Alarm Bells Should Now Be Heard

It's possible that, just as the American intelligence organizations failed in deciphering the developments in Iraq, the Israeli intelligence community also failed when it stated that Yasser Arafat has full control over terrorist activity by the Palestinians.

A direct line links the resignation of David Kay, who was head of the team that was searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, to the conclusions of the commission headed by Lord Hutton in Britain, which examined the circumstances surrounding the suicide of weapons expert Dr. David Kelly, an adviser to the British defense ministry, to the professional approach of Major General Amos Gilad, formerly a senior officer in Military Intelligence in Israel and now the head of the political-security branch in the Defense Ministry. All three cases involve serious intelligence failures, which led two governments to launch a war and the third government to initiate a campaign to intimidate its citizens and to allocate large-scale resources for unnecessary deployment in the face of a virtual threat.

Kay's resignation brought into clear view the intelligence Pandora's Box that the Bush administration had worked hard to hide. Kay, the most ardent of the convinced, and the most passionate of the persuaders of the existence of stores of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, has now declared that he and the intelligence community failed themselves and misled others. Kay said he did not believe Iraq had engaged in the large-scale production of chemical or biological weapons since the end of the Gulf War in 1991. "I'm personally convinced there were not large stockpiles of newly produced weapons of mass destruction," he said. "We don't find the people, the documents or the physical plants that you would expect to find if the production was going on."

Beyond the embarrassment that Kay is causing U.S. President George Bush and his administration, his remarks, especially his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, constitute a warning that many would do well to heed, and not only in the United States. In analyzing the failure of the American intelligence community, Kay pointed to the danger that is inherent in an approach that proved so costly to Israel 30 years ago: the subjugation of intelligence to a conception. At some point in 1997 or 1998, Kay argued, Iraq was swept up into a "vortex of corruption," as a result of which Saddam Hussein was no longer in effective control of the country in the final years of his rule, and his scientists fed him details about fantastic projects to manufacture weapons of mass destruction. The scientists used the funds that Saddam allocated for the projects for other purposes. "The regime was no longer in control; it was like a death spiral. Saddam was self-directing projects that were not vetted by anyone else. The scientists were able to fake programs," Kay said.

In fact, all the intelligence organizations, despite their possession of highly sophisticated monitoring methods, failed to detect these processes and clung to the idea that Iraq was continuing to behave as it had during the 1980s. This meant, in other words, that a high probability existed that the Iraqis were continuing to secretly develop and manufacture large stocks of chemical and biological weapons and were working intensively to accelerate a nuclear program. However, none of that actually happened, Kay said. "The system became so corrupt" that it was impossible to further the weapons programs, "but we missed that."

This is precisely the point of linkage to what Major General Gilad represents. On the eve of the war, he asserted vigorously that he had no doubt the world was going to be surprised by the large stocks of weapons of mass destruction that were going to be uncovered in Iraq after its conquest. This intelligence error, which was adopted by the political level, resulted in billions of shekels being spent for a deployment against a threat that didn't exist.

And who knows? It's possible that, just as the American intelligence organizations failed in deciphering the developments in Iraq, the Israeli intelligence community also failed when it stated that Yasser Arafat has full control over terrorist activity by the Palestinians. That assertion was the basis for Israel's policy in the first two years of the intifada. The conclusion was that, since Arafat was the director and activator of terrorism, and "controlled the height of the flames," the Palestinian Authority had to be attacked and brought down in ruins. Yet it's possible that in the PA, as in Iraq, corruption caused Arafat to lose control even over the PA's armed forces, not to mention the Islamist organizations.

On the face of it, the British case is different. Here, a state commission was established, which found that Tony Blair's government did not distort the intelligence report that was presented to the public as justification for going to war in Iraq. Blair's office, the commission chairman, Lord Hutton, said, made use only of the data it received from the intelligence community in preparing the "Iraq dossier," which Blair presented in September 2002. The British prime minister was exonerated, yes, but the Hutton report did not answer the key questions. The commission avoided the truly important issue: the failure of British intelligence, which insisted adamantly that not only were there large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but that Saddam could send them into action within 45 minutes.

The British found themselves in the same boat as the Americans and the Israelis. Even if their intelligence personnel occasionally qualified their evaluations, the fact is that the higher the intelligence reports went on the political ladder, the more those caveats disappeared from view. At the end of the process, the policy makers received intelligence appraisals that were unequivocal and unambiguous. Thus, in a process of mutual nourishment, the intelligence services and the governments above them fell victim to a concept that they themselves created and cultivated. "Alarm bells should have gone off when everyone believes the same thing," Kay said. "No one stood up and said, `Let's examine the footings for these conclusions.'"

Those alarm bells should now be heard loud and clear not only in Washington and London but also, and especially, in Jerusalem.