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Republicans Attack CIA on Iraq
Published on Friday, October 24, 2003 by the BBC
Republicans Attack CIA on Iraq
by Jon Leyne
 

A key committee of the US Congress is preparing to issue a damning criticism of the quality of intelligence on Iraq before the war.

According to the Washington Post newspaper, the Senate Intelligence Committee will focus its criticism on the CIA and its director, George Tenet.

But the report is already being seen as an attempt by the Republicans in Congress to deflect blame from the White House.


CIA Director George Tenet (L) meets with U.S. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney (foreground) in the Oval Office in this March 20, 2003 file photo. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is preparing a highly critical report faulting CIA Director Tenet, among others, for overstating the prewar weapons and terrorism evidence against Iraq, the Washington Post said October 24, 2003. REUTERS/White House/Eric Draper
According to the Washington Post, the Senate Intelligence Committee will be highly critical of intelligence it believes over-stated the case against Saddam Hussein.

The committee will attack the quality of evidence on Iraq weapons of mass destruction and its alleged links with terrorism.

Members of the committee were, apparently, surprised by the amount of circumstantial evidence, and the quantity of information that was disputed or had only one source.

"The executive was ill-served by the intelligence community," the chairman of the committee, Republican Senator Pat Roberts, told the Washington Post.

"I worry about the credibility of the intelligence community," he added.

'Holdover'

But Democrats are deeply unhappy with the draft report. They are trying to hear more evidence from members of the Bush administration, and want publication of the report delayed.

For the Republicans, Mr Tenet is a particularly useful target for criticism . He's one of the few so-called "holdovers" - a Clinton appointee who survived the change of president.

As that might suggest, he is a particularly astute political player, and has shown himself willing to take the blame in previous rows over the intelligence against Iraq.

It also makes him a useful scapegoat for the administration.

The Republicans would like this argument closed as soon as possible, well before the election season is into full swing.

But what is likely to happen now is some complicated procedural manoeuvring. But the Democrats have the necessary votes to retaliate by opening a new inquiry, looking more directly at the failings of the administration.

In any case, intelligence committees in Congress have traditionally acted in a more bi-partisan fashion.

Blame game

For its part, the CIA is also now defending its corner.

This is one of the few intelligence agencies to have a press office and a spokesman.

The spokesman, Bill Harlow, said the committee still hadn't fully heard the CIA's side of the case or taken up an offer from George Tenet to appear.

So as the election approaches, the blame game can only intensify.

The stakes are different from Britain, where the issue has sometimes threatened the very position of the Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

Most Americans still support the original decision to go to war with Iraq, and were less concerned about the details of its weapons of mass destruction.

What they are more interested in now, is the continued cost of occupying Iraq.

But the case for war is still a hot political issue that refuses to go away.

© 2003 BBC

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