As Congress probes the Bush administration’s failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, battle lines are forming over how far the investigations should go. The Republican chairs of both the House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence are eager to limit political damage to the White House and have limited their inquiries to examining how the intelligence community carried out its work.
Democrats insist the panels need to look beyond the quality of information that was supplied to President George W. Bush. They also want the investigations to look at whether Bush or his aides intentionally exaggerated claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons capabilities in order to bolster their case for war. “I think the central question here is, frankly: Was there a predetermination to go to war on the part of the administration….Or was there faulty intelligence,” Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in an appearance Oct. 26 on Meet the Press.
Republicans dispute the idea that Bush intentionally misled the American people. Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) told USA Today and the Washington Post that his inquiry found no evidence that the White House pressured intelligence officials.
Roberts’ assessment was bolstered to some extent by remarks from Carl W. Ford Jr., the State Department’s newly retired intelligence chief. The intelligence community “has to bear the major responsibility for WMD information in Iraq and other intelligence failures,” Ford said in remarks published in the Oct. 29 Los Angeles Times. “We badly underperformed for a number of years,” he
added, “and the information we were giving the policy community was off the mark.”
But at a hearing of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee Oct. 24, Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, said the intelligence committee’s inquiry is “missing half” the issue. Levin is conducting his own inquiry, and Rockefeller has said he will launch an additional committee review to look at the administration’s use of intelligence if the majority refuses to do so.
Both Senate Democrats and Republicans grouse about the administration’s willingness to cooperate with the investigations. On Oct. 29, Roberts and Rockefeller sent a sharply-worded letter to CIA Director George Tenet after he demanded that top CIA officials be given the opportunity to respond to the panel’s preliminary findings. The letter called for the agency to provide the panel with needed information and schedule any interviews within two days. “The committee has been patient,” the senators wrote, “but we need immediate access to this information.”
The battle over the congressional investigations follows news that the Iraq Survey Group has so far failed to find actual weapons in Iraq. The head weapons inspector of that group, David Kay, received a mixed response from Congress when he briefed the House and Senate intelligence committees Oct. 2 on his “interim progress” report. Neither party could be said to be overjoyed, however, particularly after Kay told lawmakers that he needed another six to nine months and more than half-a-billion dollars to complete what many see as a fruitless investigation. The Bush administration is seeking an additional $600 million for Kay to continue his search, part of an $87 billion fiscal 2004 supplemental spending bill to pay for reconstruction costs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
To be sure, there were some Republicans who saw bright spots in the report. Porter Goss (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, took an entirely different spin from his colleagues. “Basically, I think the news is extremely good,” he stated, contending that Kay’s report actually reaffirms the administration’s decision to go to war. —With Roxane Assaf