The Perfect Intelligence Failure? U.S. Pre-War Intelligence on Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction



Prewar U.S. intelligence suggested that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. None were found in Iraq. The threat they posed proved to be illusory and not imminent. Was Iraq a case of intelligence failure? In his seminal 1978 study of the inevitability of intelligence failure, Richard Betts argued that the most crucial mistakes are most often made by decision-making consumers. Through analyses of the findings of the reports of the 2004 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and President Bush’s Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, this article finds failures occurring at numerous points across the intelligence cycle including, despite the conclusions of these two inquiries, the policy-maker level. Although issues surrounding these shortcomings remain keenly contested and a full explanation will only be possible once the role of policy makers has been scrutinized, the analysis provides a rare window through which analysts may better understand the dynamics of intelligence failure.