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Public Doubts "Smarts" of U.S. Intelligence Community

Public Doubts "Smarts" of U.S. Intelligence Community

Half of Americans say Bush administration deliberately misled country

by Joseph Carroll

The U.S. intelligence community was "dead wrong" in its accounts that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction prior to the start of the war two years ago, according to a recent presidential commission report. The commission also stated that the intelligence community knows little about possible nuclear threats to the United States from nations across the globe.

The criticism comes at a time when the American public is skeptical about the United States' intelligence efforts. Less than half of Americans are confident in the U.S. intelligence community. Additionally, half now believe that the Bush administration deliberately misled the public about whether Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Slim Majority of Americans Not Confident in Intelligence Community

An April 1-2 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll* finds that 52% of Americans are not confident that "the U.S. intelligence community is giving the administration accurate information about possible threats to the U.S. from places such as Iran and North Korea." Forty-seven percent express confidence, but only 10% say they are "very confident."

Half Say Bush Administration Deliberately Misled the Public

Americans are split as to whether the Bush administration deliberately misled the public about possible weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, with 50% saying the administration misled the public and 48% saying it did not.

That represents the highest proportion of Americans saying the country was misled since Gallup first asked this question about two years ago. Over time, there has been a slow, gradual increase in the percentage saying the administration deliberately misled Americans, from 31% in May and June of 2003 to the current 50%.

Partisan Politics?

Republicans and Democrats differ substantially in their views of the intelligence community and the Bush administration, with Republicans much more positive than Democrats.

Nearly 6 in 10 Republicans say they are very (12%) or somewhat (47%) confident that the intelligence community is giving the administration accurate information about possible threats to U.S. security. Only about 4 in 10 Democrats and independents say the same.

Only 14% of Republicans say the Bush administration deliberately misled Americans about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, compared with more than 8 in 10 Democrats (82%). Republicans have shown only modest variations in their responses to this question historically, ranging from a low of 8% to a high of 15%. Democrats, however, have become substantially more suspicious about the administration, as only about half initially thought the Bush administration had misled the public.

Bottom Line

The federal government has been examining the intelligence failures of federal agencies like the FBI and CIA ever since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against New York City and Washington, D.C. High-profile reports of these investigations such as that by the Sept. 11 commission are shedding light on the weaknesses of the U.S. intelligence gathering system, thus it is understandable that many Americans have doubt about its effectiveness.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,040 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 1-2, 2005. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

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