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Get Truth on Prewar Events

June 09, 2003

President Bush declared last week in Qatar that Iraq was a big country but that the truth about hidden Iraqi weapons of mass destruction would be discovered. His words, however, did not slow the barrage of innuendo, rumor and revelations about the administration's handling of prewar intelligence about such weapons.

Did Secretary of State Colin Powell, as reported in Britain, meet secretly right before the war with British Foreign Minister Jack Straw to voice skepticism about the quality of intelligence? Did Vice President Dick Cheney's staff supply Powell's staff with slipshod information about weapons on the eve of Powell's United Nations address?

Every word of those whispers might be without substance, but unless an authoritative investigator sorts them out, no one will know for sure.

Unfortunately, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says he wants to conduct a mere review rather than a formal investigation or public hearing into intelligence on Iraq on the eve of war. A review would simply amount to inspecting documents submitted by the CIA. Roberts' reason is that the administration deserves more time to search for weapons. But the longer Congress delays investigating, the more allegations will swirl around the intelligence agencies, further weakening their credibility.

Only a formal investigation has a chance of providing a dispassionate and authoritative report about what actually occurred during the run-up to the war. As it stands, it is open season for former intelligence analysts to take potshots at CIA Director George J. Tenet and for the CIA and Defense Department to try to shift responsibility to each other.

Some helpful steps are already being taken. President Bush's own Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board is looking into forged documents that claimed Iraq was attempting to purchase enriched uranium in Africa. How did Bush come to rely on those documents for his State of the Union speech in January?

The Washington Post has reported that Cheney and his top aide, Lewis Libby, made multiple visits to the CIA before the Iraq war and that analysts felt browbeaten to fall in line with worst-case assessments of Iraqi weapons programs and links to Al Qaeda. If true, those reports help explain why U.S. soldiers are reduced to offering $3 rewards to local residents for information about weaponry.

Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) plans to hold hearings in his Armed Services Committee, but it's the job of the Senate Intelligence Committee to exercise direct oversight. Shirking that responsibility does no one any favors, least of all the intelligence agencies themselves and their ability to identify new threats to national security.

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