WASHINGTON—Two key Republican senators want the Bush administration to explain U.S. intelligence failings in Iraq that they say are endangering American troops and contributing to the rising death toll there.
Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Sen. John Warner of Virginia, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, are planning to hold Senate hearings to examine the performance of military intelligence in postwar Iraq.
"I'm very concerned about it," Roberts said in an interview. "We're not going to win this anti-guerrilla fight without better intelligence. I don't think it's up to par. It's costing us lives. We can't tell the good guys from the bad guys."
Warner said he and Roberts will determine which of their committees will direct the hearings. Warner sits on Roberts' committee and Roberts is a member of Warner's panel.
Roberts has drawn criticism from Democrats for limiting his panel's probes so far into prewar intelligence failings and not investigating whether policy-makers—including President Bush and Vice President Cheney—misused intelligence. Warner's committee also has broad authority to probe.
"I intend to look at it and he does, too," Warner said. "The main thing is that our troops are in danger night and day over there and are highly dependent on intelligence. I think it's of sufficient seriousness that we're moving on setting (hearings) up right now."
The senators' misgivings shine a spotlight on failures in Iraq just as the Bush administration is trying to focus public attention on postwar successes, such as the restoration of electricity and schools. The push to examine current intelligence gathering was driven, in part, by an internal Army report this month that cited U.S. military intelligence failures in directing and training intelligence specialists in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The report by the Center for Army Lessons Learned at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., found that intelligence teams produced only one-fourth of the daily reports expected from them. The study, first reported by The Washington Post, also found that unmanned aerial vehicles, while useful during combat, were "limited during stability operations." In one instance, an unmanned plane was used to locate buried planes and to monitor a safe house, not to detect whoever was attacking U.S. troops.
L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. official in Iraq, on Sunday acknowledged that intelligence training and the use of technology could improve in Iraq. He said the United States has increased the number of specialists conducting counterterrorism intelligence. "That has begun to pay off," he said on Fox News.
But the Army report noted that members of tactical intelligence teams, whose job is to build rapport with the local population, were at times participating in raids and "door kicking" operations. "Putting them on a door-kicker team ruins that rapport and there would be no advantage to them collecting information," the report said.
Intelligence services are also woefully lacking in interpreters, the report said. Most military linguists in Iraq and Afghanistan, it said, have the lowest language rating— "which basically gives them the ability to tell the difference between a burro and a burrito."
In Congress, even Republicans are growing impatient.
"We can only look at results, and the results are that the incidents are increasing and the deaths are increasing," said Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who has called for a greater military presence in Iraq. "By any objective criteria we need to improve our intelligence capability, there's no doubt about that."
Roberts worried that intelligence flaws could jeopardize the U.S. mission in Iraq. "It's costing a lot more Iraqi lives," he said. "It's endangering the whole issue of whether we can bring civility to that country."
On Tuesday, President Bush blamed the attacks on remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baathist party and foreign terrorists. While conceding that Iraq remains a "dangerous place," Bush gave a relatively upbeat assessment of efforts to combat the attacks.
"We're getting better intelligence, more actionable intelligence, and the Iraqi citizens themselves are willing to fight off these terrorists," he said during a news conference in the White House Rose Garden.
Senior military officials said the attacks underscore how much administration officials have underestimated the enemy in Iraq and overestimated U.S. high technology.
Now, said one senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is trying to blame current problems on the CIA, which has 280 officers in Iraq, although there are130,000 Defense Department personnel there, including more than 1,000 military intelligence officers.
"It's not the agency," Roberts said, referring to the CIA. "It's the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) and the services."
Neither the CIA nor military intelligence, however, has had significant success penetrating the ranks of Saddam loyalists, foreign fighters, militant Shiite Muslims or common criminals who are mounting the attacks, the senior officials said, and the latest military technology being sent to Iraq isn't likely to turn the tide.
"Maybe some of these gizmos can tell where people are hiding, but so far as I know, none of them can tell the difference between a civilian with a water bucket and a guy in civilian clothes with an RPG," or rocket-propelled grenade, said one official. "And none of them can tell what target they're going to try to hit next. To do that, you need to recruit spies, and that's messy and hard and it takes time."
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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