By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 30, 2006; A07
When angry Democrats briefly shut down the Senate last year to protest the slow pace of a congressional investigation into prewar intelligence on Iraq, Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) claimed a rare victory.
Republicans called it a stunt but promised to quickly wrap up the inquiry. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which is overseeing the investigation, said his report was near completion and there was no need for the fuss.
That was nine months ago.
The Republican-led committee, which agreed in February 2004 to write the report, has yet to complete its work. Just two of five planned sections of the committee's findings are fully drafted and ready to be voted on by members, according to Democratic and Republican staffers. Committee sources involved with the report, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they are working hard to complete it. But disputing Roberts, they said they had started almost from scratch in November after Democrats staged their protest.
Roberts spokeswoman Sarah Ross Little said the slow pace is partially the result of Roberts's desire to give members a chance for input. She said Roberts will make public the two completed sections "when they are approved by the committee and have been declassified," rather than wait for the other three to be done, as well. If the sections are not approved by the committee next week, they will have to wait until members return from recess in September.
The section most Democrats have sought, however, is not yet in draft form and might not emerge until after the November election, staffers said. That section will examine the administration's deliberations over prewar intelligence and whether its public presentation of the threat reflected the evidence senior officials reviewed in private.
President Bush, Vice President Cheney and senior administration officials asserted before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 that Iraq was rebuilding its nuclear weapons program, had chemical and biological weapons, and maintained links to al-Qaeda affiliates that could use those weapons against the United States. Bush said it was on that basis that he ordered the invasion.
But when teams of U.S. troops and intelligence experts failed to find any such weapons, and numerous commissions proclaimed the intelligence had been deeply flawed, some Democrats who voted to support the war began to allege that administration officials had willfully exaggerated Iraq's capabilities and terrorism ties and that they had resisted inquiries into the intelligence failures.
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the committee's ranking Democrat, began inquiring about the evidence against Iraq one week before U.S. troops invaded. His interest was sparked by revelations that the Bush administration passed on forged documents to U.N. weapons inspectors to support allegations that Iraq had sought uranium from the African nation of Niger.
Roberts resisted a full investigation for three months. But in June 2003, when it became increasingly apparent that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, the committee agreed to look into the intelligence cited in the administration's case for war.
A year later, the committee issued the first phase of its bipartisan report, which found that the U.S. intelligence community had assembled an exaggerated assessment of Saddam Hussein's weapons capabilities. The second phase was to focus on the Bush administration's use of intelligence and examine public statements made by key policymakers about the threat posed by Iraq. That is the phase that has been delayed.
Part of the investigation that focuses on the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, which was run by former undersecretary of defense Douglas J. Feith, is on hold, staff members said, pending a separate inquiry by the Defense Department's inspector general.
The Special Plans office, which ran its own intelligence gathering operation with the help of Iraqi exiles, stopped cooperating with the Senate panel last year. Roberts said key officials hired lawyers and quit talking when Rockefeller suggested that laws may have been broken. But Democrats dismissed that as an excuse.
The intelligence community's warnings about the possibility of chaos and violence in post-invasion Iraq also are under review in a separate chapter, staff members said. "What we have so far makes clear the intelligence community was saying lots of things can go wrong here, and they were certainly right," one congressional source said.
The two drafted sections could be voted on by committee members as early as next week, two congressional aides said yesterday. Both chapters cover ground that has largely been explored by a presidential commission on weapons of mass destruction.
One completed section of the Senate effort compares prewar estimates on Iraq's alleged chemical, biological and nuclear programs with the findings of U.S. weapons hunters who wrapped up their work empty-handed in December 2004.
The other chapter examines what, if any, information provided by Iraqi exiles was used in official intelligence estimates. That chapter does not review the influence that exiles such as former deputy prime minister Ahmed Chalabi had on the intelligence community and administration officials.