New rules for US agencies aim to prevent another WMD fiasco

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The Independent US

Under the changes, outlined this week to a congressional panel, each of the 15 intelligence-gathering agencies must explain to the others the sourcing and weight of their materials, before these are combined into a National Intelligence Estimate - their pronouncement on any policy issue.

It was the National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002 that crystallised the overblown assumptions of the intelligence community about the threat posed by Iraq, concluding that Saddam possessed both chemical and biological weapons, and was "reconstituting" his nuclear arms programme.

The new methods, already in force, would produce judgements that were much less definite than in the past, General Michael Hayden, the deputy head of the Directorate of National Intelligence, told a House intelligence subcommittee. There would be a "higher tolerance for ambiguity", he said.

The changes are designed to tackle the most glaring deficiency of the US system, revealed by several reports into the intelligence failures of 9/11 and Iraq's non-existent WMD: the rivalries and lack of co-operation between the agencies, most notably the CIA, the FBI, and the Pentagon.

The post of Director of National Intelligence was set up to address this problem. John Negroponte, formerly US ambassador to the UN and then Iraq, is now in charge of the entire intelligence apparatus.

He has, by common consent, got off to a promising start. But the acid test will be whether he manages to impose his will on the Pentagon, which accounts for some 80 per cent of the $30bn (£17bn) annual intelligence budget and employs 100,000 people.