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Pentagon Official Denies Manipulating Evidence Against Iraq

Pentagon officials went on the offensive Wednesday against allegations that they manipulated intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs and links to terrorism in order to build a case for war.

Douglas Feith (search), the undersecretary of defense for policy, said news reports in recent months have inaccurately portrayed the role of a small group of analysts he assembled in October 2001. They did not, as some reported, seek out evidence to support going to war, he said.

"This suggestion that we said to them, 'This is what we're looking for, go find it,' is precisely the inaccuracy that we are here to rebut," Feith told reporters.

The analysts' mission was to review existing intelligence on terrorist groups in pursuit of fresh insights to help the Pentagon craft a strategy for fighting a global war on terrorism, Feith said.

He was joined at the Pentagon news conference by William Luti, the deputy undersecretary of defense responsible for policy matters pertaining to the Middle East and South Asia. Luti's office includes Special Plans, a unit created in October 2002 to run policy planning on Iraq.

Feith said they used the term "special plans" for Luti's office because, "at the time, calling it Iraq Planning Office might have undercut our diplomatic efforts with regard to Iraq in the U.N. and elsewhere."

The small team of analysts finished its work before Luti's office of Special Plans was created, he and Feith said. The intelligence team had no connection to Luti's office and none to a separate intelligence program that was set up by the Defense Intelligence Agency before the war to debrief Iraqi defectors, they told reporters.

Feith said he felt compelled to hold a news conference in order to "lay to rest" what he called inaccuracies in news reporting about U.S. intelligence on Iraq that "are beginning to achieve the status of urban legends."

At the center of this controversy is a question now arising in Congress: Was U.S. intelligence on Iraq's links to Al Qaeda (search) and its possession of weapons of mass destruction flawed or manipulated?

The Bush administration cited that intelligence as primary justification for invading Iraq. In light of the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been found yet in Iraq, some now question whether the administration exaggerated the strength of its evidence.

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said Wednesday the committee will review the intelligence on which the administration based its prewar assertions about the existence of and threat posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

The top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, said the panel should begin a formal investigation of prewar intelligence, not just review the CIA (search)'s documents.

Feith said people have misconstrued the purpose of the small intelligence review team he assembled in October 2001. Although the group produced a report citing links between the Iraqi government and Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, this was "incidental" to its main effort, Feith said.

"The main thing that the team produced was, it helped educate a lot of people about the fact that there was more cooperation and interconnections among these terrorist organizations and state sponsors -- across ideological lines -- than many people had appreciated before," he added.

He denied that this effort reflected dissatisfaction among Pentagon officials with the analytical work of the CIA. He said he found it "almost comical" that people saw the group as a politically inspired path around the CIA in pursuit of evidence supporting preconceived nations about Iraq.

Feith also denied reports that the Pentagon wants to ally the U.S. government with the Mujahedeen Khalq (search), an Iranian opposition group that has armed forces in eastern Iraq. Some have asserted that the Pentagon is pushing the idea of using the Mujahedeen Khalq to topple the clerical regime in Tehran.

"There never was such a plan," Feith said. "We will not do that."

He noted that the Mujahedeen Khalq is on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations.