- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 26, 2004

The independent commission created by President Bush to examine U.S. intelligence capabilities met for seven hours behind closed doors yesterday for briefings on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs before and after the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

The nine-member commission heard “presentations from current and former officials from the Iraq Survey Group — including David Kay,” said a statement by its co-chairmen, former Sen. Charles S. Robb, Virginia Democrat, and appeals court Judge Laurence Silberman, a Republican.

Officially named the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, the panel was established in February after Mr. Kay made headlines by saying the prewar assessment that Saddam had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction was wrong.

Mr. Bush chose members from across the political spectrum and gave the panel until March to report on its findings.

A spokesman for the panel yesterday said members are not expected to examine whether the administration deliberately distorted prewar intelligence to make its case for invading Iraq.

The goal, rather, is to determine the accuracy of the intelligence, said spokesman Larry McQuillan.

Commission members are “looking strictly at the idea of whether U.S. intelligence is up to the task and if procedures need to be modified,” he said.

Members met at an undisclosed location in Crystal City. The meeting and future meetings — including one today — are being held in secret because of “the sensitive nature of our work, which concerns highly classified matters of national security,” the commission’s co-chairmen said.

In addition to hearing from the Iraq Survey Group yesterday, the commission received briefings from representatives of the National Intelligence Council, a strategy group that reports to the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Although the first order of business is focused mainly on Iraq, the commission’s overall mandate calls for looking considerably beyond what the intelligence community did or did not know about Saddam’s weapons program.

The mission involves evaluating “comprehensively the quality of U.S. intelligence on WMD and related 21st century threats — whether from state actors or transnational terrorist networks,” the co-chairmen said.

The mandate calls for providing “specific recommendations for ensuring that the intelligence community is prepared to identify and warn the United States government about such threats in the future,” they said, adding that the panel will scrutinize other reports being prepared by the House and Senate select intelligence committees.

Other members of the panel are Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican; Lloyd Cutler, former White House counsel to Presidents Carter and Clinton; Richard C. Levin, Yale University president; Charles M. Vest, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Patricia M. Wald, former chief judge of the D.C. Court of Appeals; Henry S. Rowen, a former assistant secretary of defense; and Adm. William O. Studeman, who was deputy director of the CIA from 1992 to 1995.

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