Jonathan Landay
Cheney key to Iraq probe, critics say
Wed Feb 4 02:23:43 2004
64.140.158.139

Posted on Tue, Feb. 03, 2004
Cheney key to Iraq probe, critics say
An inquiry into intelligence failures must include his and the Pentagon's handling of spy data, officials said.
By Jonathan S. Landay, Warren P. Strobel and Joseph L. Galloway
Inquirer Washington Bureau
http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/front/7859646.htm

WASHINGTON - What went wrong with intelligence on Iraq may never be known unless the inquiry proposed by President Bush examines secret intelligence efforts led by Vice President Cheney and Pentagon hawks, current and former U.S. officials said yesterday.

The critics said Bush may limit the inquiry's scope to the CIA and other agencies, and ignore the key role the officials said the administration's own internal intelligence efforts played in making the case for war.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, did not dispute that the CIA failed to accurately assess the state of Iraq's weapons programs. But they said intelligence efforts led by Cheney magnified the errors through exaggeration, oversights and mistaken deductions.

Those efforts bypassed normal channels, used Iraqi exiles and defectors of questionable reliability, and produced findings on former dictator Saddam Hussein's links to al-Qaeda and his illicit arms programs that were disputed by analysts at the CIA, the State Department and other agencies, the officials said.

"There were more agencies than CIA providing intelligence... that are worth scrutiny, including the [Pentagon's now-disbanded] Office of Special Plans and the office of the vice president," said a former senior military official who was involved in planning the Iraq invasion.

Some of the disputed findings were presented as facts to Americans as Bush stated his case for war.

Those findings included allegations of cooperation between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, Cheney's assertion that Iraq had rebuilt its nuclear-weapons program and would soon have a nuclear bomb, and Bush's contention in his 2003 State of the Union address that Hussein was seeking nuclear bomb-making material from Africa.

Senior officials yesterday revealed new details of how Cheney's office pressed Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to use large amounts of disputed intelligence in a February 2003 presentation to the U.N. Security Council that laid out the U.S. case for an invasion.

A senior administration official said that during a three-day pre-speech review, Powell rejected more than half of a 45-page assessment on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction compiled by Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, and based on materials assembled by pro-invasion hard-liners in the Pentagon and the White House.

Powell also jettisoned 75 percent of a separate report on al-Qaeda, said the official.

Still, he said, Libby continued pressing Powell unsuccessfully right up until a few minutes before the speech to include dubious information purportedly linking Hussein to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Despite Powell's refusal to use this material in his speech, much of what he did present from a number of different intelligence agencies turned out to be incorrect.

Bush said he would name an independent bipartisan commission to review intelligence failures in Iraq. It would also look at what is known about efforts by Iran, North Korea and terrorist groups to obtain nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

Two congressional committees, an internal CIA board, and a White House advisory panel are reviewing the Iraq intelligence.

Bush's decision to name an independent commission followed assertions by David Kay, who quit last month as chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, that no banned chemical and biological-warfare stockpiles were likely to be found in Iraq. The President had cited such weapons as his prime justification for the March invasion.

Bush and GOP leaders in Congress had resisted a demand by Democrats for an independent review of the Iraq intelligence, but calls by Kay and key Republicans last week for such an inquiry forced the President to reconsider.

"I want to know all the facts," Bush told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

He insisted, however, that the war and occupation - in which more than 500 U.S. troops have died - were justified because Hussein had failed to halt all illicit weapons activities in violation of numerous U.N. resolutions.

"Saddam Hussein had the intent and capabilities to cause great harm," Bush asserted.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the membership and duration of the independent commission were not settled. He skirted the question of whether the panel would examine whether Bush and his top aides exaggerated or misrepresented intelligence on Iraq.

"I'm not going to get into the scope issues at this point," he said.

Top Democratic lawmakers said Bush should allow Congress to appoint the commission and determine the scope and duration of its inquiry.

In a letter to Bush, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and four other senior Democrats wrote:

"One of the major questions that needs to be addressed is whether senior administration officials... misled the Congress and the public about the nature of the threat from Iraq. Even some of your own statements and those of Vice President Cheney need independent scrutiny. A commission appointed and controlled by the White House will not have the independence or credibility necessary to investigate these issues."

The former and current officials said an objective inquiry would require the panel to look at the roles that Cheney, his office, and his allies at the Pentagon played in collecting and analyzing intelligence on Iraq.

Reviewing what the CIA did "is half the picture," said Melvin Goodman, a former senior CIA analyst who teaches at the National Defense University. "What you want is an open-ended, blue-ribbon inquiry of the whole picture, which is what [intelligence] the White House got and how the White House used what it got."
Contact reporter Jonathan Landay at 202-383-6012 or jlanday@krwashington.com .
http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/front/7859646.htm

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