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Senate report puts Iraq intel back in spotlight

A new Senate report gives a fresh shot of adrenaline to the election-year debate over the Iraq war.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A new Senate report gives a fresh shot of adrenaline to the election-year debate over the Iraq war. President Bush and his top officials deliberately misrepresented secret intelligence to make the case to invade Iraq, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The panel put a new spin on old charges, comparing claims made in five speeches by top Bush administration officials with intelligence reports. The committee says officials wrongly linked Saddam Hussein to the Sept. 11 attacks and al-Qaida; claimed Iraq would give terrorist groups chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, and said Iraq was developing drone aircraft to spread chemical or biological agents over the United States.

None was borne out by intelligence.

The presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Sen. Barack Obama, has staked his campaign on his consistent opposition to the Iraq war. The presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, has trumpeted his unflagging support for the war, if not how it was waged.

The report released Thursday follows, by years, an earlier committee effort that assessed the quality of pre-war intelligence on Iraq and found it severely lacking. This report is known as "phase II" and spawned a nasty partisan fight in the committee. It plows well-tread political ground by contrasting what Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said between October 2002 and March 2003, when the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began, with intelligence reports that since have been released.

"These reports are about holding the government accountable and making sure these mistakes never happen again," said the committee's chairman, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

According to Rockefeller, the problem was the Bush administration concealed information that would have undermined the case for war. "We might have avoided this catastrophe," he said.

Bush's press secretary, Dana Perino, said the problem was flawed intelligence heading into the war. "We had the intelligence that we had, fully vetted, but it was wrong. And we certainly regret that," she said.

The Senate report, however, found that intelligence supported most of the administration's statements about Iraq before the war. But officials often did not mention the level of dissension or uncertainty in the intelligence agencies about the information they were presenting.

'Mischaracterized the intelligence'
Two Republicans, Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine, endorsed the report.

The committee's five other Republicans, however, assailed it as a partisan exercise. They accused Democrats of covering for their own members, including Rockefeller and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who made similar statements about Iraq based on the same intelligence the Bush administration used.

"It is ironic that the Democrats would knowingly distort and misrepresent the committee's findings and the intelligence in an effort to prove that the administration distorted and mischaracterized the intelligence," said Sen. Christopher Bond of Missouri, the committee's top Republican.

A second report issued by the committee Thursday says Pentagon officials concealed from U.S. intelligence agencies potentially useful tips from Iranian agents in 2001, including that Tehran allegedly sent hit teams to Afghanistan to kill Americans.

The Iranians also told Pentagon employees at a December 2001 meeting in Rome of a purported tunnel complex used to store weapons and covertly move personnel out of Iran after Sept. 11, 2001, according to the committee report. In addition, the Iranians told of a long-standing relationship with the Palestine Liberation Organization and the growth of anti-government sentiment inside Iran.