- The Washington Times - Friday, October 24, 2003

The CIA disputed criticism yesterday from members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that the agency exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein to justify going to war with Iraq.

Calling it too soon to deem it’s prewar intelligence unfounded and citing the ongoing hunt for weapons of mass destruction, CIA spokesman Bill Harlow said the agency was “perplexed to hear that the committee has reached some conclusions.”

A committee spokesman, meanwhile, effectively dismissed a report by The Washington Post that senators are preparing a “blistering report” to criticize CIA Director George J. Tenet and other intelligence officials for overstating the agency’s prewar case.

“I think The Washington Post took a little liberty with some of the comments that it got from folks,” said the committee spokesman, who asked not to be named. “The committee has not completed a report on the review of Iraq prewar intelligence. We’re still in the process of reviewing documents, interviewing officials and analyzing the information.”

The White House kept its distance from the issue yesterday, with a senior administration official last night saying, “We understand that the committee’s report is a work in progress and believe it’s too early to comment on it at this time.”

The Post article quoted the intelligence panel chairman, Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, who in a statement yesterday, said his quotes were “mischaracterized and used to support assertions and implications that are not accurate.”

“The article gives the impression that the committee has completed its review of prewar intelligence on Iraq,” Mr. Roberts said. “The committee has not finished its review of the intelligence and has not reached any final conclusions or finished a report.”

Once the review is complete, the entire committee will go over its findings and hold open hearings. So far, the committee has sifted through volumes of classified materials and interviewed more than 100 people.

But the CIA maintains the committee has yet to hear a comprehensive explanation of how and why the agency reached its prewar conclusions.

Mr. Roberts and Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat, who also was quoted in The Post’s article, acknowledged yesterday Mr. Tenet has asked to speak to the intelligence committee before its report is finalized and said he should have an opportunity to do so.

Mr. Rockefeller, however, added he believes there “clearly have been mistakes made in the intelligence community … particularly on the biological and chemical and, to some to degree, on the nuclear weapons.”

“We all get caught up in the controversy of an investigation,” he said. “What the real work that needs to be done is to correct the way intelligence is done in this country so that the so-called ‘stove-piping’ syndrome disappears.”

Another committee member, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said, “The use of intelligence to create a perception that Iraq was an immediate threat was flawed.

“The question,” she said, “becomes whether it was the actual intelligence or how the judgments were made and how the intelligence was used for public policy purposes. So it really is a continuum that has to be looked at as a whole.”

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