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Senate Panel Strikes Deal on Inquiry Into Iraq Arms Intelligence
Published on Saturday, June 21, 2003 by the New York Times
Senate Panel Strikes Deal on Inquiry Into Iraq Arms Intelligence
by James Risen
 

WASHINGTON, June 20 Senate leaders reached a compromise agreement today on the scope of their investigation into the Bush administration's handling of prewar intelligence on Iraq, breaking a political logjam that had threatened the chances for a bipartisan approach to the inquiry.

In effect, the compromise calls for the Republicans to agree to conduct a review, through the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, while the Democrats agree not to call it an investigation. The compromise appears to allow both sides to claim victory in what had turned into a tense, partisan showdown within the normally quiet confines of one of the most secretive committees in Congress.

In a joint statement this afternoon, Senator Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who is chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, and Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, the West Virginia Democrat who is the vice chairman and ranking Democrat, announced a "joint commitment" to conduct a "thorough review" of the prewar intelligence. Neither lawmaker used the word "investigation" to describe their plan of action.

Congressional officials said the wording of today's statement was carefully crafted by both senators, underscoring the political importance to both parties of the language employed by Congress as lawmakers wade cautiously into one of the most volatile political issues facing the nation today.

Republicans appear determined to limit the damage to the Bush administration from the increasing questions about the failure to find Iraq's unconventional weapons since the end of the war. Leading Democrats, meanwhile, appear uncertain about how aggressively to pursue the issue of prewar intelligence out of fear that evidence of Iraq's weapons program might surface any day, leaving them out on a political limb.

The behind-the-scenes battle within the Senate intelligence committee in many ways served as a proxy for the larger struggle between the two parties over the shape of the debate about Iraq's missing weapons.

The failure to find illegal weapons is raising questions for President Bush, who argued before the war that Iraq's development of such weapons posed an imminent threat to the United States. Intelligence reports concerning Iraq's development of such weapons formed the centerpiece of the Bush administration's case for war, both in its efforts to convince the American people and other nations of the need to oust Saddam Hussein.

Republican Congressional officials have said that they find the Democratic arguments over the nature of the investigation to be silly and partisan. They said that the Senate intelligence panel could conduct a thorough review as part of its normal oversight process, and that the Democratic calls for a full investigation were only intended to grab headlines. Democrats, on the other hand, argued that the normal oversight process would not provide for an aggressive investigation of the intelligence community.

In their statement, Senator Roberts and Senator Rockefeller said the committee "will continue to examine the quantity and quality of U.S. intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programs, ties to terrorist groups, Saddam Hussein's threat to stability and security in the region, and his repression of his own people; the objectivity, reasonableness, independence and accuracy of the judgments reached by the intelligence community; whether those judgments were properly disseminated to policy makers in the executive branch and Congress; whether any influence was brought to bear on anyone to shape their analysis to support policy objectives."

Even before the compromise was reached, the committee's staff had begun to dig into a pile of intelligence reports and documents that have been turned over to Congress by the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies. The Senate panel has also agreed to hold a hearing soon on the role played by a special Pentagon intelligence unit in the shaping of intelligence before the war.

Officials with the Senate panel said they planned to hold a hearing in which they would ask Douglas J. Feith, an under secretary of defense, to testify about that unit, which worked under him, and which critics inside the intelligence community say issued reports that overstated the threat posed by Iraq.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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