- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 23, 2004

An independent commission created by President Bush to examine U.S. intelligence capabilities with particular focus on weapons of mass destruction convenes its first series of closed-door meetings this week.

The commission is headed by former Sen. Charles S. Robb, Virginia Democrat, and appeals court Judge Laurence Silberman, a Republican. Members will be briefed Wednesday and Thursday by intelligence specialists at the commission’s offices in Crystal City.

“The main focus is going to be on Iraq,” said commission spokesman Larry McQuillan, adding that members will be briefed on the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate that dealt with Iraq’s weapons capabilities.

Mr. Bush established the commission after U.S. inspectors were unable to confirm prewar intelligence assessments by the United states and others on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

The commission has nine members. In addition to Mr. Robb and Judge Silberman, other prominent members include Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Adm. William O. Studeman, who was deputy director of the CIA from 1992 to 1995.

Mr. McQuillan declined to give details about who will appear before the commission, but said the panel will receive briefings on the activities of the Iraq Survey Group and meet with the National Intelligence Council, a strategy group reporting to the CIA director.

The commission has received little attention since Mr. Bush announced its formation in February, but members convened a private meeting for administrative purposes in March.

The panel is expected to produce an intensive report on intelligence by the end of March. Analysts said they hope the report will get to the roots of why the administration’s assumptions on Iraqi weapons programs have turned out to be inaccurate.

About 70 staffers have been hired to aid the probe, which will also include an expansive look at U.S. intelligence capabilities for monitoring proliferation of weapons of mass destruction around the world.

However, the commission does not have power to subpoena intelligence officials to testify, and Mr. McQuillan said members are not seeking it.

“The co-chairs don’t feel subpoena power is necessary,” he said.

The commission, Mr. McQuillan said, views those who will appear before it as experts and not so much as witnesses.

Tight security is expected for this week’s meetings.

“Because of the nature of what the commission is doing, it requires a high level of security,” Mr. McQuillan said. “I’m not just talking about physically outside, I’m talking about making sure that nobody is trying to use microwaves to find out what is said.”

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