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Probe of Prewar Intelligence Making Progress

Times Staff Writer

The Senate Intelligence Committee has moved toward completing its long-awaited investigation of the Bush administration’s prewar assertions about Iraq, with three of five sections nearly finished, the committee’s chairman said Tuesday.

Seeking to quell controversy over the pace of the inquiry, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) for the first time provided details and a partial timeline for completing the investigation, which has been underway for more than two years.

He acknowledged that drafts of the two most controversial sections were the ones that were not finished, and he provided no time frame for completing them.

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The first of the two most controversial sections is an analysis of whether administration officials had adequate intelligence to back up their prewar public statements. The second is an evaluation of the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans, a defunct intelligence unit that challenged the CIA’s conclusions.

The first stage of the Iraq investigation -- a review of prewar intelligence -- was released in July 2004, and found that nearly all of the conclusions of the CIA and other intelligence agencies were “either overstated or were not supported by the underlying intelligence reporting.”

The more controversial second phase of the investigation was delayed until after the 2004 presidential election. However, little progress has been reported since then. Democrats have accused Roberts of whitewashing the inquiry, and orchestrated a shutdown of the Senate in November to protest the lack of progress. Republicans have accused Democrats of grandstanding for partisan gain.

Roberts said Tuesday that the Democrats’ complaints were unfounded, adding that progress now was dependent on how fast committee members completed their individual reviews of the three drafts, due in early April.

“If people are serious about finishing Phase II, they don’t need to shut down the Senate or hold press conferences decrying the process; they just need to come do the work,” Roberts said.

Roberts did not, however, provide a date for public release of the completed sections, saying they would have to be vetted by intelligence agencies.

The three sections nearing completion, he said, include a comparison of prewar and postwar assessments of Iraq’s weapons programs; the intelligence community’s use of information from the Iraqi National Congress, the group headed by onetime Pentagon ally Ahmad Chalabi; and the nature of prewar intelligence assessments about postwar Iraq.

Democrats expressed muted optimism that the second phase was making progress.

“I welcome the chairman’s sense of urgency in finally completing Phase II,” said Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the panel’s top Democrat. “Our goal should be to unite around a thorough, accurate and credible report that answers lingering questions about whether and how intelligence may have been misused.”

Rockefeller noted, however, that “considerable work remains.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a senior member of the committee, also welcomed the timetable, but cautioned that the final report might not provide all of the answers the administration’s critics seek.

“What we’re trying to look at is how intelligence is used. Some of that will be answered in this, but not all of it,” Feinstein said.

Roberts said he hoped to release each of the five sections as they were completed -- a strategy that would get information to the public sooner, but could also minimize the impact of the investigation by releasing its findings piecemeal.

Roberts said the major impediment to completing the section on the Bush administration’s statements was the sheer number of them -- more than 300, from the president as well as his top staff. But Roberts said that investigators had found adequate intelligence to back up the administration’s public assertions.

“You could make an intelligent justification for every statement,” Roberts told reporters.

The Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans, once run by former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith, also is under investigation by the Defense Department’s inspector general. The office was established as a separate analytic group within the Pentagon.

According to documents attached to the first-phase report by Democrats, an analyst from the Pentagon office told Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in 2002 that the CIA’s view that Iraq had no significant ties to Al Qaeda “should be ignored.”

Roberts said the Senate Intelligence Committee inquiry into the office should await the outcome of the inspector general’s review. Democrats have argued that the two inquiries could be conducted simultaneously. But Roberts said he was not eager to issue subpoenas or take other actions that would cause the administration to invoke executive privilege.

“To have that going on in the midst of a war on terror is not a good idea,” Roberts said. “I want cooperation, not confrontation.”


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