Senate committee: Bush knew Iraq claims weren't true

McClatchy NewspapersJune 5, 2008 

WASHINGTON — President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other top officials promoted the invasion of Iraq with public statements that weren't supported by intelligence or that concealed differences among intelligence agencies, the Senate Intelligence Committee said on Thursday in a report that was delayed by bitter partisan infighting.

A second report found that a special office set up under then-secretary of defense Donald H. Rumsfeld conducted "sensitive intelligence activities" that were inappropriate "without the knowledge of the Intelligence Community or the State Department." That report revealed that Pentagon counterintelligence officials suspected that Iran might have tried to use the group to influence administration policymakers.

Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller, D-W. Va., said the administration's actions went far beyond simply being misled by bad intelligence.

"There is no question we all relied on flawed intelligence," Rockefeller said in a statement. "But, there is a fundamental difference between relying on incorrect intelligence and deliberately painting a picture to the American people that you know is not fully accurate."

"Before taking the country to war, this administration owed it to the American people to give them a 100 percent accurate picture of the threat we faced," Rockefeller said. "Unfortunately, our committee has concluded that the administration made significant claims that were not supported by the intelligence."

The White House dismissed the main report as a partisan rehash of what's already known about erroneous U.S. intelligence on Iraq.

"The majority report today is a selective view," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. "The administration statements on Iraq were based on the very same intelligence that was given to the Congress. And they came to the same conclusion, as did other countries around the world. The issue . . . ultimately turned out to be false, and we have fully admitted that."

"The fact that the intelligence turned out to be wrong on WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) does not mean that anyone purposefully lied," Perino said.

Four Republicans on the committee — Orrin Hatch of Utah, Christopher Bond of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia — denounced the report as "inconclusive, misleading and incomplete."

However, two Republicans, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snow of Maine, joined Democrats to approve the report on a 10-5 vote.

The Senate report, the first official examination of whether top officials knew that their public statements were unsubstantiated when they made them, reviewed five speeches by Bush, Cheney and former Secretary of State Colin Powell between August 2002 and February 2003. It also dissected key statements made by them and other top officials, including Rumsfeld and then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

The committee found that the administration's warnings that former dictator Saddam Hussein was in league with Osama bin Laden, a highly inflammatory assertion in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaida attacks, weren't substantiated by U.S. intelligence reports. In fact, it said, U.S. intelligence agencies were telling the White House that while there'd been sporadic contacts over a decade, there was no operational cooperation between Iraq and al Qaida, the report said.

The administration's repeated statements "suggesting that Iraq and al Qaida had a partnership, or that Iraq had provided al Qaida with weapons training, were not substantiated by intelligence," it said.

Contentions by Bush and Cheney that Saddam had to be removed because he could give terrorists weapons of mass destruction to strike the United States were "contradicted by available intelligence information" that found that the late Iraqi dictator was unlikely to make such transfers, the report said.

Cheney's assertions that Mohammad Atta, the chief Sept. 11 hijacker, had met months before the attack with an Iraqi intelligence officer in the Czech capital, Prague, were also unsubstantiated, the inquiry found.

The committee said that Bush and Cheney "failed to reflect concerns and uncertainties" expressed in intelligence analyses that questioned administration assertions that Iraqis would welcome U.S. troops as liberators and warned that American forces could face violent resistance.

Statements by Bush, Cheney and other top officials that Saddam had stockpiled chemical and biological weapons in violation of U.N. resolutions were "generally substantiated" by what turned out to be erroneous U.S. intelligence analyses, the report said.

However, while intelligence reports "generally substantiated" their claims that Iraq had secretly restarted a nuclear weapons program, the committee said, Bush and other officials failed to disclose that the State Department disputed that finding.

The administration's statements also failed to disclose that the Energy Department joined the State Department in rejecting allegations that Iraq had tried to buy uranium in Africa, the report said.

The reports released Thursday brought to an end a lengthy investigation into how U.S. intelligence appeared to be so wrong in the run-up to the Iraq war.

The first phase of that probe was released in July 2004 and excoriated the U.S. intelligence community for erroneous and problem-plagued analyses of Iraq's alleged illicit weapons programs. The second phase was repeatedly delayed by partisan arguments that lasted even after the Democrats won control of the Senate in 2006.

In their minority report, the dissenting Republicans called the investigation "a waste of committee time and resources." The Republicans documented pre-war assertions by Rockefeller and other leading Democrats that echoed the Bush administration's portrayal of the threat posed by Saddam.

The report didn't examine those statements, committee staffers said, because the administration's statements had a greater impact.

Committee staffers said that the Senate has learned from its mistakes and now has special groups dedicated to controversial topics such as Iran and China.

The Senate is "wary of wholesale acceptance" of intelligence reports and of statements made by intelligence officials, said a committee staffer who asked to remain unnamed so he could speak more freely.

(Nancy A. Youssef and Mark Seibel contributed to this report)

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