- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2004

The White House yesterday rejected calls by Democrats for an independent investigation into how and why intelligence agencies thought Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) before the Iraq war.

Speaking on NBC’s “Today” show yesterday, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the Bush administration “simply believes that there is still work to be done” in Iraq before an independent inquiry should take place.

“The Iraq Survey Group [ISG] is trying to complete its work,” Miss Rice said. “But let me be very clear: No one will want to know more than the president of the comparison between what we found when we got there and what we thought going in.”

David Kay, who resigned as head of the ISG last week, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that President Bush made the right call to go to war, considering the intelligence presented to him.

He also stressed that he has found no evidence the intelligence community was pressured by the Bush administration to write reports that would justify going to war — a theory pushed by Democratic Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

“Never, not in a single case, was the explanation [for the bad intelligence]: ‘I was pressured to do this,’” Mr. Kay said Wednesday.

Mr. Kay’s inspection of Iraq has turned up no large caches of WMD, suggesting that much of the intelligence the president and Congress received before the war was wrong.

However, Iraq’s new foreign minister said yesterday that Saddam’s regime had carefully hidden the WMD, and he was confident they would eventually be found.

“I have every belief that some of these weapons could be found as we move forward,” Hoshiyar Zebari told reporters in Sofia, Bulgaria. “They have been hidden in certain areas. The system of hiding was very sophisticated.”

The White House, meanwhile, refuses to openly suggest, as Mr. Kay has, that weapons of mass destruction will never be found.

“We believe it’s important that the search go on,” said White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan. “There are still interviews to conduct, there are still documents to go through, there are still sites to go to.”

At Wednesday’s hearing, Mr. Kay agreed with a suggestion by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, that an independent investigation of the intelligence failures should be conducted.

Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, chafed at the notion that the investigation he has led for months, mostly behind closed doors, doesn’t count.

“I personally take some umbrage at people who, for one reason or another, think we need to have an outside investigation before our inquiry is even complete,” Mr. Roberts said.

The intelligence panel is expected to release a report on its findings by the middle of March.

Mr. Levin complained that the committee’s investigation is too narrow because it does not examine how the pre-war intelligence “was characterized by policy-makers” in the Bush administration.

A senior Senate aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it is unlikely Congress will start another investigation into the intelligence breakdowns.

“You don’t need the committee to do a Nexis-Lexis search to see if someone’s statements match the intelligence reports,” the aide said. “But this is the kind of stuff you get in an election year. They are just trying to use the committee to hurt the president. It doesn’t matter what the facts are.”

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