This essay will aim to examine the failures of intelligence
and the lessons to be learned, with specific reference to the 2003 invasion of Iraq
over Weapons of Mass Destruction, in a coalition led by the United States (US).
Intelligence can be defined as ‘the mainly secret activities – targeting,
collection, analysis, dissemination and action – intended to enhance security
and/or maintain power relative to competitors by forewarning of threats and opportunities’

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As one of the many definitions of intelligence, this one
predominantly addresses many of the areas where intelligence failures were identified
in the case of Iraq.
Official reports and inquires investigating the invasion found responsibility
lay with the intelligence community alone, within areas of collection,
analysis, dissemination and organisational management. However key to this
examination of the intelligence failures of this case study, is the awareness
that official reports were biased, in being influenced by individuals,
organisations and partisan politics. As a result they did not identify the key
intelligence failure of politicised intelligence. However, this essay will
highlight the politicisation of intelligence and evaluate its impact on the
intelligence community’s failings identified by official investigations. Drawing
upon the work of numerous intellectuals in the field, including Mark Pythian,
Gregory Treverton and particularly Richard K Betts, along with official reports
and investigations conducted, this essay will venture to assess the failures
mentioned and offer an opinion as to where the liability of the invasion of Iraq
over Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)
truly lies.




On March
20th 2003, the US
military and other members of an American-led coalition invaded Iraq,
with the aim to find WMDs. The invasion was a disguise by the US
government, under President Bush, to fulfil the aim of overthrowing Saddam
Hussein’s regime in Iraq
at the time. The context of the decision to go to war and the belief that Iraq
was producing and concealing WMDs starts with the Iraq-Iran war during the
1980s, in which Iraq
used chemical weapons against Iran.
After the war ended in a stalemate, Iraq
soon after invaded Kuwait
in which the US
led an international coalition to push Iraq
out of Kuwait
and subsequently forwarded an effort to sanction Iraq.
Also, key to this case study is the knowledge that Iraq
did posses chemical weapons prior to 2003, however crucially in summer 1991; Iraq
unilaterally destroyed its WMD
equipment and documentation. In 1994 the United Nations Special Commission
(UNSCOM) carried out the destruction of all known chemical weapons and
production equipment Iraq
had. When the terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001
took place, the Bush administration pushed suspicious to find a correlation
between Iraq
and Al Qaeda. Soon after, during his State of the Union Address on January 29th
2002, President Bush accused Iraq of having involvement in an international
‘axis of evil’, and ‘prepared the public for war by emphasising three claims:
1. threats posed by Iraq WMD,
2. risk that nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons technology could be
passed to terrorists, and 3. a link between Saddam and the events of 9/11’

Collection Failures


The failure of intelligence collection was one of the key
findings of US and UK
inquiries into the invasion, with errors occurring in relation to the lack of
intelligence collected, poor amounts of Human Intelligence (HUMINT) sources
existing, questions of reliability of HUMINT sources and an ignorance of using traditional
methods of intelligence. The intelligence community during the build up to the
war failed to integrate and use various methods of intelligence such as Human
Intelligence, Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), and Image Intelligence (IMINT),
this resulted in collection and analysis personnel working individually and
therefore gaps of missing intelligence were far less likely to be identified. Moreover,
these methods of collection were ‘supplemented by findings of the UNSCOM
inspectors on the ground’

However there was inadequate
attention given to the negative findings of UN inspectors after the early
1990s, nor were inspectors replaced once they left. This again led to evidence
that was ‘scattered, ambiguous, and often misleading’

It could be argued that the use
of UNSCOM intelligence was substituted due to a lack of US and UK HUMINT sources,
as both countries inquires stated. The Senate Select Committee found that
‘after 1998 the Intelligence Community did not have a single HUMINT source of
its own reporting on Iraqi WMD’

However, when HUMINT sources were used as part of intelligence
collection, it was the poor quality and lack of reliability of these sources
that was a significant factor leading to the intelligence failure. The case of
the HUMINT source known as ‘CURVEBALL’ is a major example of this failing.

The Case of Curveball:

from Iraq,
CURVEBALL was a German citizen who claimed to be a chemical engineer, who
previously worked at a plant producing mobile biological weapon laboratories, as
part of Iraq’s
program. He became one of the most relied upon sources of intelligence for the UK
and US and ‘provided the overwhelming portion of the information that had
formed the basis of the West’s threats assessments about Iraq’

A major failure of the
intelligence community was their use of his reporting, and the forwarding of it
to subsequent areas of the intelligence cycle, despite queries being raised regarding
the reliability of CURVEBALL.  Adding to
existing questions over reliability is the assessment of CURVEBALL by the
German Intelligence Agency (BND), who originally became aware of him and ‘described him as
“crazy”, “unstable” and “out of


The failure of the intelligence community in this particular
case came to light once CURVEBALL later stated that what he had said was
fabrication and all was all part of his personal motives to aid the toppling of
Saddam Hussein. Despite many of the failures within collection being the direct
result of the intelligence community’s own flaws, in the lead up to the war there
was increased pressure and demands for intelligence by policymakers. Due to the
poor quality of intelligence available, policymakers would therefore often
‘cherry pick’ or ‘grow their own intelligence’; two forms of politicisation
identified by Gregory Treverton. The failures in collection also have a direct
effect upon the success or failure of other aspects of the intelligence cycle,
such as analysis.


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