Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee want the right to interview top policymakers or speechwriters as part of the inquiry into whether the Bush administration exaggerated or misused intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the panel's vice chairman, said yesterday.
Rockefeller raised the possibility of issuing subpoenas, and outlined a more wide-ranging approach than the one described by Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who said the work would center on comparing public statements by administration officials to intelligence reports circulating at the time. Rockefeller, Roberts and four other senators are to meet today to work out a schedule and process for the committee's review.
"Comparing public statements with what the intelligence community published does not alone tell the story," Rockefeller said in a statement yesterday. "If necessary, we may need to conduct interviews and request supporting documents." Rockefeller warned that "if the committee is denied testimony or documentation, we must be prepared to issue subpoenas."
Rockefeller's recommended approach also appears tougher than the one reflected in an agreement he and Roberts reached last year. At that time, they agreed to schedule the "Phase Two" of their inquiry into prewar intelligence, which would include some of the most sensitive issues, including whether the administration mischaracterized intelligence in public. That inquiry would review public statements, reports and testimony by U.S. government officials and determine whether they "were substantiated by intelligence information," according to a committee statement in February 2004.
It was to be a relatively simple process, as Roberts described it Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation." "You have the statements over here," he said. "Then you have the intelligence over here. And I want members to roll up their sleeves . . . and say, 'Okay, here's the statement, here's the intelligence. Is it credible?' "
Under last year's agreement, it was unclear whether the committee would consider whether there were contradictory or competing intelligence reports circulating at the time public statements were made that could call them into question, or whether the panel would simply check to see whether each statement could be backed up by at least one piece of intelligence.
For example, in a Sept. 8, 2002, appearance on CNN, Condoleezza Rice said Iraq was receiving "high-quality aluminum tubes that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs." At the time, there were serious disagreements within the intelligence community over whether those tubes were meant for centrifuges -- which can be used to extract weapons-grade uranium -- or whether they were meant for anti-aircraft rockets, which proved to be the case. If it could be shown that there was at least one intelligence report that substantiated Rice's statement, that might be enough to justify her statement under terms of the panel's earlier agreement.
As one senior committee staff member put it, "This study will not punish 'cherry-picking' intelligence, whether by the administration or by Democrats."
Under Rockefeller's desired approach, Rice could be interviewed to ask her what intelligence she based her statements on, and whether she was aware of the contrary views.
Yesterday, a Senate staff member familiar with Roberts's views said he thinks it may not be necessary to interview anyone. "But if the committee members decide they need to speak to those involved, they can agree to do that," he added.
Rockefeller said that several new intelligence items need to be included in the Phase Two review that were not known when the committee released the first phase of its review more than a year ago. That phase centered on the quality of prewar intelligence, not on how the administration presented it publicly.
Rockefeller cited the Defense Intelligence Agency's report in 2002 that questioned the reliability of an al Qaeda captive whose information later became the foundation for allegations that Iraq was training Osama bin Laden operatives. Although the analysis of how the administration used intelligence has gotten the most publicity, it is only part of the committee's Phase Two study. Among other things, the panel also will compare prewar assessments on what would happen in postwar Iraq with what has occurred there, and it will examine how information provided by Iraqi defectors and exiles, including Ahmed Chalabi, were incorporated into intelligence analyses.