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House Votes to Spend More on Spying, Rejects Probes of Intelligence on Iraq

June 28, 2003|Greg Miller | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The House voted Friday to boost spending for U.S. spy agencies, rejecting Democratic measures calling for additional probes of the Bush administration's handling of intelligence on Iraq and its alleged stocks of banned weapons.

The intelligence authorization bill, which maps out spending for the nation's spy network for the coming fiscal year, passed 410 to 9. The Senate has yet to vote on its version of the legislation.

The bill's passage underscored Congress' continued willingness to give the CIA and other spy agencies expanded resources at a time when their efforts have been stretched by the war on terrorism and ongoing turmoil in Iraq.

While U.S. spending on spying is classified information, the House bill is believed to provide funding of about $40 billion for the CIA and other agencies. Estimates of intelligence spending were closer to $30 billion several years ago, before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

But even as the House voted to approve more money for the agencies, much of the floor debate centered on the growing controversy over the prewar intelligence on Iraq's alleged biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs.

The Bush administration cited an imminent threat posed by illicit weapons as its principal argument for invading Iraq. But so far, U.S. forces have found little evidence to substantiate those claims.

The House Intelligence Committee is reviewing thousands of pages of prewar assessments and other documents. Rep. Jane Harman of Venice, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said there is already some evidence that the White House overstated the case against Iraq.

"Administration officials rarely included the caveats and qualifiers attached to the intelligence community's judgments," she said, adding that there were flaws in the underlying intelligence itself.

"Iraq's WMD was not located where the intelligence community thought it might be," she said, referring to weapons of mass destruction. She also noted that chemical weapons were not used in the war despite predictions that Iraqis would use them.

Harman said she and Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), chairman of the committee, intended to hold public hearings on the issue next month.

Some Democratic efforts to explore the issue were defeated or blocked.

Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Pleasanton) was barred on procedural grounds from offering an amendment that would have created a special congressional committee to investigate the Iraq intelligence, much as a joint congressional inquiry probed Sept. 11 intelligence failures.

Separately on Thursday, Tauscher introduced the legislation, with the backing of 20 or more House members. It is not clear when or whether the legislation will ever come to the floor for a vote.

Democratic senators have also pushed for a more aggressive inquiry. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Friday that his staff would conduct its own inquiry into the prewar data's "objectivity and credibility."

Levin had pressed for the full panel to investigate, but committee Chairman Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) rejected the idea, saying he preferred to wait until the Senate Intelligence Committee completes its review.

Without Warner's support, Levin won't have the full resources of the committee, nor will he be able to hold hearings. But an aide to Levin said that his staff planned to interview defense and intelligence officials, and seek some documents not already turned over by the CIA. The Armed Services Committee has significant influence over intelligence issues because more than 80% of the nation's intelligence budget is controlled by the Department of Defense.

In the House, two other Democratic amendments were defeated, including:

* A measure offered by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) calling for an investigation of intelligence the United States shared with U.N. weapons inspectors before the war. Some in Congress have said the CIA withheld intelligence from inspectors.

* A proposal by Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) that would have required the CIA Inspector General's office to audit all telephone and electronic communications between the agency and Vice President Dick Cheney before the war. The Washington Post reported recently that some agency analysts felt pressured by Cheney to tailor their assessments on Iraq. Kucinich, a Democratic candidate for president, has been an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq.

A spokesman for Goss said the House bill met spending levels requested by the White House. Some of the new money is earmarked for the CIA and the FBI for counterterrorism efforts.

But the bill would also increase spending on satellite and other technological platforms for taking high-resolution pictures from space and eavesdropping on electronic communications around the world.

Times wire services contributed to this report.

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