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Senate Intel Readies Report

Hopes to Offer Findings Before 9/11 Panel

The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to criticize the intelligence community for definitively saying Saddam Hussein was assembling a weapons of mass destruction program in a new report that may result in an overhaul of the nation’s spy agencies.

The panel is nearing completion of an exhaustive analysis into how the intelligence community concluded Iraq was amassing weapons of mass destruction, and Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said he is aiming to release the committee’s findings to the public late next month.

So far, coalition forces have failed to find any weapons of mass destruction, a premise central to the U.S. decision to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iraq. Committee members are currently offering their suggestions for the report’s final language before it is delivered to the CIA for “scrubbing,” or declassification.

“I think it is the most consequential report yet produced that points out the need for change in the methods and operations of the intelligence community,” said panel member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

“On our phase one, I think people are going to be surprised, interested and in some cases very unhappy,” added Intelligence Vice Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).

The Senate panel has divided its investigations into phases, with the first focusing on the quality, accuracy and reasonableness of the judgments made by the intelligence community. The second phase is an investigation into, among other things, “whether public statements and reports and testimony regarding Iraq by U.S. government officials made between the Gulf War period and the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom were substantiated by intelligence information.”

Roberts said the purpose of the report is not to assign blame as much as it is to set in motion a process to “reform” the intelligence community, which has been under heavy fire since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“What we really would like to do is say, ‘Here are the conclusions we have reached and obviously we have problems in this area,’” Roberts said. “What can we do to correct them, i.e. lessons learned?”

The Senate’s review of the weapons of mass destruction data has been overshadowed recently by the high-profile public hearings of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, a bipartisan commission investigating whether the United States was “prepared” for the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Rockefeller said the 9/11 commission has been very helpful to the Intelligence panel’s efforts to investigate the matter, because the commission is “creating a movement for reform.”

With the 9/11 commission expected to report its findings by July 26, Roberts said it is imperative that his panel make public its report sooner rather than later because people are starting to “confuse” the Senate’s investigation with the independent commission’s work.

“I think it is just mandatory that we get it out before the 9/11 commission comes out in July,” Roberts said. “I would rather have a separate thing and I think our report would have a direct impact issue-wise with regards to the 9/11 stuff.”

Once a flash point for partisanship, sniping over the Iraq probe has subsided since cresting in November 2003 when Republicans accused their rivals of politicizing the matter.

“We have been through that and nobody liked it,” Rockefeller said of the past partisanship. “Nobody wants to do it.”

With the release of the report at least a month away, it is unlikely the Senate would hold a closed-door session to debate the Iraq situation until at least June. Earlier in the year, Democrats were calling for a private session to debate the alleged pre-Iraq war intelligence lapses, but a spokesman said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is waiting until the Intelligence Committee completes its work.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said he wants to revisit the issue before pressing for an executive session.

“I want to raise the issue again in Caucus and with my leadership before coming to any conclusion about it,” he said. “A lot has happened since we proposed it and I think there is still some merit to considering it, but I haven’t made any decision but I will have to vet it with my Caucus first.”

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