Yale President Richard Levin was one of seven people appointed by President George W. Bush at 1:30 p.m. today to an independent commission to look into intelligence failures on finding Iraqi weapons.
The other six members of the commission named today are all current or formal federal judges or government officials.
University diplomat-in-residence Charles Hill said he was “surprised” by the appointment but thought Levin was up to the task.
“President Levin has become a national figure in the course of his [Yale] presidency,” Hill said. “He’s an utterly credible figure of unimpeachable integrity.”
Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said Bush asked Levin to serve on the commission in the middle of this past week.
Levin was meeting with the Yale Corporation Friday afternoon and could not be reached for comment. The Yale Office of Public Affairs said Levin will hold a press conference tonight at 6:15 p.m. in Woodbridge Hall.
Emeritus professor of History Gaddis Smith said Yale presidents have testified at government hearings in the past. Former Unviersity President Kingman Brewster served on a commission on the draft which reported to the Pentagon during the Vietnam War, Smith said. But, he said, Levin’s appointment today was at a new level of prominence.
“[They have served on] nothing as important as this as I can think of,” Smith said.
Assistant Director of International Security Studies at Yale Minh Luong said it is important for intelligence review panels to have members from outside the intelligence community.
“One of [Levin’s] major responsibilities is to make sure the intelligence is analyzed and assessed in an honest fashion,” Luong said.
Levin is a top scholar himself, but he will also benefit from the access Yale gives him to some of the leading scholars in intelligence and terrorism, Luong said.
Commissions of this type usually first have to find an executive director who will be responsible for administration and put together a paper defining the scope of the inquiry, Hill said. He said it could be a month to six weeks or longer before the commission begins its work and 18 months before results are released.
“The idea that this could be completed before the presidential election is crazy,” Hill said.
Bush agreed to appoint the commission, which he initially opposed, as pressure grew from both sides of the aisle in Congress after former Chief Weapons Inspector David Kay said he did not believe Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of biological or chemical weapons.
Smith drew a parallel to the inquiries in response to U.S. intelligence failures before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. He said those inquirers had a difficult time in their investigations because they began before the war was completed and much of the necessary data was still secret. Levin and the other members of the commission may encounter the same problem because much of the intelligence they need may not be available, and in the current war, the end will be more difficult to determine, Smith said.
“I suspect that no matter what this commission comes up with, there will still be critics and skeptics who don’t believe it,” Smith said.
Hill said the commission will likely play a larger role than simply determining what was known prior to the war with Iraq. He said the U.S. intelligence community has been in decline since the end of the Vietnam War.
The commission will also have to look into global problems of intelligence, since the intelligence community overestimated the weapons Saddam Hussein possessed but was not aware of programs in Libya and Iran, Hill said. The White House also said the commission will look beyond Iraq.
Two of the other members of the commission have Yale degrees. Lloyd Cutler ’36 LAW ’39 was a former White House Counsel to Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and Patricia Wald LAW ’51 is a former judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Bush still has to select the remaining two members of the commission, which will consist of nine people.
-The Associated Press contributed to this report