Two Army analysts whose work has been cited as part of a key intelligence failure on Iraq – the claim that aluminum tubes sought by the Baghdad government were most likely meant for a nuclear weapons program rather than for rockets – have received job performance awards in each of the past three years, officials said.
The civilian analysts, former military men considered experts on foreign and U.S. weaponry, work at the Army’s National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC), one of three U.S. agencies singled out for particular criticism by President Bush’s commission that investigated U.S. intelligence.
The Army analysts concluded that it was highly unlikely that the tubes were for use in Iraq’s rocket arsenal, a finding that bolstered a CIA contention that they were destined for nuclear centrifuges, which was in turn cited by the Bush administration as proof that Saddam Hussein was reconstituting Iraq’s nuclear weapons program.
The problem, according to the commission, which cited the two analysts’ work, is that they did not seek or obtain information available from the Energy Department and elsewhere showing that the tubes were indeed the type used for years as rocket-motor cases by Iraq’s military. The panel said the finding represented a “serious lapse in analytic tradecraft” because the center’s personnel “could and should have conducted a more exhaustive examination of the question.”
Washington lawyer Richard Ben-Veniste, who was a member of the Sept. 11 commission and whose government experience goes back to service as a Watergate prosecutor, said it is important for the administration to hold the intelligence community accountable for mistakes.
“It matters whether it was carelessness or tailoring [of intelligence], whether it was based on perceived wants of an administration or overt requests . . . It is time now to demonstrate the need for the integrity of the process,” Ben-Veniste said.
The commission found that aluminum tubes with similar tolerances were used in a previous Iraqi rocket, called the Nasser 81, and that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had published details about that system in 1996, as had the U.S. Department of Energy in 2001. The commission’s report said “the two primary NGIC rocket analysts said they did not know the dimensions” of the older Nasser 81 rocket and were unaware of the IAEA and Energy Department reports. The report did not name the analysts, but officials confirmed that the panel was referring to George Norris and Robert Campos.
The awards were given as part of a government-wide incentive program to recognize high-performing employees with cash or time off. An internal NGIC newsletter listed Norris and Campos as among those who received performance awards, lump-sum cash payments, in fiscal 2002, 2003 and 2004.
The CIA’s WINPAC also came in for specific criticisms. WINPAC “was at the heart of many of the errors . . . from the mobile BW [biological warfare] case to the aluminum tubes,” the commission reported, saying it feared “a culture of enforced consensus has infected WINPAC as an organization.”
The CIA, the panel said, contributed to misjudgments about the aluminum tubes. The commission found that some U.S. intelligence analysts believed the Iraqis had re-engineered an Italian rocket called the Medusa, which also used the type of aluminum tubes that Iraq was seeking. But neither the Pentagon agencies nor the CIA – the most vociferous proponents of the idea that the tubes were destined for nuclear use – obtained the specifications for the Italian-made Medusa until well after the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003.
Seven months earlier, a CIA officer had suggested that the CIA track down data on Medusa, but CIA officials took no action on that idea “on the basis that such information was not needed because CIA judged the tubes to be destined for use in centrifuges,” the commission wrote.
Despite sharp critiques from the president’s commission and the Senate intelligence committee, no major reprimand or penalty has been announced publicly in connection with the intelligence failures, though investigations are still underway at the CIA. George J. Tenet resigned as CIA director but was later awarded the Medal of Freedom by Bush.