WASHINGTON — Cooperation between Israel and the United States helped produce a series of intelligence failures in the lead up to the Iraq war, according to separate reports issued by members of the Senate and the Knesset.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, in its report issued last week, blasted the Central Intelligence Agency for poor intelligence gathering and analysis, and concluded that the U.S. “intelligence community depended too heavily on defectors and foreign government services” to make up for America’s lack of human intelligence in Iraq. The credibility of these outside sources was difficult to ascertain and, as a result, the United States was left open to manipulation by foreign governments, the Senate report concluded.
In particular, the Senate report claimed, America had become completely dependent on foreign sources to evaluate Saddam Hussein’s ties to Hamas, Hezbollah and other Palestinian terrorist organizations. On this front, the Senate committee concluded that the foreign intelligence was “credible.” On the issue of weapons of mass destruction, however, the Senate report concluded that the United States relied on incorrect intelligence to argue that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Any direct references to Israel were blacked out of the published version of the Senate report, but an earlier report issued in March by a Knesset committee made it clear that U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies were working together and exchanging information.
“In this particular case, nobody had hard, on-the-ground intelligence information,” said Gerald Steinberg, a professor at Israel’s Bar Ilan University and an expert on American-Israeli security relations.
Intelligence agencies, Steinberg said, were relying on a combination of data collected from Iraqi defectors, as well as radio monitoring or signal intelligence. The intelligence community, Steinberg said, “looked for the signal intelligence to verify what they got from the defectors. When you’re doing that, and you don’t have ground truth, you can usually find enough information to apparently verify what you’re looking to verify.”
Along similar lines, the Senate report criticized what it described as the creation of an “assumption train” — a chain of false assumptions based on faulty, unscrutinized intelligence. Judging from the Knesset report, issued in March by an investigative committee appointed by the Israeli parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, several of the assumption train’s cars were made in Israel.
But while the Knesset report harshly criticized the Israeli intelligence community, it also pointed a negative finger at the United States and other countries. Referring to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the Knesset report argued that “the intelligence picture that Military Intelligence and the Mossad put together relied, among other sources, and to a significant extent, on the assessments of fellow intelligence services which were similar to Israel’s intelligence.”
In turn, the Knesset report stated, foreign intelligence services relied on intelligence passed on by Israel that actually originated from operatives working for other governments. The result, according to the Israeli report, was “a vicious cycle of sorts in the form of a reciprocal feedback, which at times was more damaging than beneficial. It very well may be that the assessments given by an Israeli intelligence organization, or any other organization, to a fellow organization, were passed from hand to hand, played a central role in making up the assessments of that foreign organization, and then eventually returned to the original organization as an assessment of a different intelligence organization. That assessment, in turn, was immediately perceived as a reinforcement and validation by a reliable source, of the original Israeli assessment.”
Both the Senate and Knesset reports criticized their country’s respective intelligence agencies for drawing incorrect conclusions from faulty assumptions and for engaging in what U.S. lawmakers described as groupthink — a collective reasoning that is not challenged by healthy skepticism.