- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

Members of the presidential commission that examined U.S. intelligence failures told White House officials that they would resign en masse if President Bush did not ensure the nation’s spy agencies cooperated with their inquiry — and had to repeat the threat more than once.

Laurence H. Silberman, the federal judge who was co-chairman of the inquiry, said he told officials, “If we did not get support from the White House at any time we ran into any difficulties, I and others would resign.”

“I did occasionally have to remind the White House of the commitment I had made to resign … [to] focus their attention,” Judge Silberman said at a Washington breakfast organized by the American Bar Association last week.

When the judge was appointed in February 2004, he recalled, there was much discussion of the fact that, unlike the September 11 commission that preceded it, the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction did not have subpoena power.

Judge Silberman said he thought the threat of resignation was “a more effective sanction.”

“Ultimately, I think everyone agreed that … we did get good cooperation,” he said.

One area of potential conflict that went more smoothly than expected, commission officials said, were the negotiations with intelligence agencies over how much material could be put in the public, unclassified version of the commission’s report.

Unlike the two recent major congressional inquiries into intelligence failures, the Silberman panel chose to write a declassified report that was separate from the classified version, rather than use black bars and boxes over the classified sections.

“It was an effort to create something more readable and less mysterious,” said Stewart Baker, the commission’s general counsel.

Judge Silberman said the two versions of the report were 90 percent identical.

Mr. Baker added that the commissioners were “surprised at how much could be discussed in an unclassified format.”

That same day, Mr. Bush, answering journalists’ questions at the American Society of Newspaper Editors, praised the commission for striking a balance between openness and protecting the country’s secrets.

“I think people following this issue were surprised that so much was declassified. And yet the … commission made it really clear that had the other 10 percent been declassified, … it would have jeopardized our capacity to protect the country. It … would have exposed sources and uses,” Mr. Bush said.

The commission said the Bush administration did not distort prewar intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program, calling information provided by U.S. spy agencies “dead wrong.” It also said the 15 U.S. intelligence agencies know “disturbingly little” about the world’s most dangerous proliferation threats, including those of Iran and North Korea.

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