WASHINGTON – The early stages of a House Intelligence Committee's review of prewar intelligence on Iraq has found that the administration ignored doubts about Iraq's chemical and biological weapons capability, the panel's top Democrat said.
But Rep. Jane Harman (search) said she still believes Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction that could now be in the hands of anti-American fighters in Iraq or terrorists elsewhere.
Harman sought to strike a balance as some Democrats pushed for deeper investigations into intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs. They want to include the inquiries in a bill to be considered Thursday authorizing 2004 intelligence programs.
She said the early stages of her committee's review has made clear that Iraq once had chemical and biological weapons and that these weapons are easy to hide — but administration officials "rarely included the caveats and qualifiers attached to the intelligence community's judgments."
"For many Americans, the administration's certainty gave the impression there was even stronger intelligence about Iraq's possession of and intention to use WMD," she said.
She said the committee was reviewing whether intelligence agencies "made clear to policy-makers and Congress that most of its analytic judgments were based on things like aerial photographs, Iraqi defector interviews — not hard facts."
Harman also said intelligence linking Al Qaeda (search) to Iraq "is conflicting, contrary to what was claimed by the administration."
Reviews are already under way by the House and Senate intelligence committees and the Senate Armed Service committees. But some Democrats said they don't go far enough.
"Members of Congress and military planners need to have confidence that intelligence is objective and provides a sound basis for policy decisions," said Rep. Ellen Tauscher (search) of California. Her proposal to create a special committee to investigate Iraq intelligence failures was rejected on procedural grounds.
Republicans oppose two Democratic amendments to be considered Thursday. One by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas would require the U.S. comptroller general to study U.S. intelligence-sharing with U.N. inspectors before the war.
The other by Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, a presidential candidate and opponent of the war, calls for the CIA's inspector general to audit all telephone and electronic communications between the CIA and Vice President Dick Cheney relating to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Democrats have questioned whether prewar intelligence was inaccurate or manipulated to back up President Bush's push for war. Republicans have said there is no sign of wrongdoing and have accused Democrats of raising the issue for political reasons.
Harman said the committee's review would be thorough and that Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla., has told her he will hold open hearings, which she hopes will begin in July. But she also said the investigation had to be "mindful of the burden the intelligence agencies are carrying."
"Our nation is best served by an effective Intelligence Community, not one hobbled by risk-aversion and finger-pointing," she said.
Goss said CIA Director George Tenet has provided the committee with 19 volumes of documents on prewar intelligence which has been made available to House members.
"To those who believe that the Intelligence Committee is not doing its job or that we are incapable of doing our job, they can come and literally read over our shoulders," he said.
The bill, most of which is classified, would improve intelligence sharing among agencies, increase training of state and local agencies, modernize an aging satellite network, strengthen human espionage and improve counterintelligence efforts.
The bill's cost is also classified, but has been estimated at $40 billion. Goss said the level meets Bush's request. It will have to be reconciled with a version being considered by the Senate.