WASHINGTON—President Bush and top administration officials have access to a much broader ranger of intelligence reports than members of Congress do, a nonpartisan congressional research agency said in a report Thursday, raising questions about recent assertions by the president.
Bush has said that Democratic lawmakers who authorized the use of force against Iraq and now criticize the war saw the same pre-invasion intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction that he did.
The president made that claim in recent speeches about Iraq. Support for the war has decreased, and critics have said that the administration misled the country when it relied on erroneous intelligence about Iraqi weapons programs that supported its case for war and discarded information that undermined it.
"Some of the most irresponsible comments—about manipulating intelligence—have come from politicians who saw the same intelligence I saw and then voted to authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein," Bush said on Wednesday in his most recent speech. "These charges are pure politics."
The Congressional Research Service, by contrast, said: "The president, and a small number of presidentially designated Cabinet-level officials, including the vice president ... have access to a far greater overall volume of intelligence and to more sensitive intelligence information, including information regarding intelligence sources and methods."
Unlike members of Congress, the president and his top officials also have the authority to ask U.S. intelligence agencies more extensively for follow-up information, the report said. "As a result, the president and his most senior advisers arguably are better positioned to assess the quality of the ... intelligence more accurately than is Congress."
The CRS report identified nine key U.S. intelligence "products" that aren't generally shared with Congress. These include the President's Daily Brief, a compilation of analyses that's given only to the president and a handful of top aides, and a daily digest on terrorism-related matters.
The White House didn't respond to a request for comment.
The CRS produced the report in response to a query by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a critic of Bush's policy on Iraq. Feinstein asked about the kinds of intelligence information that are available to Congress and the White House.
Feinstein asserted that the report's findings underscored how critical it is for the Republican-controlled intelligence committee to complete a long-delayed inquiry into the intelligence used by the White House to make its case for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
"This report goes to show that members of Congress were not seeing the same picture as the administration," she said. "When the Senate voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq in 2002, it was based on a more limited scope of prewar intelligence than was available to the administration."
Several post-invasion inquiries have found that U.S. intelligence agencies produced for the White House and Congress seriously flawed assessments on Iraq. The assessments erroneously concluded that Saddam was trying to revive a nuclear weapons programs and was hiding chemical and biological warfare stockpiles in violation of a U.N. ban.
Knight Ridder also has reported that the Bush administration relied on information that wasn't shared with Congress, including bogus claims by Iraqi defectors supplied by a former Iraqi exile group.
Also withheld from Congress was a discredited report by a now-defunct Pentagon unit that alleged that Saddam was cooperating with the al-Qaida terrorist network. No evidence of such a link has been found.