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GOP senator pressed to oversee `credible' probe of war intelligence

WASHINGTON—Senate Democrats on Friday pressured intelligence committee Chairman Pat Roberts to conduct a "thorough" and "credible" probe into whether the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to help make its case for pre-emptive war against Iraq.

Republican committee staff members said that two draft reports would be given to the committee on Tuesday, covering prewar intelligence assessments of Iraq's situation after the war, and its alleged weapons of mass destruction and links to terrorism. They said that a third report, on the use of intelligence provided by the Iraqi National Congress, an exile group, was nearly complete.

Democrats, who earlier this week used a parliamentary maneuver to force Roberts, a Kansas Republican, to agree to complete the second phase of the committee's investigation into intelligence on Iraq, accused Republicans of rushing to conclusions.

"A rush job that glosses over key questions is in no one's interest," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a committee member.

The first phase of the committee's investigation concluded that U.S. intelligence agencies misjudged Saddam Hussein's illicit weapons programs and had little reliable information on relations between Baghdad and international terrorist groups such as al-Qaida.

No weapons of mass destruction programs were found after the war, and the CIA and several official investigations have found no evidence of operational cooperation between Saddam and terrorists.

A number of questions, however, remain unanswered, including:

_How and why bogus information from Iraqi exiles and forged documents found its way into the administration's case for war despite warnings from some U.S. intelligence officers that much of the information was questionable, inconclusive or disputed.

A public version of a key National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq prepared by the White House, for example, deleted virtually all the caveats and reservations contained in the classified version.

_Whether officials in the Pentagon, the White House and the State Department deliberately bypassed intelligence officers who were skeptical of the information provided by exiles and used questionable material in other publications and in speeches by top officials.

Vice President Dick Cheney, for example, repeatedly charged that an Iraq official met with Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in Prague, in the Czech Republic, even after the FBI and CIA concluded that the meeting never took place.

_Whether Iraqi exiles fed information directly to officials in the Pentagon and in Cheney's office, as a representative of the INC said in a letter to another congressional committee.

Democrats also want the "phase two" inquiry to investigate a recent report in the National Journal, a Washington magazine that covers government, that Cheney and former aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby withheld documents from the committee during its initial investigation of prewar intelligence.

The documents included more than 40 pages of allegations that Cheney wanted to include in former Secretary of State Colin Powell's 2003 speech to the United Nations. Powell refused to include most of the allegations.

Libby was indicted last week, accused of lying in the investigation of the leak of the name of Valerie Plame, a CIA officer whose husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, publicly disputed an administration claim that Saddam had tried to buy uranium for nuclear weapons in the African nation of Niger.

"This is really about accountability, the accountability of Congress, the accountability of the White House and the accountability we owe the American people," said Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the committee's vice chairman.

Roberts later on Friday issued a statement that seemed designed to portray the dispute as a partisan squabble.

"I understand the minority has held yet another press conference today," he said, adding that if the Democrats worked as hard on completing the investigation, "we might be done by now."

Bill Duhnke, the intelligence committee staff director for the majority Republicans, said the investigation was "substantially along" and that any committee member could view the intelligence "any day of the week."

However, a key element of the inquiry—whether prewar statements by public officials about Iraq could be backed up by intelligence—has been stalled since May, when the committee held its only meeting about the investigation.

Duhnke said that the staff has found intelligence that appears to substantiate nearly 500 statements from various officials.


(Goldstein reports for The Kansas City Star.)


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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