ORLANDO – Gen. Tommy Franks told several hundred commercial mortgage bankers gathered here Monday for an annual convention that he welcomes the creation of an independent panel to examine prewar intelligence that concluded Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD). More than 6 months after the U.S. military campaign against Iraq ended, however, no such weapons have been found, prompting a White House official to indicate early this week that President Bush was going to order an investigation into the intelligence lapses.

“Intelligence is much more of an art than a science,” explained Franks, former commander-in-chief of United States Central Command. “Over the last two or three decades, we have developed an incredible technological capability to gather intelligence. We can read license plates from space, for example. But, he emphasized, “we simply don’t have the spies that we had during the Cold War.” The general, who received three Purple Hearts during his military career, is convinced that a study will conclude the need for increased spying capability. His remarks came during a speech delivered at the Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel.

Franks also said that there was no conspiracy by the administration to mislead the American public prior to the war. In fact, he was privy to the same intelligence information as the president. “I absolutely believed with every fiber of my being that chemicals were going to be used on our troops. No one was as surprised as I was as troops closed in on Baghdad that in fact we had not seen the use of WMD.”

The general told audience members that he believed that capturing Osama bin Laden will prove to be much more of a challenge than apprehending Saddam Hussein. “I said a few months ago that we would catch Saddam Hussein and that we would get him in the near term because the people in Iraq don’t like him and that there was no place for him to go. Osama bin Laden, on the other hand, has millions of households in the Middle East who view him as a hero. That makes it difficult to capture or kill him.”

Franks, who lives with his wife in Tampa and is registered as an independent voter, also showed his humorous side several times during the speech. “We like to live in Florida because to the best of my knowledge, we’re the youngest people down here. Plus, we decided to stay in Florida because we love New Yorkers.”

The 14th annual MBA Commercial Real Estate Finance/Multifamily Housing Convention & Expo brought nearly 4,000 commercial real estate finance players from around the country. The program highlights a broad range of issues affecting the commercial real estate and multifamily finance issues, including lending criteria, target volumes and business outlooks for the coming year.