Wednesday, February 11, 2004

The House intelligence committee’s ongoing review of prewar intelligence has turned up no evidence that senior Bush administration officials distorted facts to strengthen the case for invading Iraq.

Rep. Porter J. Goss, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, told reporters yesterday there is “absolutely no evidence that the intelligence was manipulated, distorted or in any way shaped or morphed to suit a preordained purpose.”

Mr. Goss’ committee is one of several panels conducting inquiries into the prewar intelligence, which the Bush administration used to back up assertions that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and posed an immediate threat to the United States.

David Kay, the former chief U.S. weapons inspector in postwar Iraq, has said the prewar assessment that the Iraqi dictator had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction was wrong.

Political controversy about the matter last week prompted President Bush to appoint a nine-member bipartisan commission to conduct an independent review.

Mr. Kay suggested the independent commission should look into the matter.

“The issue of whether there was political distortion of the intelligence deserves to be on the agenda,” he said during a question-and-answer session yesterday at the U.S. Institute for Peace. “I think it essential that it be there.”

Mr. Goss offered a slightly contrary view yesterday.

He told reporters at the Capitol he has no objection to commission members doing anything they want to do, but “would suggest they ought to focus their energies on something that matters rather than on something that’s settled.”

His comments came after he briefed the House Republican Conference during a closed-door meeting on the progress of his committee’s review.

Mr. Goss, speaking with reporters at the Capitol said “the most pressing question” raised by House Republicans has been why prewar intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq “wasn’t more on the mark.”

“The answer, I think, probably is because we didn’t have enough dots on the table for the analysts to draw a clear enough picture for our policy-makers,” Mr. Goss said.

During the mid-1990s, he said, the United States was focused on domestic issues and the link between the intelligence community and the White House was considerably less than it has been since September 11.

“No only did we not invest in intelligence, we willfully disinvested in intelligence,” Mr. Goss said. “We cut back the number of capabilities that we had on a global basis very dramatically.”

Mr. Goss, a former CIA case officer, said intelligence agents “have to do business with some very distasteful people.”

“You have to get next to them to get information,” he said, adding that without people who have close access to the plans and intentions of the troublemakers “the chances of stopping something like a 9/11 are very difficult.”

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