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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. intelligence flaws that occurred in Iraq are "still all too common" throughout an American spy community that knows disturbingly little about nuclear programs elsewhere, a presidential commission reported on Thursday.
The report, ordered by President Bush to get to the bottom of Iraq intelligence failures, said the harm done to American credibility by flaws in intelligence on the extent of Iraq's weapons programs "will take years to undo."
"The flaws we found in the intelligence community's Iraq performance are still all too common," said the report's authors. "Across the board, the intelligence community knows disturbingly little about the nuclear programs of many of the world's most dangerous actors."
"The analysts who worked Iraqi weapons issues universally agreed that in no instance did political pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgments," the report said. But it added: "It is hard to deny the conclusion that intelligence analysts worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom."
"We conclude that the intelligence community was dead wrong in almost all of its prewar judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction," the commission said in a report to the president. "This was a major intelligence failure."
The main cause, the commission said, was the intelligence community's "inability to collect good information about Iraq's WMD programs, serious errors in analyzing what information it could gather and a failure to make clear just how much of its analysis was based on assumptions rather than good evidence.
"On a matter of this importance, we simply cannot afford failures of this magnitude," the report said.
But the commission also said that it found no indication that spy agencies distorted the evidence they had concerning Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, a charge raised against the administration during last year's presidential campaign.
"This is not 'politicization'," the panel said of its own report. "It is a necessary part of the intelligence process."
The commission gave Bush a specific suggestion about the daily intelligence briefings he receives - traditionally delivered by the nation's most senior intelligence official. The panel said that Negroponte should not be the person who briefs the president, or even be in the room every day when the report is given.
"For if the DNI is consumed by current intelligence, the long-term needs of the intelligence community will suffer," the report said. Bush, however, expressly said he planned to give Negroponte responsibility for the daily briefings at the time the president introduced his choice to be the new director of national intelligence.
Overall, the report delivered a harsh verdict. "Our intelligence community has not been agile and innovative enough to provide the information that the nation needs," the commission said. It noted that other investigations have reached similar conclusions. "We should not wait for another commission or another administration to force widespread change in the intelligence community," the report said.
Looking beyond Iraq, the panel examined the ability of the intelligence community to accurately assess the risk posed by America's foes.
"The bad news is that we still know disturbingly little about the weapons programs and even less about the intentions of many of our most dangerous adversaries," its report said. The commission did not name any country, but appeared to be talking about nations such as North Korea and Iran.
"Our review has convinced us that the best hope for preventing future failures is dramatic change," the report said. "We need an intelligence community that is truly integrated, far more imaginative and willing to run risks, open to a new generation of Americans and receptive to new technologies."
The report urged Bush to give more authority to Negroponte, his new director of national intelligence, overseeing all of the nation's 15 spy agencies.
"It won't be easy to provide this leadership to the intelligence components of the Defense Department or to the CIA," the commissioners said. "They are some of the government's most headstrong agencies. Sooner or later, they will try to run around - or over - the DNI. Then, only your determined backing will convince them that we cannot return to the old ways," the commission told Bush.
On al-Qaida, the commission found that the intelligence community was surprised by the terrorist network's advances in biological weapons, particularly a virulent strain of a disease that the report keeps secret, identifying it only as "Agent X." The discovery of al-Qaida's work came only after the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan removed the Taliban from power.
"Al-Qaida's biological program was further along, particularly with regard to Agent X, than prewar intelligence indicated," the report says.
U.S. officials have previously said they found signs of al-Qaida's work in anthrax weapons in Afghanistan, but it was not clear if "Agent X" referred to anthrax. Al-Qaida had not yet "achieved a functioning biological weapon with this substance," the report noted.
US intelligence agencies know "disturbingly little" about the weapons programmes of Washington's adversaries, an official report has found.
It outlines about 70 recommendations for the new US director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, who will oversee all 15 US spy agencies.
The report says dramatic changes are needed to prevent failures similar to the fiasco over Iraq's missing weapons.
The White House, which ordered the study, has welcomed its conclusions.
Several independent inquiries have already examined the role that intelligence played in the run-up to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.