Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence

Iraq lessons learned: intelligence

(by Graeme Dobel, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Initiative)

John Howard didn’t have too much support from Australian intelligence in deciding to go to war against Iraq.

The Prime Minister got just enough cover from the Office of National Assessments to meet political needs. Beyond politics, though—as a basis for war—the Oz intelligence supporting war was thin stuff.

So thin, in fact, it was wrong. Iraq didn’t pose a threat because it didn’t have the Weapons of Mass Destruction that was the casus belli used by the US, Britain and Australia.

Intelligence is the starting point for this lessons learned exercise, as discussed in the previous column.

Two documents give the details: the Iraq report by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence at the end of 2003  (in those days formally titled Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD) and then Philip Flood’s Inquiry into Australian Intelligence Agencies in 2004.

The Intelligence Committee found the Defence Intelligence Organisation was sceptical throughout about Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction; on the other hand, the Office of National Assessments (inside the PM’s Department) hardened its line as Howard marched closer to invasion.

The Committee commented on a sudden variation in September 2002, ‘in the nature and tone’ of ONA’s view on Iraq’s WMD:

‘It is so sudden a change in judgement that it appears ONA, at least unconsciously, might have been responding to ‘policy running strong’.’ And by that stage, John Howard was indeed running strong with George W. Bush.

On Iraq’s WMD, Philip Flood lamented ‘a failure rigorously to challenge preconceptions or assumptions about the Iraqi regime’s intentions…there is little evidence that systematic and contestable challenging was applied in a sustained way to analysts’ starting assumptions.’

(full article)