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Prewar intelligence probe grinds towards end as parties accuse each other of delay

John Byrne
Published: Tuesday April 11, 2006

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GOP Chairman signals intent to examine Iran

The Senate Intelligence Committee's inquiry into whether the U.S. intelligence community "cooked" pre-war Iraq intelligence now appears likely to be concluded soon, and a spokesman for the Committee's chairman says he's ready to get onto more "pressing matters" like Iran.

Speaking for Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), spokeswoman Sarah Little told RAW STORY three sections of the so-called "Phase II" report are likely to made available to members of the committee after the Senate's Easter recess. Little rebuffed Democrats' assertions that the report had been unreasonably delayed, saying that Democratic senators were attempting to "move the goalpost" by broadening the scope of the inquiry.

Democrats, meanwhile, say Roberts stonewalled the inquiry until November, when they shuttered the Senate to demand the investigation be completed.

“There was a lack of commitment to finishing the report in an expeditious manner,” Wendy Morigi, spokeswoman for Intelligence Vice Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), said. “There was virtually no work done on it before November.”

Democrats, who have asked for broader access to pre-war Iraq players, say the Committee has yet to interview any public officials about their statements on Iraq's capabilities leading up to the war. Sen. Rockefeller issued a private letter to Roberts in January asking that the Committee interview senior Bush officials -- such as Colin Powell -- about their statements. Morigi would not identify the other officials in the letter, but asserted they had not sought access to President Bush or Vice President Cheney.

Little said she wasn’t aware of “any problems with access.” She noted that the committee had interviewed Ahmad Chalabi, who Democrats had earlier complained they had not been able to interview. Morigi noted that Chalabi's questioning was part of a separate section on the Iraqi National Congress, and maintained that the section examining the statements of Administration officials was being thwarted by the refusal to allow interviews.

Phase II is the second part of an oversight probe of pre-war Iraq intelligence and how it was used. The inquiry seeks to ascertain whether public statements by Bush Administration officials were substantiated by intelligence; to examine the prewar assessment of WMDs and of postwar Iraq; to analyze the use of intelligence provided by the Iraqi National Congress; and to evaluate Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's so-called Office of Special Plans.

The Senate's investigation represents the rocky and increasingly partisan nature of intelligence oversight. It also raises troubling questions of how U.S. intelligence information can be applied for future conflict. Roberts' press secretary said the senator was eager to complete the Iraq report so that the Committee could concentrate on Iran.

"Let's finish this report, so we can get onto pressing matters on Iran," Little said. "At some point we have to stop looking in the rear-view mirror and look forward. At some point we have to apply the lessons we learned on Iraq."

Morigi said Rockefeller, too, would like to look at Iran, saying she hoped mistakes made with regard to Iraq might thereby be averted.

Chairman deferred review of secretive Pentagon office

Democrats are troubled that the Committee has declined to investigate perhaps the most contentious issue – whether the Pentagon's "Office of Special Plans" (OSP) conducted "unlawful" and "unauthorized" intelligence activities. Last year, Chairman Roberts requested that the Pentagon probe itself – and said he would not review the program until the Defense Department had completed their own examination.

According to a Nov. 14, 2005 memo written by Democratic senators, no agreement could be reached on how to handle Feith’s office, which has rebuffed requests for pre-war documentation and interviews for more than a year.

Democrats expressed concern that the “Inspector General[’s] review should not take the place of the authorized Committee investigation and that it is essential that the Committee insist on the documents and interviews that the Department of Defense has denied us for the past two years, even if it means using the Committee's subpoena power.”

Roberts has declined to use subpoena power to force the release of documents. The Inspector General does not have the power of subpoena.

The Pentagon Inspector General's office confirmed that a probe is under way but gave no indication of when it would be completed. The inspector is scrutinizing the role of Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, who helped create OSP and is accused of hyping intelligence that purported Iraq was harboring weapons of mass destruction. Feith says the charges are groundless.

Gary Comerford, a spokesman for the inspector, characterized the time frame as a matter of "months."

"Right now, we're still working on it," he told RAW STORY. “Generally we turn these sorts of things around as quickly as they can be turned around. With the Air Force Academy [sexual assault cases] we had issues there that took 2 years. I don’t think its going to take two years.”

Roberts' spokeswoman indicated the senator would examine Feith once the Pentagon completes its report.

"The committee would then look at the Inspector General's report and put out their own," Little said. "Feith's office has been always been willing to talk to the committee and look at their activities."

Feith, who resigned in January of last year, has also been interviewed by the FBI in a recent case involving the leak of classified intelligence. The former Pentagon official oversaw the office which employed Larry Franklin, an analyst who was indicted last May for leaking classified information about Iraq to Israeli lobbyists.

In an earlier RAW STORY report, one former intelligence official suggested that part of the reason for deferring the Feith inquiry was its sensitivity. A Feith investigation might unravel "a bigger can of worms,” the source said, citing the Franklin spy case and what the official believed was a Defense Department inability to address security breaches.

Earlier Iraq report divided Senate

The first Iraq report, which analyzed prewar Iraq intelligence assessments, concluded that analysts did not face political pressure to strengthen the case for war. Democrats and former intelligence officers have contested its findings.

While Roberts' timetable for the final report indicated a date of Apr. 5 for final drafts, Morigi said the drafts have not been completed because the conclusions have not been drafted.

"The most difficult stage is drafting the conclusions," she said. Three of the five sections of the report have been drafted, she added, noting that the sections remain incomplete until conclusions are appended.

In the Committee's last inquiry, both Democrats and Republicans disagreed with some of the own conclusions.

Chairman Roberts – and the Republican majority of the Intelligence Committee – found that the intelligence community had not been pressured to provide hawkish reports.

"Not only did we find no such "pressure," we found quite the opposite," Roberts wrote, along with senators Hatch (R-UT) and Bond (R-MS). "Intelligence officials across the Community told members and staff that their assessments were solely the product of their own analyses and judgments. They related ... their strong belief that the only "pressure" they felt was to get it right."

Democrats, using the same data, reached opposite conclusions. Some, like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), said the committee had found that intelligence officials were pressured to tailor Iraq intelligence.

"The Committee's report did find that analysts were repeatedly questioned and asked to find links between Iraq and al-Qaida to make the administration's case," Feinstein noted.

The facts of the report, however, were approved unanimously by the Committee.

The Phase II report may be on a slower timetable than Chairman Roberts called for in mid-March. The Wall Street Journal reported Mar. 24 that the fourth section of the report was "imminent." Little said fourth section hasn't yet been finished.

While the final report is expected soon, Morigi or Little could give no specific timetable for its release. Likewise, the Pentagon gave no indication when they would complete their review of Feith's activities.

Correction: Because of an editing error, the first edition of this article incorrectly identified who had set the Phase II timetable. The timetable was set by Sen. Roberts. This edition was also modified to stress that what has been completed thus far in the Phase II report are "drafts," not completed sections.

Raw Story's Larisa Alexandrovna has written two previous articles on the Phase II investigation, "Pentagon investigation of Iraq war hawk stalling investigation of prewar Iraq intelligence," and "Senate Intelligence Committee stalling prewar intelligence report."