Was the CIA really to blame for the WMD intellegence failure?
Perhaps as a way of calming the public in that heated time of disillusionment with the government because of Vietnam and Watergate, a Senate committee in 1974-1975 conducted an investigation of the intelligence agencies. It discovered that the CIA and the FBI had violated the law countless times (opening mail, breaking into homes and offices, etc.). In the course of that investigation, it was also revealed that the CIA, going back to the Kennedy administration, had plotted the assassination of a number of foreign rulers, including Cuba's Fidel Castro. But the president himself, who clearly was in favor of such actions, was not to be directly involved, so that he could deny knowledge of it. This was given the term plausible denial.
As the committee reported:
Non-attribution to the United States for covert operations was the original and principal purpose of the so-called doctrine of "plausible denial." Evidence before the Committee clearly demonstrates
that this concept, designed to protect the United States and its operatives from the consequences of disclosures, has been expanded to mask decisions of the president and his senior staff members.1--From Declarations of Independence: Cross Examining American Ideology, page 16(Note 1) Church Committee Reports United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, Senate, Nov. 20, 1975, n.
Is the CIA an instrument of state policy, or does it formulate policy on its own?
You can't be certain, but my own view is that the CIA is very much under the control of executive power. I've studied those records fairly extensively in many cases, and it's very rare for the CIA to undertake initiatives on its own.
It often looks as though it does, but that's because the executive wants to preserve deniability. The executive branch doesn't want to have documents lying around that say, I told you to murder Lumumba, or to overthrow the government of Brazil, or to assassinate Castro.
So the executive branch tries to follow policies of plausible deniability, which means that messages are given to the CIA to do things but without a paper trail, without a record. When the story comes out later, it looks as if the CIA is doing things on their own. But if you really trace it through, I think this almost never happens.
Democracy Now: Former CIA Agent Phillip Agee On the Wilson Affair, the Iraq Invasion and Why Bush Sr. Calls Him A Traitor
Excerpt of Phillip Agee's book: CIA Diary Inside the Company