WASHINGTON – The CIA on Friday rejected Senate criticism of its prewar reports on the threat posed by Saddam Hussein (search), saying it's too soon to conclude the intelligence was unfounded while the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq continues.
"It is hard to understand how the committee could come to any conclusions at this point, particularly while the efforts of (weapons search leader) Dr. David Kay in Iraq are at an early stage," said CIA spokesman Bill Harlow.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which has interviewed more than 100 people and pored over volumes of classified material, is preparing a report that is highly critical of the CIA's work on the weapons and terrorism case against Saddam, The Washington Post reported in Friday's editions.
The committee staff was surprised by the amount of circumstantial evidence and disputed information used in intelligence documents, especially an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate requested by Democratic senators as Congress prepared to vote to authorize going to war, the Post said.
Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (search), R-Kan., called some of the intelligence "sloppy" and said "the executive was ill-served by the intelligence community."
"I worry about the credibility of the intelligence community," Roberts told the Post.
Democrats are pressing to widen the inquiry to look at whether the White House and Defense Department knowingly exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam to bolster the administration's case for war.
"We're going to get at this one way or the other," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the committee's ranking Democrat. "If the majority declines to put the executive branch at risk, then they are going to have a very difficult minority to deal with."
Defending the CIA's National Intelligence Estimate which has been a focus of criticism, Harlow noted that it was produced "in record time, at the insistence of members of the United States Senate."
"The committee has yet to take the opportunity to hear a comprehensive explanation of how and why we reached our conclusions," Harlow said, adding that CIA Director George Tenet has requested a chance for the CIA's senior leadership to appear before the committee "to help them understand this important and complex subject."