemical weapons for use in missiles, had an active biological weapons program, and had “started reconstituting” a program to build nuclear weapons. The report also cited the claims of a “foreign government service” that Iraq had arranged to buy several tons of pure uranium, which is used to make nuclear weapons, from the African nation of Niger.

None of these claims was supported when the Iraq Survey Group, a team of U.S. weapons inspectors led by David Kay, released an interim report in October 2003, more than six months after the United States invaded and occupied Iraq. The assertion that Iraq had tried to obtain pure uranium – a claim that was featured prominently in President Bush’s State of the Union speech in January 2003 – was shown to be based on forged documents. In January 2004 Kay reported to Congress that U.S. intelligence on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction was “all wrong, probably.” No weapons of mass destruction were found, and Kay said that since 1991 Iraq had no program to make chemical weapons. These findings were supported in the final report on Iraq’s weapons programs prepared by the special adviser to the CIA director in September 2004. In February 2004 President Bush appointed a special panel to investigate why the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies failed in their assessment of Iraq.

In July 2004 the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released another scathing report on the CIA’s prewar intelligence assessments. According to the report, most of the agency’s key judgments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were “either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting.” Intelligence analysts fell victim to “groupthink,” basing their conclusions on what they expected to find while ignoring evidence that Iraq did not have banned weapons, the report concluded. The report depicted the CIA as a “risk-averse corporate culture,” finding that the agency did not have a single spy inside Iraq after 1998 to monitor the country’s weapons programs. It was later revealed, however, that the CIA had made contact with a member of Saddam Hussein’s inner circle who told the agency that Iraq had destroyed its chemical weapons and did not have a nuclear weapons program. This information was reportedly relayed to officials within the Bush administration prior to the U.S. invasion.

Many observers believed there were other shortcomings in the U.S. strategy for Iraq, notably the failure to organize an international alliance and the alienation of potential Middle Eastern allies just when their help was needed. But public debate focused on the intelligence issue, and as in the past, the CIA found itself in danger of being the scapegoat for political failures. In 2004 CIA director George Tenet resigned, citing personal reasons. Following the reelection of President George W. Bush in November 2004, more senior CIA officials resigned, reportedly under pressure from newly appointed CIA director Porter Goss and because they were suspected of leaking information to the media that was unfavorable to the Bush administration.

Despite its faulty intelligence on Iraq, the CIA could claim success in 2004 in helping uncover a black market in nuclear weapons technology created by Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. Findings by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the CIA, and other intelligence agencies were presented to Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, who placed Khan under house arrest. The investigation revealed a widespread network that furnished technology and designs for making nuclear weapons to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. In 2003 CIA intelligence had helped lead to the seizure of a ship loaded with material for use in making nuclear weapons. The ship was bound for Libya, and the discovery of its cargo was a factor in causing Libya openly to renounce its nuclear weapons program in 2004. See also Arms Control; Nuclear Weapons Proliferation; Pakistan. (1)

In this Section: CIA History: Early Years, CIA History: Iran, Guatemala, and the Bay of Pigs, CIA History: Early Intelligence Gathering, CIA History: The Mid-1960s Through the 1970s, CIA History: Controversies of the Early and Mid-1970s, CIA History: Attempted Reform Under President Carter, CIA History: The CIA Under President Reagan

CIA History: Covert Operations in Central and South America, CIA History: Covert Operations in Non-Latin Countries, Iran-Contra, CIA History: The 1990s, September 11 Attacks, Weapons of Mass Destruction, CIA History: Secret Prisons, Torture, and Renditions, Valerie Plame Wilson, CIA Inspector General and CIA Obstruction.

Finding the law: Weapons of Mass Destruction in the U.S. Code

A collection of general and permanent laws relating to weapons of mass destruction, passed by the United States Congress, are organized by subject matter arrangements in the United States Code (U.S.C.; this label examines weapons of mass destruction topics), to make them easy to use (usually, organized by legal areas into Titles, Chapters and Sections). The platform provides introductory material to the U.S. Code, and cross references to case law. View the U.S. Code’s table of contents here.


Notes and References

  1. Encarta Online Encyclopedia

See Also