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Inside Politics

Notebook: Probing the intelligence panel

By Timothy J. Burger

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The Blue-Ribbon panel named by George W. Bush to study intelligence prior to the Iraq war has been billed as a bipartisan effort to get answers. But how evenhanded will it be?

George W. Bush
John McCain

A TIME examination of the panel members' backgrounds reveals a web of sticky connections to the Bush team and, in one case, an alleged lack of investigative curiosity.

The nine-member panel is co-chaired by a Democrat, former Senator Charles Robb, and includes at least one proven maverick, Senator John McCain, who was put there, according to an official, to provide "instant credibility." But retired U.S. appellate court Judge Laurence Silberman, the panel co-chair, is a Nixon-era friend of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's and Vice President Dick Cheney's.

Panel member Henry Rowen, a Hoover Institution scholar and former Rand Corp. president, worked under Cheney at the Pentagon during the first Gulf War. In September 1990, with Cheney's backing, Rowen cooked up Operation Scorpion, a secret plan to invade Iraq from the west, go all the way to Baghdad and topple Saddam. (The plan went nowhere.)

Another panel member, former CIA deputy director William Studeman, now with Northrop Grumman, contributed $250 to candidate Bush's campaign in 2000. His wife gave the Bush re-election committee $500 just a week before her husband was named to the panel last month.

Panel member Charles Vest, president of M.I.T., has been accused by a colleague of being slow to investigate allegations of fraud at a lab that does missile-defense work for the Pentagon. Ted Postol, an M.I.T. professor of technology and national security, says Vest was told in 2001 about allegations that officials at the school's Lincoln Laboratory misled federal investigators about the failure of a key test of the U.S. missile-defense system, a top Bush priority.

Postol claims that Vest "did not take action," even though he "knew there were potential criminal violations and scientific fraud." A spokesman for M.I.T., which received $726 million in federal work in 2003, said any suggestion that Vest ignored the claims is "categorically untrue."

Questions of objectivity won't be resolved until the panel completes its task. Five weeks after being appointed, the group has not met, and it is unclear when it will.

Copyright © 2004 Time Inc.

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