WASHINGTON – A highly critical Senate Intelligence Committee (search) report concludes U.S. intelligence analysts remained objective, but got careless, as they estimated the threat Iraq posed prior to the U.S.-led invasion, officials familiar with the report say.
After a yearlong review, the committee on Friday was releasing more than 100 conclusions on the quality and quantity of the intelligence community's Iraq assessments, including estimates on the former government's purported mobile weapons labs, chemical and biological weapons, nuclear program and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Republicans and Democrats alike on the Senate committee have said their report was a hard-hitting review of the intelligence agencies' performance that would not paint a flattering picture of the CIA.
One U.S. official familiar with the report said it does not charge the agency with losing objectivity but accuses its analysts of not being rigorous or careful in their intelligence assessments.
The report comes as President Bush is deciding when to nominate a permanent replacement for CIA Director George Tenet (search), whose resignation becomes official Sunday. Tenet's deputy, John McLaughlin, will then take over.
While it was initially expected that Bush would keep McLaughlin in place through the November election, senior administration officials have indicated Bush wants to find a permanent replacement sooner. Bush said this week he has made no decision.
The Senate report is among a litany of investigations under way into the intelligence community's recent performance. Bush named two commissions to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and U.S. intelligence capabilities regarding weapons of mass destruction.
A joint congressional inquiry already delved into the Sept. 11 attacks, finding numerous mistakes that prevented authorities from stopping al-Qaida. The House Intelligence Committee is also looking into the Iraq weapons estimates, among still other independent reviews.
The Senate report is the first part of a two-phase review, which at times polarized the usually bipartisan Intelligence Committee. Democrats wanted to see the investigation handled in a broad, single phase that would include other issues such as whether senior Bush administration officials misrepresented the analysis provided by the nation's intelligence apparatus as they made the case for war.
Democratic aides say senators will make arguments about the issue of intelligence exaggeration in "alternative views" that will be attached to the report. They hope the information will make clear that continued investigation is a necessity.
Among other partisan disagreements, the Republican-led committee will conclude that analysts were not pressured to change or tailor their views to support arguments for the invasion of Iraq, congressional and other officials said.
But several Democratic lawmakers were to write in their alternative views that some intelligence analysts told the committee they felt a need to emphasize some pieces of evidence at the expense of others, a form of pressure, according to a Democratic congressional aide who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Tenet, who was among hundreds of individuals interviewed by the committee, has publicly asserted that his analysts painted an objective assessment. "No one told us what to say or how to say it," he said in a speech in February at Georgetown University.
In a farewell address to CIA workers Thursday at the agency's northern Virginia headquarters, Tenet defended the CIA's performance, saying the American people will weigh its record and — aware of the difficulties and limitations — will recognize and honor the service of its personnel.
"My only wish is that those whose job it is to help us do better show the same balance and care. In recognizing how far we have come. In recognizing how bold we have been. In recognizing what the full balance sheet says," he said, according to a transcript released on the CIA's Web site.
"This much is clear right now: Your work is far too important for distractions," Tenet added.
The committee's report had been expected to be released last year, but was delayed for months over disputes including internal committee debates about the review's scope and the CIA's initial proposal to classify roughly 40 percent of the report, citing national security. After negotiations, just under 20 percent will be held back from the public.