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Congress Focuses on Iraq Data

June 19, 2003|From Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — The House and Senate Intelligence committees began closed-door hearings Wednesday on the intelligence that provided the basis for the U.S. attack on Iraq amid controversy over whether the Bush administration hyped the threat posed by Baghdad to build a case for war.

U.S. forces in Iraq have yet to find chemical or biological weapons or indications of a reconstituted nuclear arms program.

Lawmakers at the House hearing focused on the National Intelligence Estimate reports on Iraq's alleged chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. Witnesses included intelligence analysts who produced those reports.

Committee Chairman Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) said the panel asked questions about "how the intelligence picture on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was assembled over time."

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) said that "the credibility of the intelligence community is at issue" because the public has raised questions "about whether the administration accurately portrayed the intelligence case regarding Iraq's [weapons of mass destruction] and ties to Al Qaeda and other non-indigenous terrorist groups."

The Senate committee spent its session trying to work out details of how it will proceed. Both committees' hearings may continue through the summer.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Bush's main war ally, also has come under fire and has denied allegations that he "sexed up" evidence about Iraq's weapons.

On Wednesday, Bush defended Blair, whose statements about Iraqi arms are under investigation by a Parliament committee.

Bush said that Blair "operated on very sound intelligence, and those accusations are simply not true."

One measure of how deeply the issue is felt on Capitol Hill came at a House Armed Services Committee hearing, where Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz was appearing on a different matter. Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) said that he voted to support the war only after speaking to Wolfowitz, but that now he needed to know whether the intelligence was wrong.

"A person is only as good as his word," Taylor said. "This nation is only as good as its word. And if that's the reason why we did it -- and I voted for it -- then we need some clarifications."

Wolfowitz replied, "If there's a problem with intelligence ... it doesn't mean that anybody misled anybody. It means that intelligence is an art and not a science."

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