Senate panel reports progress in probe of pre-war intelligence, 8/3/06

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 3, 2006 

— WASHINGTON—Capitol Hill's intelligence wars took a step closer to resolution Thursday, but the biggest battle is likely far from concluded.

The Senate Intelligence Committee approved two of the reports in its oft-delayed, much-maligned investigation into whether the Bush administration misused intelligence leading up to the war in Iraq, committee chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas said.

One report focuses on former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's connections to terrorism and his alleged weapons of mass destruction program, and how they compare with pre-war intelligence assessments. The other assesses the intelligence agencies' use of information, much of which was later discredited, from the Iraqi National Congress, an influential exile group opposed to Saddam.

That leaves unfinished three reports in the so-called Phase II investigation, including the potentially explosive one that compares the pre-war public statements of government officials to the intelligence they had at the time. Opponents of the war have said the administration routinely exaggerated the menace presented by Iraq.

The committee expects to vote on releasing the two completed reports in September, after Congress returns from its summer break. The Bush administration still must declassify the information in them before the reports can be released.

Roberts, a Republican, said he would pressure the White House to declassify most of the information in the reports: "I will not tolerate a report which is overly redacted. ... This committee will not settle for anything less. Neither will the American public."

Partisan politics have dogged the investigation virtually since it began, over White House objections, in February 2004. Democrats, who had hoped to have it completed before the 2004 presidential election, accused Roberts of dragging his feet and protecting the White House. Roberts has said Democrats are responsible for politicizing the investigation.

The public nadir came in November 2005, when Democrats essentially shut down the Senate for several hours to prod Roberts.

But on Thursday the committee seemed to overcome its partisan differences: The votes on the reports were 14-1 on the assessments of Saddam's weapons program and terrorist ties, and 11-4 on the examination of information from the Iraqi National Congress.

John Pike, director of the think tank, said he thought the two reports would be instructive on documenting how U.S. intelligence agencies failed in recent years.

"I think the first one will show there's enough blame to go around ... that our Iraq policy had been malpremised for a decade," Pike said. "The second one, it will be interesting to see what they conclude on sources and methods. ... Talk about gullible's troubles."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the Democratic vice chairman of the committee, said the five reports must be completed "to determine where mistakes were made in the full cycle of intelligence—collection, analysis, dissemination and use. Only then can we begin to fix problems that are critical to our national security."

Others question whether more investigations are worth the effort.

"The reality is, we are stuck with our situation, right or wrong, in Iraq," said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, a policy research group. "Nothing we can find out now can change that. ... These investigations have become a waste of taxpayers' money."

Besides the report on officials' public statements, the others to be completed are on the intelligence role of the Pentagon's controversial—and now defunct—Office of Special Plans, which challenged the CIA on Saddam's terrorist ties and other issues, and what intelligence agencies predicted about Iraq's post-war conflagration.

A spokeswoman for Roberts said she didn't know when the three reports would be completed, approved, declassified and released.


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