A report released yesterday by a presidential commission including Yale President Richard Levin found that the American intelligence community overestimated Iraq’s pre-war weapons policy, and recommended numerous changes to encourage information sharing and debate among U.S. spy agencies.
Levin and the nine other commission members delivered their findings to U.S. President George W. Bush ’68 at a White House meeting Thursday. The 618-page document, which commission members authored after over a year of frequent meetings in Washington, D.C., criticizes U.S. intelligence agencies for retaining a Cold War mind-set and concluded that U.S. intelligence officials did not give sufficient consideration to evidence that suggested Iraq did not posses an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Commission members also proposed better training for data analysts and changes in intelligence-gathering techniques, which Levin said insurgents have learned to circumvent.
Bush has said his administration will immediately begin to implement the commission’s recommendations.
Levin, who served on the commission with U.S. Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, and officials from the Pentagon and the C.I.A, said his outside perspective and experience running a complex organization like Yale was an asset to the commission.
“It was an excellent group, and a very collegial group as well,” said Levin who will appear on Fox News and CNN’s “Wolf Blitzer Reports” today. “Obviously, from time to time there were disagreements about approaches and conclusions, but never anything that couldn’t be overcome by continued discussion.”
When Bush appointed Levin to serve on the commission last year, some members of the Yale community disapproved of the choice because of Levin’s admitted lack of expertise in the intelligence world.
But Assistant Director of International Security Studies Minh Luong, who teaches the course “Espionage and Economic Intelligence” said he thinks the most successful presidential commissions, such as the one that investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, have historically had a mixture of people with various backgrounds.
“I think these blue-ribbon commissions work best when you have a variety of perspectives and backgrounds looking into the problems,” Luong said. “These are people who have distinguished backgrounds and are patriotic Americans who want to know the truth.”
Undergraduate Organizing Committee Member Josh Eidelson ’06, who protested outside of Levin’s Woodbrige Hall office last year after Levin’s appointment said he still believes that Levin’s service on the committee was inappropriate given Bush’s ties to his alma mater and to Levin. Levin and his wife Jane were among the first overnight visitors to the White House following Bush’s first inauguration in January 2001.
“I believed then and I still believe that Levin was not positioned to be a fully objective member of that committee, and I think had President Bush or President Levin been more concerned about the full appearance of integrity in that committee’s findings, Levin would not have been on it,” Eidelson said.
Yale Diplomat-in-Residence Charles Hill said he attributes intelligence failures predating the 2003 beginning of the war in Iraq in part to coercive politicians in Washington.
“The blame certainly goes on the intelligence community, but the blame really primarily is on the political levels of American administrations going back 30 years who have turned the intelligence committee into what the commission describes,” Hill said. “They were pushed and prodded and undermined by various committees of Congress.”
But after interviewing every analyst involved in Iraqi weapons intelligence, Levin said the commission found no indication that pre-war intelligence was influenced by political agendas in Washington.
“We have found absolutely and unambiguously no evidence of political pressure,” Levin said.
Former Defense Department official Ashton Carter ’76, who testified before the commission, warned that efforts to improve intelligence without addressing U.S. foreign policy failures will not improve national security.
“They treat intelligence like it’s in a vacuum,” said Carter, who is now a professor of science and international affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. “Intelligence failures are always coupled with policy failure, and the U.S. still doesn’t have a comprehensive policy to combat weapons of mass destruction, and so improving intelligence by itself won’t improve our security.”
Thursday’s presentation marks the end of a project that resulted in Levin’s periodic absences from New Haven. Levin said he does not expect his work days to become any less crammed now that the commission has finished his work.
“I’m sure my schedule will fill up just as quickly as it did before the commission,” Levin said. “There’s plenty to do around here.”