Skip to comments.Senate Panel Demands C.I.A. Data Leading Up to Iraq War by Friday Noon
Posted on 10/29/2003 6:25:34 PM PST by Brian S
By DOUGLAS JEHL Published: October 30, 2003
WASHINGTON, Oct. 29 In a new clash between Congress and the Central Intelligence Agency, the Senate Intelligence Committee has demanded that the C.I.A. turn over by noon on Friday all of the documents and interviews still being sought by the panel for its inquiry into prewar intelligence on Iraq.
The demand was spelled out in a letter on Wednesday to George Tenet, the director of central intelligence, from the Republican chairman and the Democratic vice-chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who said that some of the panel's requests have gone unanswered since July.
"In light of the agency's many other responsibilities, the committee has been patient, but we now need immediate access to this information," said the letter, which was released by the chairman, Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, and the vice-chairman, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia.
A C.I.A. spokesman, Bill Harlow, said Wednesday evening that the agency had "only just received their letter, shortly after it was provided to the news media." Mr. Harlow said it was too soon to say whether the deadline set by the committee was realistic. "The intelligence community has been working hard to fulfill their request and will continue to do so," he said.
The Senate committee is preparing a critical report spelling out what Mr. Roberts has described as "serious errors" on the part of the C.I.A. in gathering and analyzing prewar intelligence about Iraq's suspected illicit weapons program. In a letter to Senators Roberts and Rockefeller last week, Mr. Tenet complained that the staff members who have been conducting the inquiry had yet to hear a defense of the agency's performance by senior C.I.A. officials.
Mr. Tenet proposed in that letter that John McClaughlin, the agency's No. 2 official, and others present their findings to senators after an internal intelligence community inquiry is completed in late November.
But in their response on Wednesday, Senators Roberts and Rockefeller rejected that, saying that the agency's focus should be on meeting the committee's outstanding requests. They said that if the full committee should meet directly with an agency official, it should be with Mr. Tenet and not a subordinate.
The senators did not say what they would do if the Friday deadline is not met, and some congressional officials conceded that the deadline might not be realistic.
But the committee's confrontational tone and its clear effort to put pressure on the agency echoed demands made to the White House during the last week by Thomas Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey who is chairman of a national commission looking into the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
"We appreciate your concern that our oversight of these issues be as `complete and thoughtful as possible,' " the two senators wrote in their letter to Mr. Tenet. "We also believe strongly that it is imperative to be complete and thoughtful. We can be neither complete nor thoughtful, however, without the information we have requested from various elements of the intelligence community."
The request from Senators Roberts and Rockefeller did not spell out in any detail the nature of the documents still being sought by the committee or the identify of those whom the panel is still seeking to interview. But it did say that the committee was seeking from Mr. Tenet "an explanation of the various disconnects and inconsistencies" in assessments by the intelligence community about disputed evidence pointing to possible efforts by Iraq to obtain enriched uranium from Niger.
The failure so far of American investigators in Iraq to uncover evidence of illicit weapons has called into question the Bush administration's prewar assertions that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons and was seeking to reconstitute its nuclear program.
In describing the inquiry, the two senators said of the panel's inquiry that it is "our desire that the Committee's review will serve to validate the good work of the intelligence community and, where necessary, provide corrective suggestions where the intelligence product might have been better."
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