WASHINGTON – The Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Intelligence Committee (search) have reached an agreement on how to examine prewar intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
What they haven't agreed on is how to characterize their inquiry.
To Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., the committee is launching an investigation that "will unflinchingly follow the facts wherever they lead."
To Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla., it isn't an investigation, but a review that falls under the committee's normal oversight role. He said the committee will not be pressured "into any particular course of action in order to meet arbitrary expectations."
In announcing their plans Thursday, Goss and Harman bridged a gap that has deeply divided their counterparts on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Democrats on the Senate panel have demanded a full investigation because no weapons of mass destruction have been found and some of the evidence cited by the Bush administration has proven to be false or misleading.
But the committee's majority Republicans say there is no evidence of wrongdoing and that routine oversight procedures are sufficient to determine if the intelligence was flawed.
In a joint statement Thursday, Goss and Harman described their plans for a "comprehensive review of questions concerning the quality and objectivity of prewar intelligence relating to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi ties to terrorism."
They said they would hold hearings to allow committee members to question administration officials about weapons intelligence. Hearings would be open "as appropriate."
The first two hearings, though, will be closed. On Wednesday the committee will hear about efforts to locate weapons of mass destruction. On Thursday, it will hear testimony about an October 2002 intelligence review of Iraq's weapons programs.
The inquiry will also include staff interviews of intelligence personnel and regular updates on efforts to locate weapons of mass destruction. The committee has already begun reviewing documents submitted by theCIA (search) on weapons programs.
Democrats have questioned whether intelligence was steered to support the case for war. Questions have also been raised about whether agencies relied too much on exile groups for information about weapons programs.
In the Capitol on Thursday, an Iraqi exile leader told reporters "there was no hyping of information."
Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress (search), said his group had put the U.S. government in contact with three defectors who provided information on Iraqi weapons
One was an engineer "who built sites for the weapons storage areas." He was presented to the U.S. government on Dec. 17, 2001, and entered into the witness protection program, Chalabi said.
The second exile told the United States about mobile biological labs, he said. U.S. officials believe two truck trailers it seized in Iraq were likely those labs. But no traces of biological weapons have been found.
The third exile spoke only briefly to U.S. officials. Chalabi said he was involved in a nuclear weapons program.
In an interview, Secretary of State Colin Powell shrugged off Chalabi's statements. "I can't substantiate his claims. He makes new ones every year," he said.
Chalabi is a former banker who recently returned to Iraq after 45 years abroad.
Supporters credit him with keeping U.S attention on Iraq in the past decade and some U.S. officials see him as a potential future leader of Iraq. Critics have also questioned his credibility, noting that a Jordanian court convicted him in absentia of embezzlement in 1992.