WASHINGTON – A Democratic senator urged the CIA (search) on Monday to release information that he said would prove the United States withheld from U.N. inspectors key information on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., has said for months that CIA Director George Tenet's open statements about how much intelligence was shared with inspectors contradict classified information. The contradictions show the need for a Senate investigation into whether U.S. intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs was "shaded or exaggerated," he said.
"If Director Tenet (search) said that we have done something in terms of sharing information with the U.N. which was not factually accurate, that is part of the same question," said Levin, top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee and a member of the Intelligence Committee.
Republican leaders of both committees have rejected Democrats' calls for a formal investigation, contending there is no sign of wrongdoing, and said the committees will review the intelligence as part of their regular oversight processes. In the House, Democrats and Republicans on the Intelligence Committee have agreed to hold a review.
Levin said of 550 suspected weapons sites, 150 were considered "top suspect sites," according to recently declassified figures. Of those 150, a secret number were considered high and medium priority sites.
Tenet told lawmakers in February and March that U.N. inspectors were briefed on all the "high value and moderate value sites." Levin said classified figures show that wasn't true and has urged Tenet to declassify the number of those sites and the number of sites that had been provided to the United Nations.
In a May 23 letter to Levin, Tenet refused to release the figures, citing a need to maintain secrecy in its relationships with international organizations. By releasing the data, "we risk undermining our credibility with other international organizations with whom we continue to interact," Tenet wrote.
Levin released Monday a letter dated last Wednesday that he received from chief weapons inspector Hans Blix (search), saying he had no objection to making the information public.
"In light of Dr. Blix's letter to me, I know of no legitimate reason for keeping those numbers classified any longer," Levin said.
A CIA spokesman would not comment.
Levin said if Americans had known that not all information about top weapons sites had been shared with inspectors, "there could have been greater public demand that the inspection process continue."
He said his main concern is whether future U.S. intelligence would be viewed as objective and accurate.
"It undermines the credibility of the director of intelligence to be making public statements relative to intelligence which are not factually accurate," Levin said.