Senate Iraq Report Said to Skirt White House Use of Intelligence

By DOUGLAS JEHL

The New York Times

July 8, 2004

WASHINGTON, July 7 - A bipartisan Senate report to be issued Friday that is highly critical of prewar intelligence on Iraq will sidestep the question of how the Bush administration used that information to make the case for war, Congressional officials said Wednesday.

But Democrats are maneuvering to raise the issue in separate statements. Under a deal reached this year between Republicans and Democrats, the Bush administration's role will not be addressed until the Senate Intelligence Committee completes a further stage of its inquiry, but probably not until after the November election. As a result, said the officials, both Democratic and Republican, the committee's initial, unanimous report will focus solely on misjudgments by intelligence agencies, not the White House, in the assessments about Iraq, illicit weapons and Al Qaeda that the administration used as a rationale for the war.

The effect may be to provide an opening for President Bush and his allies to deflect responsibility for what now appear to be exaggerated prewar assessments about the threat posed by Iraq, by portraying them as the fault of the Central Intelligence Agency and its departing chief, George J. Tenet, rather than Mr. Bush and his top aides.

Still, Democrats will try to focus attention on the issue by releasing as many as a half-dozen "additional views" to supplement the bipartisan report. "How the administration used the intelligence was very troubling," Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said in an interview this week. "They took a flawed set of intelligence reports and converted it into a rationale for going to war."

The unanimous report by the panel will say there is no evidence that intelligence officials were subjected to pressure to reach particular conclusions about Iraq. That issue had been an early focus of Democrats, but none of the more than 200 intelligence officials interviewed by the panel made such a claim, and the Democrats have recently focused criticism on the question of whether the intelligence was misused.

The plan to release the "Report on Pre-War Intelligence on Iraq" on Friday was announced Wednesday by the committee. Congressional officials said the Central Intelligence Agency had agreed that most of the report could be made public.

The public version of the report will include more than 80 percent of a classified, 410-page version approved unanimously by the committee, the officials said. A review by the C.I.A. that was completed last month recommended that nearly half of the report be classified. But the panel's Republican and Democratic leaders objected strongly, and they won concessions during negotiations that were completed over the weekend.

The February agreement to divide the inquiry into two parts reflected what both Republicans and Democrats on the committee portrayed as a grudging compromise. Until then, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, the top Republican on the panel, had insisted that the question of how the administration used the intelligence exceeded the committee's scope. Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the top Democrat, had insisted that the initial inquiry, focusing on the intelligence agencies, be expanded to include the question of whether public statements by government officials had been substantiated by intelligence information.

Both sides say they are committed to completing the second stage of the inquiry as soon as possible. But the committee also plans to begin work on recommendations for broader changes in intelligence agencies to address the shortcomings detailed in the report, leaving little time in an election year to complete an inquiry that would focus on the Bush administration and would almost certainly splinter along party lines.

The Senate report, the result of more than a year's work by the panel's staff, is the first of three to be issued this summer that are expected to be damning of the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies. The presidential commission on the Sept. 11 attacks is expected to release its final report this month, while Charles A. Duelfer, who is heading what has been an unsuccessful effort to find illicit weapons in Iraq, is expected to report in August or September.

Mr. Roberts, the committee chairman, said last week that the 120 conclusions spelled out in the report "literally beg for changes within the intelligence community." He added, "What we had was a worldwide intelligence failure."

In the early months after last year's American invasion of Iraq, Mr. Roberts initially expressed reluctance to proceed at all with an inquiry into prewar intelligence. But the huge disconnect between the C.I.A.'s prewar declarations about Iraq's chemical and biological weapons and the postwar fact that no such weapons have been found has left him and other Republicans increasingly outspoken in their criticism.

"Once we got into this, and the chairman and all of us saw the huge gaps in our intelligence process and in our intelligence-gathering and processing and analysis,'' Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, said in an interview on Wednesday, "then it became more and more apparent that we were going to have to continue to bore into it pretty deeply, so we could figure out what went wrong and why."

The release of the report on Friday morning will follow a planned farewell for Mr. Tenet at the C.I.A.'s headquarters on Thursday, his penultimate working day after seven years as director of central intelligence. Mr. Tenet's top deputy, John McLaughlin, is scheduled to take over on July 11 as acting director, but Mr. Bush is moving toward nominating a permanent successor.

The committee had initially planned to release its report on Thursday, setting up what would have been an awkward juxtaposition between its expected criticism of Mr. Tenet and the agency's tribute to him. But the release was postponed at the request of Mr. Rockefeller, who was traveling to a funeral in West Virginia.

In contrast to the House Intelligence Committee, the Senate panel has moved swiftly to produce its report on Iraq intelligence. The House panel, headed by Representative Porter J. Goss, a Florida Republican who is being considered as a possible successor to Mr. Tenet, began its inquiry a year ago, but it is not planning to issue its findings until at least September, Mr. Goss said recently.

In a June 23 speech to business executives, Mr. McLaughlin issued what amounted to a pre-emptive rebuttal to the Senate report.

"What shortcomings there were - and there were shortcomings - were the result of specific, discrete problems that we understand and are well on our way to addressing or have already addressed,'' he said.