Published September 27, 2006
WASHINGTON – The White House defended its decision Wednesday to release only portions of a secret intelligence report on Iraq that is turning into a heated battleground for supporters and foes of the Bush administration's War on Terror strategy.
Press secretary Tony Snow said releasing the full report, which says Iraq is becoming a breeding ground for jihadists, would put intelligence agents in harm's way.
"We don't want to put people's lives at risk," Snow told a White House news briefing.
The report, the National Intelligence Estimate, assessed the administration's counterterrorism efforts in Iraq, and was released late yesterday after parts of it were leaked a day earlier to the New York Times and other newspapers.
Among the report's "judgments" was that current U.S. and allied efforts to quell sectarian violence have contributed to an increase in global terror, and have made Iraq a "cause celebre" for Islamic extremists whose numbers are growing.
"Some people have, you know, guessed what's in the report and have concluded that going into Iraq was a mistake. I strongly disagree. I think it's naive," President Bush said during a news conference Tuesday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the East Room of the White House.
White House officials said the release was aimed at stopping speculation about what was in the key judgments of the report.
"You can read it for yourself. We'll stop all the speculation, all the politics about somebody saying something about Iraq, somebody trying to confuse the American people about the nature of this enemy," Bush said.
Frances Fragos Townsend, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, said the report shows that U.S.-led counterterrorism efforts have weakened Al Qaeda leadership but the Islamic extremists still pose security threats to Americans.
"The judgments are really just trying to note that while we're in the middle of this war and this battle, and we are capturing and killing them, there are also others out there who seem to subscribe to the jihadist ideology," Townsend said.
Democratic leaders called on Bush to release the entire report.
"The document speaks for itself. And that's why you should all demand from the president this afternoon to get the whole report, not little pieces that they want to drip and drab out; let's get it all," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada on Wednesday.
Lawmakers were quick to use the report to their political advantage.
"Iraq is now what it was not before the war — a recruiting and training ground for a new generation of terrorists," Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said in a statement.
Republicans say it shows that Iraq is central to the war on terrorism while Democrats tout the report as evidence to show the U.S. presence is Iraq has worsened Muslims' view of the United States.
"If we defeat the terrorists in Iraq, there will be fewer terrorists inspired to carry on the fight," Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, said in a statement.
The report, completed in April, was compiled by leading analysts across 16 U.S. spy agencies.
"We also assess that the global jihadist movement — which includes Al Qaeda, affiliated and independent terrorist groups, and emerging networks and cells — is spreading and adapting to counterterrorism efforts," according to the report.
Other findings of the report include:
— The increased role of Iraqis in managing the operations of Al Qaeda in Iraq might lead the terror group's veteran foreign fighters to refocus their efforts outside that country.
— While Iran and Syria are the most active state sponsors of terror, many other countries will be unable to prevent their resources from being exploited by terrorists.
— The underlying factors fueling the spread of the extremist Muslim movement outweigh its vulnerabilities. These factors are entrenched grievances and a slow pace of reform in home countries, rising anti-U.S. sentiment and the Iraq war.
— Groups "of all stripes" will increasingly use the Internet to communicate, train, recruit and obtain support.
FOX News' Wendell Goler and The Associated Press contributed to this report.