WASHINGTON – As violence has spiraled in Iraq, top U.S. officials have debated pulling intelligence officers off the so-far unsuccessful hunt for weapons of mass destruction (search) and reassigning them to counterinsurgency efforts (search), officials said Wednesday.
The United States already is planning to recruit more Iraqis to gather information about opposition fighters and may increase security measures to protect troops, President Bush said Tuesday, the third straight day of bombings in Iraq.
But Pentagon, CIA (search) and other top officials have not been able to agree on whether to reassign some of the 1,400 people working on the weapons search, three officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday.
One intelligence official said they have been struggling for more than three weeks over the question of whether shifting intelligence personnel to the battle against insurgent forces would be harmful. Other possibilities include moving the needed intelligence officers, linguists and others from somewhere else, contracting outsiders or options that the official declined to cite.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle told reporters Tuesday that "a shock of this kind" highlights the need to use resources more effectively than they're being used now.
"We can't survive daily losses of the magnitude we have experienced this week without dire consequences, both politically as well as in human terms," the South Dakota Democrat said.
Some officials have made the case that the No. 1 priority is to stop the attacks on coalition forces, Iraqis and international organizations.
Others are arguing that it's vitally important to find out what happened to biological and chemical weapons that the Bush administration said Saddam Hussein had and which constituted the main rationale for war.
Any move to reduce those working on the weapons hunt would likely have political implications since critics charge the administration exaggerated the weapons charge to justify a war it had already decided to wage, one official said.
The 1,400 in the so-called Iraq Survey Group (search) have been looking for weapons, former regime officials and evidence on the fate of the Navy pilot Scott Speicher, shot down and still missing from the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
At times, translators and analysts have been borrowed from the group to help with other intelligence work, one official said. But formally changing their tasking would require approval of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the official said.
The CIA is wary about undermining the search for weapons, the New York Times reported in Wednesday editions.
U.S. commanders in Iraq have said for months they were working to improve their intelligence gathering to try to prevent attacks against coalition troops and the Iraqis who help them. They've claimed some successes by capturing or killing many of the top 55 most wanted members of the former government and encouraging more Iraqis to tip off troops to weapons caches and opposition fighters.
Yet American officials say they still don't know who is behind the car bombings that have been striking Baghdad for more than two months, despite the efforts of 130,000 U.S. troops, 22,000 other coalition troops, more than 80,000 Iraqi security forces and dozens of FBI agents.
Meanwhile, Bush said other changes are being planned to bolster Iraq security.
"We're constantly looking at the enemy and adjusting," the president said at a Rose Garden news conference. "Iraq is dangerous, and it's dangerous because terrorists want us to leave, and we're not leaving."
Also, a scathing internal report on the Army's information gathering in Iraq found intelligence specialists on the ground unprepared for their jobs and with little ability to analyze what they hear.
The Army report found the service's intelligence specialists in Iraq "did not appear to be prepared for tactical assignments" and often exhibited "weak intelligence briefing skills" and "very little to no analytical skills."
The criticism came in a report by a four-member team from the Center for Army Lessons Learned, the Army's agency for pushing commanders to learn from mistakes. The team visited Army units in Iraq during the first two weeks of June and released its report on an Army Web site last week.
A particular problem, the team said, has been finding enough competent Arabic interpreters to help American forces. Many of the interpreters don't have much training for their jobs and only enough specialized knowledge "to tell the difference between a burro and a burrito," the Army report said.