Robb: Soviet-era spy tactics fail today

But what worked well in past was inadequate in today's world, he says

Former Sen. Charles S. Robb co-chaired a presidential commission on U.S. intelligence.

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- America's spy agencies were skilled at unearthing secrets about the Soviet Union but fell down on the job with Iraq, former Sen. Charles S. Robb said yesterday.

"We were very good at it with the Soviet Union," said Robb, who co-chaired a presidential commission that delivered a report critical of U.S. intelligence failures on Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction. "But the old methods don't work. Our old techniques that worked against more stable and fixed leaders simply don't work now."

Robb spoke at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia about the findings of the 600-page commission report which was made public March 31.

"We have a lot of experts on the Soviet Union. That's not true of the Middle East," he said.

Robb said the commission members interviewed hundreds of intelligence experts before determining that the intelligence community was "dead wrong in almost all its intelligence" about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Armed with that information, the country went to war.

"Analysts made their decisions based on assumptions instead of good evidence," Robb said. "They didn't distort the evidence regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. What they told the president is what they believed. They were simply wrong."

Robb, a Democrat, left the Senate after two six-year terms following his defeat by another former Virginia governor, Republican George Allen.

The commission made 74 recommendations on how to fix America's intelligence gathering, including a suggestion that the FBI be "brought all the way into the intelligence community."

"The intelligence community needs to be integrated so it talks to each other," said Robb.

"We need to demand more of the intelligence community. It needs to be pushed. Analysts must be pressed to explain what they don't know," he said.

The intelligence community doesn't consider "things that are not secret," as important, said Robb. "But there are huge amounts of information on Web sites and elsewhere that is valuable and is not being captured. You need to value open-source intelligence."

The commission's report, though thorough and critical, did not make much of a public impact, Robb said.

The report was released to the public just as Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman who became the center of a bitter moral and legal tug of war, died. Around that time, Pope John Paul II also became gravely ill. The two situations captured the world's attention.

"Timing is everything," said Robb. "We were delivering a report that otherwise we would have expected to be on the front page of newspapers across the country."

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