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Copley News Service November 11, 2005

Harman wants House inquiry into pre-war Iraq intelligence

South Bay Democrat complains the Republicans are refusing to investigate reports of information gathering flaws.

By Toby Eckert

WASHINGTON -- South Bay Rep. Jane Harman, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, criticized committee Republicans on Thursday for halting an investigation into intelligence claims used to justify the Iraq war.

In unusually blunt language for the normally bipartisan panel, Harman accused Republicans, who control the committee, of reneging on a June 2003 agreement to study the "quality and objectivity" of pre-war intelligence. The investigation was stopped after the disclosure of an interim report that was critical of the Bush administration's intelligence claims, she said.

"I just think that this issue is too important," said Harman, D-El Segundo. "We've been trying to get it done for 2½ years and I felt we had to mark the spot."

The dispute mirrors a recent spat in the Senate. Last week, Democrats forced the Senate Intelligence Committee to renew a wide-ranging look at whether the Bush administration distorted intelligence about Iraqi weapons and ties to terrorism to win support for the war.

Citing the Senate action, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., said there was no need for the House panel to resume its Iraq intelligence probe. Instead, it will review leaks of classified information, including one that disclosed the existence of secret CIA prisons abroad.

Interest in the intelligence used to justify the Iraq war has intensified since the indictment last month of Vice President Dick Cheney's top aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. He has been charged with perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements in an investigation of the unmasking of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, had publicly disputed the truth of a key claim President Bush made about Iraq's attempt to acquire materials for a nuclear weapon. No nuclear, chemical or biological weapons have been found since the invasion, though Bush cited them as the primary justification for the war.

The House Intelligence Committee interviewed Wilson before he went public with his claims.

Harman noted that in June 2003, she and then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla., outlined a process for reviewing pre-war intelligence. It included committee hearings, interviews with intelligence analysts and allowing other House members to review intelligence that had been provided to the committee.

After reviewing 19 volumes of classified information, the committee produced an interim report, in the form of a letter to then-CIA Director George Tenet, that said intelligence agencies had used outdated and uncertain information to conclude that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and links to terrorist groups.

The Bush administration disputed the findings and, Harman said, "shortly thereafter, the Republican majority shut down the inquiry and prevented (Democratic) staff ... from meeting with administration officials whom they deemed critical for this inquiry."

Bush named Goss director of the CIA after Tenet resigned in June 2004. Harman said that, last week, she gave Hoekstra a one-page plan for how the committee could finish its investigation.

"The (Republican) majority now seems likely to reject our proposal, preferring to curtail oversight over one of the worst intelligence failures in American history," Harman said in a written statement. "The main responsibility of our committee is to conduct oversight, and this action undermines the credibility of the committee."

The White House struck back at critics of the Iraq intelligence.

"Our statements about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein were based on the aggregation of intelligence from a number of sources and represented the collective view of the intelligence community," said National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. "Those judgments were shared by Republicans and Democrats alike."

The plan Harman presented said the 2003 investigation found an intelligence analyst "who complained of political pressure" and that the issue should be studied, along with the treatment of competing views within the Bush administration about Iraq's threat; how intelligence officials viewed public statements by Bush, Cheney and Tenet about the threat; and the drafting of presentations like former Secretary of State Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations on Iraq.

Senate Democrats were able to force the issue by invoking a rule that allowed them to take the Senate into closed session, which drew attention to their complaints that Republicans were delaying an Iraq intelligence probe. House Democrats have little leverage under that chamber's rules.

"The House and the Senate are very different creatures," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, an independent research group. "The capacity for individual senators to make things happen is much greater than the capacity of individual House members."

Pike said he believes that a probe of pre-war intelligence would show "there was more than enough blame to go around," from poor work by intelligence analysts to distortion by administration officials eager to invade Iraq.

Copyright 2005, Copley News Service