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The Never-Ending Prewar Intelligence Investigation By: Byron York
The Hill | Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Who said, “We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction”?

Who said, “Saddam Hussein … has ignored the mandates of the United Nations [and] is building weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them”?

And who said, “Intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile-delivery capability and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members”?

If you answered Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), you would be correct. You would also earn the ire of Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who would like you to believe that only George W. Bush and members of his administration made statements based on inaccurate intelligence in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

These days, the so-called “phase two” of the committee’s investigation into pre-war intelligence is lurching toward completion — or toward the November elections, whichever comes first.

Phase two is a multipart investigation involving analysis of the pre-war intelligence itself, questions about the role of the Iraqi National Congress, pre-war assessments of post-war Iraq, the role of former Pentagon aide Douglas Feith and, finally, the public statements of government officials in the months before the war began in March 2003.

That last topic is where Kennedy, Levin and Clinton come in.

When committee Democrats demanded that the statements by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top administration officials be examined, Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) pointed out that many others in the government — say, Republican and Democratic members of Congress — also spoke out on Iraq’s weapons capabilities before the war.

Roberts was happy to have all those statements analyzed, but Democrats weren’t too enthusiastic about shining the spotlight on their own words.

Roberts had one more idea. He proposed that senators examine each statement in light of the intelligence that was available at the time the statement was made but without knowing the identity of the speaker.

No way! cried Democrats. The plan was an obvious trap. What if Democrats condemned a particular statement only to find out that it had been uttered by … a Democrat?

So the pre-war statement portion of phase two is at something of a standstill these days. Will it ever be completed? No one is making any predictions.

The so-called Feith investigation isn’t going much better. The brainchild of Sen. Levin, the probe is intended to find out whether Feith, the former head of the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans, lied about, distorted, exaggerated, invented or in some other way manipulated intelligence about the connections between Iraq and al Qaeda and about Saddam Hussein’s weapons capabilities.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page once called Levin’s pursuit of Feith “Ahab-like.” That might be understating it a bit, but you get the idea.

Chairman Roberts has said the committee has found no credible evidence to support Levin’s charges, but Levin will not be stopped. So Roberts referred the whole matter to the Pentagon’s inspector general for review — “review,” not “investigation,” as Republicans are quick to point out. When will that review be done? No one knows, but it could be quite a while.

Fortunately, some other aspects of phase two are going a bit better.

The basic investigation into pre-war intelligence is said to be nearly complete. The same is true, although perhaps to a slightly lesser extent, for the investigations into the Iraqi National Congress and pre-war/post-war assessments.

In the end it appears unlikely that we’ll learn anything that will surprise us. We have, after all, been arguing about the war for four years now, and we know the basic facts of the matter.

So what is this continuing wrangle in the Senate Intelligence Committee really about?

Well, for one thing it’s about what it appears to be about. Pre-war intelligence was clearly inaccurate, we went to war based on it and it is entirely proper for the committee to look into it.

But there’s something else going on here, and it can be represented by three numbers: 2004, 2006 and 2008.

In other words, it’s about elections.

For example: In 2004, when Sen. Levin was pushing for more and more investigation, he became frustrated by the committee’s inability to reach the conclusions he desired. So he wrote his own “report” and released it Oct. 21, 2004, 12 days before the presidential election.

In his public statements he made it clear that his timing was no accident. If voters understood just how dishonest the Bush administration had been before the war, Levin said, that might well lead them to vote against the president.

Unfortunately for Levin’s party, it didn’t work then. So look for another attempt before November. And then another before 2008.

Until it works.

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