WASHINGTON – President Bush created a new commission Friday to investigate the role and caliber of intelligence used to justify the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
"Some prewar intelligence assessments by America and other nations about Iraq's weapon stockpiles have not been confirmed. We are determined to figure out why. We're also determined to make sure that American intelligence is as accurate as possible for every challenge in the future," Bush told reporters in the White House (search) briefing room.
"The commission I have appointed today will examine intelligence on weapons of mass destruction and related 21st century threats and issue specific recommendations to ensure our capabilities are strong," he said.
The commission, created by executive order, will be given the broad charge of looking at intelligence issues across the board. Bush said the inquiry will go beyond Iraq to other parts of the world, including North Korea (search) and Iran, and will investigate the production and use of U.S. intelligence in the run-up to the war in Iraq.
He said the commission will have the full cooperation of U.S. intelligence agencies and complete access to information obtained by the Iraq Survey Group, the weapons inspectors now trying to find Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
The executive order, signed by Bush to create the panel, says that within 90 days of receiving the commission's report, the president will consult with Congress and may propose legislation in response to the panel's recommendations. White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the administration fully expects the commission's findings to be made public.
Steven Aftergood, an intelligence policy specialist at the Federation of American Scientists (search), said the executive order falls short of what is needed to assuage the controversy surrounding the decision to go to war.
"This is an in-house White House advisory board," Aftergood said. "This doesn't get into the decision-making. Intelligence doesn't tell you to go to war. It gives you a picture of the threats. What you do about it is a policy decision that will not be addressed by this commission."
Bush named seven members to the panel, saying the last two will be decided later. The other panelists include Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona; Lloyd Cutler, former White House counsel to Presidents Carter and Clinton; Rick Levin, the president of Yale University; Admiral Bill Studeman, former deputy director of the CIA who was nominated by President George H.W. Bush; and Judge Patricia Wald, a former judge on the D.C. Court of Appeals.
The panel is comprised of "highly-qualified people with integrity who bring a lot of experience to the table," a spokesman said before the president's announcement.
McCain, Bush's rival in the 2000 GOP nominating contest and a former pilot who was held prisoner of war in Vietnam, is known for his independent streak and his hawkish positions on military issues.
Attending a security conference in Munich, Germany, on Friday, McCain first heard about the panel from Fox News correspondent Bret Baier.
"These are very qualified Americans who have extensive backgrounds, and it makes me wonder why I am included in such an illustrious group," McCain told reporters, adding that he is entering into the investigation without any preconceived notions except that an intelligence failure did occur.
Upon hearing the list of people named to the panel, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., expressed her disappointment.
"We had an opportunity to have a truly independent commission that could have brought fresh eyes to the subject. Instead, we have a commission wholly owned by the executive branch investigating the executive branch," Pelosi said.
At first, the president resisted the idea of a new commission, but gave in after Democrats and some Republicans pressured the White House following congressional testimony by David Kay, the former chief weapons inspector in charge of the American-led Iraq Survey Group.
Kay told a Senate panel that he thought it was unlikely that after searching 85 percent of the sites, any weapons of mass destruction would be found in Iraq. He said the data leading the administration to war was overanalyzed and did not rely enough on human intelligence.
But CIA Director George Tenet on Thursday defended his agency and the intelligence community that had been working on Iraq. He said that the entire global intelligence community was led to believe Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and the intelligence clearly stated that Saddam was definitely working to acquire weapons.
Tenet said the intelligence was mostly on target, especially as it applied to Iraq's nuclear, missile and unmanned aerial vehicle programs (search). He said the analyses were reasonable given the information available to the United States and other nations.
"Based on an assessment of the data we collected over the past 10 years, it would have been difficult for analysts to come to any different conclusions than the ones reached in October of 2002," when a comprehensive intelligence estimate was prepared.
He added that the CIA never said the threat from Saddam was imminent, and that the search for weapons is far from over. He did not say whether administration officials accurately related to the public the data given to them.
Before the war, Bush and his senior advisers made clear they viewed the threat from Saddam as urgent. On Sept. 13, 2002, Bush said of Saddam, "He's a threat we must deal with as quickly as possible." The next month, he said "the danger is already significant and it only grows worse with time."
White House aides have pointed out that Bush, while he cited the urgency of stopping Saddam, never called the threat "imminent."
But remarks on homeland security Thursday at Port Charleston in South Carolina, the president reaffirmed his desire to know why "we have not discovered the stockpiles of weapons we thought were there" in Iraq.
"The facts are becoming clearer. In Iraq, our survey group is on the ground, looking for the truth. We will compare what the intelligence indicated before the war with what we have learned afterwards," he said.
Kay said Thursday that the commission should look into whether political leaders manipulated intelligence data.
"I think that is an important question that needs to be understood," he said at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
McCain said he does not believe the president manipulated intelligence or that a major conspiracy was in the works, but promised to "look at all the facts."
The administration has denied that anyone in the executive branch pressured analysts to manipulate intelligence and congressional overseers said they have seen no such evidence to that effect. It is unclear whether the panel will address the question of pressure tactics.
Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he hoped the report would be a catalyst for intelligence reforms.
"I don't think this is the time to be really beating the intelligence community about the head and shoulders for what appears to be" a global intelligence failure, said Roberts, R-Kan.
Once convened, the commission's findings are not expected until March 2005, well after the presidential election.
Fox News' James Rosen and Greg Kelly and the Associated Press contributed to this report.