Debate Over Intel Panel Continues on Capitol Hill

Published February 03, 2004

| Associated Press

Democrats say they're worried an inquiry into intelligence failures planned by President Bush (search) won't be truly independent. Some Republicans worry the inquiry — at least the fifth now under way — will distract the CIA from key tasks.

But whatever the outcome, Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) said Tuesday only Iraq's prewar weapons stockpiles should be at issue — not the infrastructure and intentions of Saddam Hussein.

"There should be no doubt ... that we have done the right thing and history certainly will be the test of that," Powell told reporters after meeting with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan (search).

With discontent growing on both sides, the White House was leaning toward announcing the commission and its members Wednesday when Bush is expected to give a speech on terrorism at the Library of Congress, a senior administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Bush said Monday he wants an independent panel to uncover "all the facts" on prewar intelligence in Iraq and also "look at our war against proliferation and weapons of mass destruction" in a broader context.

In one week, Bush has gone from dismissing the need for a review to discussing what form such a panel should take.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) told a parliamentary committee Tuesday that, Britain, too, will hold an inquiry into the intelligence used in deciding to go to war with Iraq.

He said Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (search) would make an announcement about the inquiry later Tuesday

Powell told The Washington Post in an interview published Tuesday that he did not know whether he would have recommended an invasion of Iraq had he been told there was no evidence of stockpiles of banned weapons there.

"I don't know, because it was the stockpile that presented the final little piece that made it more of a real and present danger and threat to the region and to the world," he said.

He said the "absence of a stockpile changes the political calculus; it changes the answer you get."

However, Powell said history will judge that going to war with Iraq "was the right thing to do."

And Powell said Tuesday outside the State Department that "it was something we all agreed to, and probably would have agreed to again, under any other set of circumstances."

He said any other information that might have been available before the United States went to war, "I don't know would have changed the outcome, nor did I say it would have changed the outcome."

A GOP Senate aide said the White House is moving toward taking an "unapologetic" look at U.S. intelligence, focusing on the best structure for the intelligence community, rather than on just the flawed Iraq intelligence. Although no timetable is set, the review would most likely be completed well after the November election — in 2005.

Still, the movement toward announcing a panel has only fueled the debate on Capitol Hill.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other senior Democrats wrote Bush, saying "a commission appointed and controlled by the White House will not have the independence or credibility necessary to investigate these issues."

Senate Republicans responded with statements noting the eight-month inquiry of the Senate Intelligence Committee already is well underway.

Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he expects the report to answer many questions being asked. However, "if the president has decided to seek advice from such a panel, I will support it," Roberts said.

The calls for a commission have been sounding since the CIA's top Iraq weapons inspector, David Kay, resigned last month and began stating that he doesn't believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the main justification for the Iraq invasion.

On Monday, Kay briefed Bush over lunch at the White House, offering the president "his impressions and what he's learned," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

The forthcoming White House investigation comes on top of inquiries by the House and Senate intelligence panels, an internal CIA review, a CIA-commissioned report from retired agency officials and an Army review.

The Senate intelligence report, which will go to committee members Thursday, agrees with many of Kay's findings, sources familiar with the report say. One congressional source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Monday that the intelligence committee has already done much of the work an independent commission would do.

House Intelligence Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla., said the CIA has been responding to questions from his oversight committee and the process is working.

While Goss said he encourages review and oversight, he said he does worry that "pulling people from the front lines" to answer questions of investigators takes manpower.

"My feeling is this is not a subject that is going unattended," he said of the intelligence failures.

An intelligence professional, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said oversight and reviews make the intelligence community better, but that simultaneous, detailed inquiries can take a toll. "It actually diverts our people from our primary responsibilities, which is dealing with current and future security threats," the intelligence professional said.

The White House hasn't publicly mentioned possible commission members, but lawmakers and intelligence experts have suggested Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser for Bush's father, and former Sen. Warren Rudman, R-N.H.

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