WASHINGTON – In the latest dispute between intelligence agencies and Congress, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Thursday the CIA has been withholding information it requested on U.S. military action in Iraq.
The CIA said it is cooperating, and some Republicans on the committee said they are satisfied with the information they have received.
Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters Thursday that information provided by CIA officials at a meeting Wednesday was unacceptable at a time that Congress is considering a resolution on the use of military force in Iraq.
"We're trying to carry out a very important responsibility and given the nature of this classified information, we are the only means by which the intelligence community can communicate to the legislative branch of government," he said.
He later had what he called a "frank and candid" meeting with CIA Director George J. Tenet. He said Tenet addressed several of his concerns, but declined to elaborate. CIA officials also said it was an excellent meeting.
Tenet is scheduled to meet with the committee Friday. Mark Mansfield, a spokesman for Tenet, said he believes it is important to keep up good relations with Congress and appreciates the committee's oversight role.
The dispute comes as the committee and its House counterpart are conducting an inquiry examining intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks. Lawmakers have complained about a lack of cooperation from intelligence agencies; the Bush administration has complained about leaks from Congress.
Inquiry staff have pointed to a series of missed clues which, if agencies had pieced them together, might have pointed to the attacks. CIA officials have suggested those clues were obvious only in hindsight. They said their personnel did the best they could with limited resources.
Last week, Tenet denounced inquiry staff for suggesting in a memorandum that a CIA official would give misleading responses if asked certain questions.
The senators' complaints Thursday involve classified National Intelligence Estimates that Congress wanted. The estimates are prepared, usually over several months, by the National Intelligence Council, a group of analysts who are not part of the CIA, but report directly to Tenet.
Graham said lawmakers had requested an estimate on Iraq in July, but the request was denied.
Late Tuesday, intelligence officials gave lawmakers another estimate, dealing in part with the capabilities of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Graham said that estimate was presented too late to allow senators to read it before a Wednesday morning briefing.
One Senate staffer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the report gave only limited information on Iraq, and only enough to back the administration's case for military action.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., accused the CIA of "dragging its feet" on the estimate. He had requested the estimate three weeks ago, saying he was stunned one hadn't already been completed.
But the panel's top Republican, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, said CIA cooperation on Iraq "has been pretty good."
"Now is it perfect? Have they been timely about everything? Have they told us everything we want to know? I'm not sure about that," said Shelby, a frequent critic of the CIA.