- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2004

President Bush this week will order the creation of a nine-member, bipartisan commission to conduct a broad investigation of the U.S. intelligence community that goes beyond questions about the Iraq war, a senior administration official said yesterday.

The commission will comprise intelligence experts — possibly including past or current members of Congress — but will not complete its work until next year, well after the presidential election Nov. 2, said the White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The executive order the president will sign this week will direct the commission to take a “broad look at our intelligence, particularly related to weapons of mass destruction,” the official said. “It will look at Iraq, but it will be more broad than that.

“There are outlaw regimes and closed societies that seek to conceal their conduct through deception and denial, and the president believes that it is important for our country to have a bipartisan review, because the global intelligence challenges that we face are new, are more complex and are more difficult,” the official said.

The probe will look back — possibly as far as previous administrations — but will also be “forward looking,” with an eye toward coming up with solutions for what appear to be major intelligence failures leading up to the Iraq war.

“Keep in mind you have Libya, Iran, North Korea,” the official said.

The president Friday said he wants “the American people to know that I, too, want to know the facts,” but added that he wants the U.S. Iraqi Survey Group (ISG) to complete its work investigating what weapons Iraq had before the war.

While six panels are investigating prewar intelligence — the House and Senate intelligence committees, a CIA internal-review team, the president’s Foreign Intelligence Review Board, the ISG and an Army team — the official said the work of the new independent commission will not wait for the completion of any other probe.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, will complete its work first — likely by next month — and the senator has said that he does not believe any independent panel should begin work before its completion.

But the official said the commission will “begin work quickly and will have full access to the information it will need to do its job.”

The former chief weapons inspector in Iraq, David Kay, has concluded that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction, adding that “we were all wrong.” But he told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that Mr. Bush made the right call to go to war, considering the intelligence presented to him.

Mr. Kay also said that the president was misled by the shoddy intelligence and that the U.S. intelligence community was not pressured by the Bush administration to exaggerate prewar reports.

The inspector also said the Iraqi government’s cheating and lying to the United Nations led to some intelligence lapses, a conclusion with which the senior White House official agreed.

“Given what we knew, we could no longer rely on Saddam Hussein’s good intentions,” the official said. “Obviously, a lot of the intelligence … was shared by agencies around the world and the U.N.”

On “Fox News Sunday,” Mr. Kay said that until the Iraq intelligence lapses are cleared up, Americans may doubt that Iran or North Korea — the other two members with Iraq of Mr. Bush’s “axis of evil” — pose grave dangers.

“If you cannot rely on good, accurate intelligence that is credible to the American people and to others abroad, you certainly cannot have a policy of pre-emption,” he said.

The president began moving toward creating a commission last week, but only this past weekend concluded that one was needed. Newspapers and networks, along with Democratic lawmakers, had criticized the administration in January after Mr. Kay’s acknowledgement that his group could not unearth WMDs.

The White House official said efforts will be made to keep the probe free of political influences.

“I think it’s important the work of the commission is done in a way that doesn’t open it up to becoming embroiled in partisan politics. But I think you can expect that these would be distinguished individuals that will be committed to doing a thorough job,” the official said.

Reaction was swift on Capitol Hill.

“I don’t see there’s any way around it,” Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican and a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday. “We need to open this up in a very nonpartisan, outside commission, to see where we are.”

Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, another top Republican on the committee, said he would be willing to go along with an independent commission.

“I think we have major problems with our intelligence community. I think we need to take a look at a complete overhaul,” he said.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, agreed. “America’s credibility’s at stake,” he said. “This isn’t about politics anymore.”

Nevertheless, a Democratic candidate for president, Howard Dean, suggested Mr. Bush may have purposefully misled the American people.

“We don’t know if he was given bad information … or if he and the administration at the highest level decided to manipulate the intelligence reports,” the former Vermont governor said.

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