- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 1, 2003

Two Senate committees want to investigate whether U.S. intelligence accurately pointed to banned weapons in Iraq as asserted by the Bush administration in going to war, senators said yesterday.

More than 11 weeks have passed without “smoking-gun” evidence of an Iraqi program to develop weapons of mass destruction, senators said, and it’s time to investigate whether intelligence reports saying the program existed are correct.

An investigation doesn’t mean senators think something was done incorrectly, said Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

“By the fact that we’re just investigating it should not in any way indicate that we’re putting any credibility doubt against” the CIA or the Bush administration, Mr. Warner told CNN’s “Late Edition.”

He said his committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee might look jointly into the situation.

One Intelligence panel Democrat, Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, who is running for the presidential nomination, went further than other senators in declaring on CNN that the government might have willfully distributed erroneous information on Iraq’s arsenal.

“If we don’t find these weapons of mass destruction, it will represent a serious intelligence failure or the manipulation of that intelligence to keep the American people in the dark,” Mr. Graham said.

The Bush administration’s main argument for the Iraq invasion was that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein held chemical and biological weapons, and possibly was developing nuclear weapons.

All were banned to Iraq under sanctions imposed by the United Nations in August 1990, after Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait, and by subsequent U.N. resolutions.

Beginning today the Pentagon is sending a new group of weapons hunters to Iraq to expand the search for banned weapons.

Mr. Bush faced the question again yesterday in a news conference at St. Petersburg, Russia, as he ended an official visit.

“We’ve discovered weapons systems, biological labs, that Iraq denied she had, and labs that were prohibited under the U.N. resolutions,” Mr. Bush said, referring to two mobile laboratories that the Americans say were for manufacturing biological weapons.

A senior administration official traveling with Mr. Bush in Europe said the United States expected these kinds of delays.

“We’ve always known that this was a program that was built for concealment. It was built to be inspection-proof and discovery-proof. And so it’s not surprising that it’s going to take some time to put all of the pieces together,” the official said aboard Air Force One.

Although Democrats have been bashing the White House for the military’s failure to find unconventional weapons in Iraq, Mr. Warner and other Republican senators joined in yesterday in proposing a congressional inquiry.

“Absolutely, absolutely, there should be,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, on ABC’s “This Week.” “And I would think that the Congress is very well suited for that, a bipartisan committee, or Intelligence Committee report.”

Mr. Warner said he and Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, have talked about a joint hearing into the intelligence about Iraq that the Bush administration was given. But Mr. Warner did not give a time frame for an investigation.

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