Probe to focus on potential exaggeration of Iraqi intelligence

By Chris Strohm

After finding that the CIA incorrectly concluded that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the Senate Intelligence Committee will now investigate whether senior Bush administration officials intentionally exaggerated information and pressured analysts in order to build a case for invading the country last year.

In the first phase of a sweeping investigation, the committee found that most of the key judgments in the CIA's October 2002 estimate of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs were wrong, unreasonable and largely unsupported by the available intelligence.

"In the end, what the president and the Congress used to send the country to war was information that was provided by the intelligence community, and that information was flawed," committee chairman Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said during a press conference.

Committee ranking member Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said he does not believe Congress would have authorized war with Iraq if members knew what the report revealed.

The second phase of the committee's investigation will examine how senior Bush administration officials used intelligence on Iraq, and whether they exaggerated the case for invading the country.

Roberts said the committee would not have time to finish the second phase before the November elections.

Rockefeller, however, challenged that claim, saying the committee could work through the August recess and the month of September to complete its mission.

Roberts said the investigation has not yet found any evidence that members of the intelligence community were pressured to exaggerate information.

Rockefeller, however, said committee members have a "major disagreement" on the question of whether the Bush administration pressured the intelligence community to reach predetermined conclusions.

"The committee's report fails to fully explain the environment of intense pressure in which intelligence community officials were asked to render judgments on matters relating to Iraq when the most senior officials in the Bush administration had already forcefully and repeatedly stated their conclusions publicly," Rockefeller said.

The second phase will also examine whether Douglas Feith, deputy undersecretary of Defense for policy, was operating an illegal intelligence operation from the Pentagon, Rockefeller said.

Critics have said that officials under Feith circumvented intelligence channels when they briefed senior aides for the National Security Council and the office of Vice President Dick Cheney on Iraq intelligence in August 2002 without the knowledge or consent of departing CIA Director George Tenet. The Pentagon did not return phone calls Friday seeking comment.

The fallout from the report prompted an outcry of calls for an overhaul of the U.S. intelligence community.

The committee concluded that there were significant shortcomings on almost every aspect of the intelligence community's human intelligence collection efforts with regard to Iraq, Roberts said. He said the CIA "abused its unique position in the intelligence community" and prevented information from being shared with analysts at other intelligence agencies.

"Most, if not all, of these problems stem from a broken corporate culture and poor management, and cannot be solved by simply adding funding and personnel," he said.

Rockefeller said the intelligence community should have people who challenge the assumptions that analysts make.

"We need to improve much more human intelligence," he said. "Even though good work has been done in the last several years to provide more money for that...the training of a good agent takes five years."

Roberts refused to blame Tenet, though, for intelligence failures. Tenet resigned last month and will officially leave his post Sunday. His deputy, John McLaughlin, will take over until Bush appoints a new CIA director, which is expected to happen next week.

Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, however, renewed their call Friday for the creation of the position of director of national intelligence. Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., said the director should have budgetary and statutory authority over the entire intelligence community, including agencies within the Pentagon that are under control of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.