9/11 Report Is Said to Dismiss Iraq-Qaeda Alliance

By PHILIP SHENON

The New York Times

July 12,2004

WASHINGTON, July 11 - The commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks is nearing completion of a final, probably unanimous report that will stand by the conclusions of the panel's staff and largely dismiss White House theories both about a close working relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda and about possible Iraqi involvement in Sept. 11, commission officials said.

The report, which is expected to be made public several days before the panel's mandated deadline of July 26, will also probably be unwelcome at the White House because it will document management failures at senior levels of the Bush administration that kept the government from acting aggressively on intelligence warnings in the spring and summer of 2001 of an imminent, catastrophic terrorist attack, the officials said.

Campaign advisers to Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, have said they eagerly await the commission's report, believing it will damage President Bush by showing that he and his senior aides were inattentive to dire threats before Sept. 11 and may have misled the nation about the reasons for the war in Iraq.

At the commission's request, the White House in April declassified and made public an intelligence report given to Mr. Bush on Aug. 6, 2001 - 36 days before the attacks - that was titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S."

Commission members said the final report would not single out government officials by name for intelligence or law enforcement blunders before Sept. 11. But they said the report would criticize several agencies for their performance in both the Bush and Clinton administrations, especially the F.B.I. and the C.I.A., and call for an overhaul of the nation's counterterrorism efforts.

The officials declined to detail the report's recommendations but said they would call for a shakeup of the F.B.I.'s domestic counterintelligence program and for equally broad changes at the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies, possibly by adding to the authority of the director of central intelligence to oversee the work of agencies beyond the C.I.A.

The panel's expected call for change at the C.I.A. would be bolstered by the findings of a Senate intelligence committee report that was made public on Friday, which blamed the agency for systematically exaggerating the evidence that Iraq had stockpiled chemical and biological weapons and was pursuing nuclear arms, the central justification for last year's invasion.

"We don't need to point fingers in our report, because people will be able to judge the facts for themselves," said John F. Lehman, a Republican commissioner who was Navy secretary in the Reagan administration.

Mr. Lehman has said that he expects the commission's work to result in "revolutionary" changes in the government's intelligence community. "The editorializing has shrunk and shrunk and shrunk as the facts before us have expanded and expanded and expanded," he said.

Timothy J. Roemer, a Democratic commissioner who is a former House member from Indiana, said he expected the final report to be unanimous and to call for "dynamic and dramatic changes in the intelligence community - changes in tradecraft and also nuts-and-bolts changes."

The panel's staff created controversy last month with an interim report that largely discounted theories about close ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda, another major justification cited by the Bush administration for invading Iraq.

The staff report found that there was "no credible evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States" and that repeated contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda "do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship."

The staff also said that it did not believe a widely circulated report from Czech intelligence that a ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks met in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence officer in April 2001, suggesting Iraqi involvement in the attacks.

The findings were in marked contrast to statements by President Bush and, more often, Vice President Dick Cheney, who has been the administration's lead spokesman in arguing that an alliance existed between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

Though Mr. Cheney insisted that he had no major differences with the commission and that the debate was being mischaracterized in news reports, the vice president responded to the staff report last month by telling a television interviewer that "there clearly was a relationship" between President Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Al Qaeda and that "the evidence is overwhelming," noting that he "probably" had access to intelligence information not reviewed by the commission. He also insisted that the Czech intelligence report might be credible.

Despite initial suggestions from the commission's leaders that they might rewrite the staff report to limit its conclusions that discounted a possible Iraq-Qaeda tie, commission members and the panel's chief spokesman said last week that the panel had decided to stand by the staff in the final report.

That reasoning was bolstered last week by the findings of the Senate intelligence committee, which cited several classified intelligence reviews prepared by the C.I.A. after Sept. 11 that suggested that evidence of a close relation between Iraq and Al Qaeda was "murky" and at times contradictory. The Senate committee said the C.I.A. had "reasonably concluded" that contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda "did not add up to an established formal relationship" between Mr. Hussein and the terror network.

''We believe we have seen everything now that the vice president has seen and we continue to stand on the staff statements," said Al Felzenberg, a commission spokesman.

He suggested that the commission's final report would go further than interim staff reports in documenting contacts over the years between Iraqi government and military officials and Al Qaeda's leadership. This may placate the White House to some extent by showing extensive communication between Iraq and Qaeda leaders.

"We expect the final report to enumerate on some of the contacts that were made between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and there were a number of points of contacts,'' Mr. Felzenberg said.

Commission members met in Washington last week to decide on the final wording of several chapters of the report. Several said afterward that they were increasingly optimistic that any differences between the five Democratic and five Republican members could be set aside and that they could agree on a unanimous report and on recommendations for overhauling the F.B.I., the C.I.A. and other counterterrorism agencies.

They noted, however, that they had not concluded their deliberations of some of the central policy recommendations, and that those issues were so contentious that they could prove to be a stumbling block to a unanimous report.

''We're still working through final iterations, but I think that on the main points, there seems to be consensus,'' said Richard Ben-Veniste, the former Watergate prosecutor who is a Democratic member of the panel. ''This commission operates on a very collegial basis, and I have found that talking through these issues has produced much more that we find in common than in opposition.'' Mr. Roemer said his "optimism is growing every day" about the possibility of a unanimous report.

The commission is trying to complete its work and publish the final report sometime during the week of July 18, to avoid being overshadowed by news from the Democratic convention, which opens on July 26.

Mr. Felzenberg said that the White House - through the office of Andrew H. Card Jr., President Bush's chief of staff - appeared ready to move quickly to declassify chapters of the report as they are completed by the commission. "I can say it's going smoothly," he said.

Under a procedure established by the commission last year, the White House has reviewed and declassified 17 interim staff reports released by the commission at a series of public hearings since January.

The commission has said that as it completes chapters of its final report, they will be given to the White House for a final security review. Commission officials said that since so much of the final report is built upon information in interim reports that have already been declassified, the final review process would be relatively straightforward.

Mr. Felzenberg said that the commission's staff investigators had essentially finished their work, though they would keep gathering information until shortly before publication of the final report.

The White House said last week that Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, had recently provided the panel with written answers to a final set of questions submitted by the commission. The White House and the commission would not describe the issues raised by the panel in its questions to Ms. Rice.