When it came to acting on intelligence about Iraq, there were none so blind as those who would not see So the spooks are supposed to fall on their swords. In Washington and London, it's the spies who are taking the heat for all that wildly misleading stuff shoveled out of the White House and Downing Street stables about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. But, you know, it's not just bad intelligence that got us into Iraq, it's bad judgment about the consequences of invading and occupying such a place. And for that the Bush and Blair administrations have no excuses. It was never a secret that Saddam was a genocidal megalomaniac who wanted WMD. The trick was always to balance the risks he posed against the risks of deposing him. Intelligence is supposed to help make those choices, but all the decisions are up to the politicians. After Saddam steamrollered Kuwait in 1990, the first Bush administration wanted him out, and the Clinton administration subsequently made "regime change" in Iraq its official goal. But when it came to the crunch, Daddy Bush and Slick Willie worried more, and wisely, about the uncertainties of the aftermath. The current Bush administration simply, and willfully, ignored that aftermath problem, and that's the real reason for the mess we're in now. The relative costs and benefits weren't weighed. In the end, they weren't even put on the scale. And not for lack of information. Millions of dollars were spent by the State Department's Future of Iraq Project in 2002, laying out just about all the post- invasion needs and difficulties. But during its plunge into Iraq, the Bush administration not only tossed away those findings, it excluded from the upper levels of the first transition team just about anyone who'd taken part in the State Department's studies. "It was ideological," says an administration official who watched this spectacle from up close. "These guys convinced themselves this would be a one-week war, we'd be out of there by August, democracy would be in full blo om, [the Pentagon's favored exile leader Ahmed] Chalabi would recognize Israel and they'd all live happily ever after." If you were off message you were on the outs. "Anyone who disagreed with them didn't just have a different opinion," says this official, "they were considered wrong to the point of being evil." The administration's behavior in public bears this out and makes it easy to guess the kind of pressure put on men and women in the shadows. In 2002, when the president's chief economic adviser Larry Lindsey ventured an opinion that the Iraq operation might actually cost $100 billion to $200 billion-at a time when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was talking something under $50 billion- Lindsey was soon out of a job. In February 2003, just one year ago, and weeks before the war, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric C. Shinseki was asked at a Senate hearing how many troops he thought would be necessary to pacify Iraq after the war. "Something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers," said Shinseki. "We're talking about posthostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so it takes a significant ground- force presence to maintain a safe and secure environment, to ensure that people are fed, that water is distributed, all the normal responsibilities that go along with administering a situation like this." Perfectly reasonable, perfectly predictable, perfectly responsible-but not the kind of thing the Bush administration wanted to hear at all. General Shinseki, whose uniform, ribbons and stars testified to his expertise, was publicly rebuked by the Pentagon's civilian No. 2 , Paul Wolfowitz. The suit knew better. Such estimates, said Wolfowitz, were wildly "off the mark," and a figure of 100,000 was closer to the Pentagon's expectations. Well, the number of U.S. troops has been kept fairly close to that promised level of 100,000. (Those Pentagon bureaucrats do have iron wills.) But there's no question that many more troops were needed, and badly. "A safe and secure environment" still doesn't exist in Iraq, and from the start "the normal responsibilities" of occupiers simply have not been met. The borders were not secured. The cities were abandoned to looters. (To this day, Baghdad is without electricity for hours at a time.) More than 500 Americans are dead, most of them killed during the occupation. The monetary costs are upward of $1 billion a week and the chances of Iraqi or foreign forces effectively easing that burden are distant and slight. Even if "sovereignty" is transferred back to Iraqis on July 1, U.S. forces are supposed to stay on and keep fighting. Last November, the U.S. administration and the Iraqi Governing Council (which the American authorities appointed) agreed that Coalition forces would be given "wide latitude to provide for the safety and security of the Iraqi people." Even after July, it's going to be a long goodbye. Of course the Bush administration didn't want to acknowledge the likely costs before it started shooting. That kind of intelligence-just straightforward information, really-might have scared off the public. Polls last February showed that most Americans supported a war to oust Saddam, if necessary, but they weren't in any rush. They wanted to see United Nations weapons inspectors have a chance to do their jobs. They wanted to see more allies get on board with us, to share the costs in blood and treasure, if war really was required. But that didn't satisfy the suits at the Pentagon, or Bush-or Tony Blair for that matter. It's easy to imagine how angry, and even desperate, intelligence analysts become in a situation like this. John le Carre, the great master of espionage fiction (and a former spy who's presumably in touch with his old colleagues) gets the ferocious tone about right in his latest novel, "Absolute Friends": "The Iraq war was a criminal and immoral conspiracy. It was an old Colonial war dressed up as a crusade for Western life and liberty, and it was launched by a clique of war-hungry Judaeo- Christian geopolitical fantasists who hijacked the media and exploited America's post-Nine Eleven psychopathy." As it happens, I finished reading Le Carre's novel this week, just about the same time as the release in Britain of the "Report of the Inquiry into the Circumstances Surrounding the Death of Dr. David Kelly C.M.G." by Lord Hutton, and I couldn't help wondering what the spooks are thinking about that case. Arguably, Kelly was one of their own. He was one of Britain's most respected biological- weapons experts and a former U.N. inspector in Iraq. In the old days, Kelly was a colleague of the American inspector David Kay, who went on to head up Washington's own postwar search for Saddam's WMD. It is Kay's high-profile resignation and his conclusion that WMDs probably don't exist-along with his finger-pointing at the intelligence agencies for getting the facts all wrong-that has created such a stir on Capitol Hill. Kelly, though, was a quiet man. He worked on the fringes of the secret world at the Ministry of Defense, was decorated by the crown and even considered for a knighthood. Like most good scientists and intelligence analysts, he was strongly committed to objective truths. But last summer, after trying to explain the facts to a BBC reporter, Kelly was named by government officials as "the source" for a report that claimed Prime Minister Blair's aides had they knew might be false to create a greater sense of urgency. As the BBC and the Blairites traded accusations, Kelly took an afternoon stroll deep into the Oxfordshire countryside and opened the vein of his left wrist with a knife he'd owned since boyhood. Hutton's report finds no fault with the government in this case. Blair and his boys acted in good faith when they issued their WMD report, Hutton concludes. They couldn't know that all the pressure on Kelly last June and July might lead to his suicide, and he shouldn't have had unauthorized contacts with the press anyway. The BBC, for its part, is nailed for exaggerating and distorting Kelly's remarks, then defending indefensible reporting. Within hours after the Hutton findings were published, the chairman of the state-financed broadcast network resigned. Blair appeared in Parliament to crow that he and his aides were cleared. But of what? Blair, acting as a shill for Bush, insisted even more vehemently than the Americans that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction ready to use. That information, we now know, was totally bogus. Therefore the judgments based on it were false. Therefore uncounted thousands of lives in Iraq have been, and continue to be, lost. Hutton, the punctilious jurist, says he might have tried to find out just how so much "intelligence" could be so wildly wrong, but he conveniently declares in paragraph nine, page two, of his 328-page report that this question is outside the scope of his inquiry. And in the end, we still don't know why David Kelly took his own life. Maybe he was depressed about events we've never heard about. Maybe he feared official retribution for talking to the press. Maybe he just couldn't bear the distortion of the truth as he saw it. Or maybe he thought he was protecting somebody, or his ideals or his country, like one of the quiet, conscientious spies in a Le Carre novel. "Time, when you're stringing together the net that has snared you, doesn't count for much," says a once-heroic agent who knows his life is about to end in "Absolute Friends." "Thinking is far more important. Comfortable ignorance ... is no longer the acceptable solution, however hard it is to face reality." No wonder people of conscience feel abandoned and overwhelmed. By Christopher Dickey Newsweek Updated: 3:59 p.m. ET Jan. 30, 2004Jan. 30 - © 2004 Newsweek, Inc.