Archive for Friday, July 9, 2004

Committee to release critical Iraq investigation

July 9, 2004


— A Senate report on intelligence failures leading up to the invasion of Iraq, to be released today, will conclude that analysts were not pressured to change their views to support arguments for the attack, congressional and other officials said.

But some intelligence analysts did tell the committee they felt a need to emphasize one piece of evidence over another -- a form of pressure, several Democratic lawmakers will point out in an "alternative view," according to a Democratic congressional aide.

Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., have said their report on prewar intelligence is a tough critique of the intelligence agencies' performance. Significant blame will be laid on the CIA for flawed estimates on Iraq.

One U.S. official familiar with the report said it did not charge the agency with losing objectivity but accused its analytic side of not being rigorous or careful in its intelligence assessments.

The Democratic congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some lawmakers thought a hawkish atmosphere encouraging an Iraq invasion contributed to an environment of pressure that analysts operated in. While analysts told the committee they didn't literally feel pressured, some said that they felt they needed to emphasize certain information, the aide said.

Several Democrats plan to offer this opinion in one of at least a half dozen "alternative views" that will be attached to the report that spans roughly 500 pages. Earlier this week, West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the top Democrat on the committee, said, "The pressure was overwhelming."

Tenet at odds

That runs counter to an impassioned defense in February from outgoing CIA Director George Tenet. "No one told us what to say or how to say it," he said in a speech at Georgetown University.

Officials familiar with the report say the yearlong review examines the intelligence community's objectivity and reasonableness as it formed various estimates on Iraq, including the government's purported mobile weapons labs, chemical and biological weapons, nuclear program and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, R-Va., who is also a member of the Intelligence Committee, has encouraged restraint in drawing final conclusions until the work of the Iraq Survey Group, hunting for Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, is complete.

Today's report is the first of two phases. Democrats wanted to see the investigation immediately consider other issues, including how senior Bush administration officials may have misrepresented the analysis provided by the nation's intelligence apparatus to make the case for war.

On Thursday, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., a committee member, released a portion of a July 1 memorandum from Tenet that said the intelligence community was "increasingly skeptical" that a meeting between Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence officials occurred in Prague in April 2001, as Vice President Dick Cheney asserted before the Iraq invasion. Tenet said the single-source reporting of the information had been questioned and Iraqi intelligence officials had denied having met Atta.

New director search

The report comes as President Bush is deciding what to do with an opening in his administration for a permanent CIA director to replace Tenet, who officially resigns Sunday. Tenet's deputy, John McLaughlin, will then take over.

While it was initially expected that Bush would keep McLaughlin in place through the November election, senior administration officials have indicated Bush wants to find a permanent replacement sooner. Bush said this week he has made no decision.

The Intelligence Committee and its staff interviewed hundreds of people, including Tenet. Tenet has publicly asserted his analysts never said there was an "imminent threat" from Iraq.

McLaughlin said last month in remarks to a Business Executives for National Security forum: "What shortcomings there were -- and there were shortcomings -- were the result of specific, discrete problems that we understand and are well on our way to addressing or have already addressed."

The committee's report had been expected to be released last year, but was delayed for months over disputes including internal committee debates about the review's scope and the CIA's initial proposal to classify roughly 40 percent of the report, citing national security.

"The redactions were an insult," said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., a committee member.

After negotiations, just under 20 percent will be held back from the public.

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