By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 28, 2005; Page A01
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."
Pentagon spokesmen said the awards for the analysts were to recognize their overall contributions on the job over the course of each year. But some current and former officials, including those who called attention to the awards, said the episode shows how the administration has failed to hold people accountable for mistakes on prewar intelligence.
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.
The president’s commission urged the Bush administration to consider taking action against the agencies, and perhaps the individuals, responsible for the most serious errors in assessing Iraq’s weapons program.
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.
In its report, the commission, chaired by former appellate judge Laurence H. Silberman and former senator Charles S. Robb (D-Va.), said "reform requires more than changing the community’s systems: it also requires accountability."
One step, the commission said, could be for the new director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, to "hold accountable the organizations that contributed to the flawed assessments of Iraq’s WMD program."
With regard to the NGIC and two other agencies that committed errors — the Defense Humint Service, which specializes in "human intelligence," and the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Center, or WINPAC — the commission said Negroponte should give "serious consideration to whether each of these organizations should be reconstituted, substantially reorganized or made subject to detailed oversight."
The NGIC assessment of the aluminum tubes was described by the president’s intelligence commission as a "gross failure." The agency was "completely wrong," said the panel, when it judged in September 2002 that the tubes Iraq was purchasing were "highly unlikely" to be used for rocket-motor cases because of their "material and tolerances."
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.
Contacted by telephone, Norris said that any questions would have to be answered by his superiors. A request for comment made by The Washington Post to Campos would get the same response, Norris said.
In a written statement, the Pentagon, speaking for the NGIC, confirmed that Norris and Campos had received awards, and it said that they were based "on their overall annual performance — not on a single contribution — and supervisors were encouraged to reward individuals on the basis of their annual contributions." 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 Pentagon statement also said that the NGIC "has recognized errors in analytical judgment occurred and individuals involved with this situation have taken a specific lead within the organization to understand, address, and instruct lessons learned." The statement said that the Silberman-Robb commission report "had provided valuable input to our human intelligence reform efforts which were initiated in January 2004" as part of the Pentagon proposal to remodel the Defense Department’s overall intelligence.
The commission faulted the Defense Humint Service for failing to withdraw reports that were based on input from "Curveball," an Iraqi exile working with the German intelligence service. Curveball provided questionable information — later disproved — about Iraq’s alleged mobile facilities that could produce biological weapons. The Defense unit, the panel said, resisted the notion that "it had any real responsibility to vet his veracity."
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.
A senior CIA official said that the incident raised by the commission had been investigated and that it was found that the Medusa suggestion "did not get within the agency where it should have gotten." As a result, this official said, "We are putting more eyes on such subjects and the systematic sharing of such information is more extensive now."