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GOP senator: CIA analysts to blame for bad intelligence on Iraq

WASHINGTON—A Senate committee has determined that CIA analysts were primarily to blame for flawed U.S. intelligence assessments of Iraq's banned weapons programs, a Republican member of the panel said Wednesday.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia told Knight Ridder that a Senate Intelligence Committee's review found that CIA analysts had committed "wholesale mistakes" by improperly analyzing data or relying on faulty information.

Their defective judgments were passed to CIA Director George Tenet and fed into the key prewar intelligence assessment of Iraq's weapons program that was given to President Bush and Congress in October 2002, he said.

Chambliss declined to reveal details, saying the misjudgments would be set out in a long-awaited report that the committee is scheduled to release Friday.

"There were a number of situations where unreasonable conclusions were reached," Chambliss said. "Some of it related to the information itself. The information was faulty. Some of it was good information that was not substantiated and turned out to be incorrect."

Chambliss said the report would absolve Bush and Tenet of accusations that they had misled the nation with allegations that Iraq had programs to manufacture weapons of mass destruction. U.S. inspectors have found no evidence of such programs.

"I would say it's a total vindication of any allegations that might ever have been made about what the administration did with the information," Chambliss said.

A Senate aide sought to temper Chambliss' remarks.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because the report hasn't been released, the aide said that while the findings take aim at CIA analysts, they also fault Tenet for the defective assessment of Iraq's outlawed weapons programs.

While "we found a lot of problems with the analysis itself ... in the end he (Tenet) is in charge," said the aide.

The report's publication is expected to unleash a fresh barrage of political finger-pointing over the failure of U.S. inspectors to uncover evidence that Iraq had been developing nuclear weapons and stockpiling chemical and biological weapons.

Even before its release, the report was being criticized by some for not examining the administration's use of other information sources, such as defectors supplied by Iraqi exile groups, against the advice of the CIA and other agencies.

Former CIA counterterrorism official Vincent Cannistraro said he feared the report would be an attempt by the Republican-led Congress to absolve top Bush administration officials who devised the strategy of invading Iraq.

"Clearly, there's enough criticism to go around," he said.

The October 2002 assessment, known as a National Intelligence Estimate, that was given to Bush and Congress said in part: "We judge that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs in defiance of UN resolutions and restrictions. Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions; if left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade."

The NIE, the conclusions of which the White House declassified last summer, was compiled by the National Intelligence Council, a board of senior analysts who report directly to Tenet.

The report "is going to detail a number of specific instances where, frankly, I don't think the director of central intelligence was well served by the analysts who did the work," Chambliss said.

"I think it will be pretty obvious to anybody who reads this report that Director Tenet received information from his analysts that was not based upon a set of facts that would allow somebody to reasonably conclude what was concluded by the analysts."

The committee and the CIA have been engaged in a contentious battle over how much of the report can be declassified.

A senior U.S. intelligence official said the CIA returned a draft of the report to the committee on July 4 from which 19 percent of the material had been redacted.

The Senate aide said the panel would continue pressing for further declassifications even after Friday's release.


(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Warren P. Strobel contributed to this report.)


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.