The Senate Intelligence Committee could sign off on its report into alleged pre-Iraq war intelligence failures as early as Thursday, even as the panel wrestles with the CIA over what portions of the investigation need to remain classified.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the panel’s chairman, said the struggle with the CIA over the redaction process will delay public release of the report until the first week of July, after Congress returns from its July Fourth recess.
“It is better to release something like that when you are in session and you can respond to the various questions and developments than you would … when people start to leave town,” Roberts said. “That is not a good time.”
While some issues are still being ironed out, the vote would allow the committee to give its stamp of approval to this phase of the investigation.
The Senate report will be released to the public just weeks before an even higher-profile investigation concludes. The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, known as the 9/11 Commission, is scheduled to wrap up its investigation of the the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on July 26.
On Wednesday, that commission reported that al Qaeda’s preliminary plan called for the hijacking of 10 planes and crashing them into targets in California, New York, Washington state and the nation’s capital.
The commission’s report also said U.S. interrogators were told by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a key al Qaeda leader who is now in custody, that the Capitol was a primary target and that the attack was scheduled for the second week in September “so that the United States Congress would be in session.”
The Senate report on the intelligence that led to the decision to invade Iraq “paints an unflattering picture of the intelligence community and our focus to fix what needs to be changed,” said Roberts. He stopped short of fully divulging the contents of the still classified report.
Inside the intelligence community, speculation is rampant that CIA Director George Tenet announced his plan to leave his post next month when it became apparent the committee would offer a scathing critique of the agency under his stewardship. Tenet denies this assertion, instead citing family reasons for his decision to resign.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, said he believes it is “totally unfair to lay all of the blame in the lap of George Tenet and the CIA.”
Durbin said the Bush administration needs to bear some of the blame for the claim that Saddam Hussein was building a weapons of mass destruction program. He suggested that Democrats would not allow Republicans to shield top officials who promoted the WMD claim to justify the war.
“I think as clear as the shortcomings were in our intelligence-gathering analysis for the invasion of Iraq, it is apparent that policy makers had made the decision to invade even before this intelligence was gathered,” Durbin charged. “Any attempt to gloss over that is going to be noted in the minority views as well as some of the efforts to divert attention away from current leaders and policy makers who either influenced the intelligence or were incorrectly influenced by the intelligence.”
Coalition forces have yet to discover evidence that such a weapons of mass destruction program existed.
Durbin said he expects to include this assessment in the “additional views” portion of the intelligence report. Each member of the committee is allowed to attach their views about the investigation to the report.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the panel, said he would only speak “generally” about the report, but he noted that “this is a subject that you don’t handle with kid gloves. We have had one intelligence debacle after another from 9/11 to the false assertion that there were WMD in Iraq. So I am not pulling any punches in terms of my views on this.”
But fellow Intelligence panel member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who said he too is considering adding his own personal comments, warned Democrats not to use the report to try and score political points.
“If they are going to make it a shrill thing, then I think there will be a lot of us writing separate opinions,” he said.
Still, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), another committee member, said he expects Senators to express different views in the personal comment area of the report.
“I do think there will be differences of opinion as to what should have happened relative to what you can conclude from those facts,” he said.