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Sources: Bush to order WMD intelligence inquiry

Independent probe has bipartisan support

Former U.S. chief weapons inspector David Kay says an investigation is important for national security reasons.
Former U.S. chief weapons inspector David Kay says an investigation is important for national security reasons.

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CNN's Suzanne Malveaux on President Bush's plan to name a commission to investigate prewar intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Bowing to political pressure, President Bush will name a bipartisan, independent commission this week to review prewar U.S. intelligence about Iraq's weapons programs, administration sources said Sunday.

That intelligence was used to justify the U.S.-led war in Iraq, the first under the national security strategy Bush outlined in September 2002, which called for pre-emptive attacks against terrorist groups and nations that possess or are developing weapons of mass destruction.

David Kay, the former U.S. chief weapons inspector, said last week that no such weapons had been found in Iraq, and that he didn't believe stockpiles of banned weapons would turn up.

"It turns out we were all wrong, and that is most disturbing," Kay told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week, during which he called for an independent probe of the apparent intelligence failure.

Bush could make the announcement as soon as Monday. Sources said the panel is likely to have nine members.

In an effort to defuse the weapons of mass destruction dispute as an election-year issue, Bush will set a deadline of sometime in early to mid-2005, the sources said.

The White House initially rejected calls from Kay and key members of Congress for an independent review of prewar intelligence on Iraq. But with political pressure mounting, Vice President Dick Cheney began making calls last week to key members of Congress to explore potential compromises.

Bush began considering such a review early last week and made the decision this weekend, a senior administration official said.

"He wants it to be more broad than Iraq," the official said. "The president's view is there are a number of challenges for our intelligence community on the issues of weapons of mass destruction, and we need to look at the broader issue of closed societies and outlaw regimes and our capabilities to gather necessary intelligence."

The president is expected to sign an executive order creating the new commission. White House staff have been told to review procedures for staffing and sharing information with the panel -- an issue that has caused conflict with the commission studying intelligence lapses before the attacks of September 11, 2001.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair also faces pressure to set up a probe into intelligence he used to justify going to war against Iraq. (Full story)

The White House sources spoke to reporters about the Iraq inquiry after a week in which Kay and congressmen from both parties called for an independent investigation into why U.S. intelligence appeared to be wrong.

"It's important that it be outside the normal political process so it can have the maximum credibility," Kay told CNN.

"This is important for domestic support of the intelligence community and of our foreign policy. It's important for national security, and it's certainly important for our ability to lead other countries in the future against threats that we may think threaten us."

Kay said the United States was not alone in its prewar interpretation of Iraq's weapons capability. Although other countries' intelligence agencies differed on how serious a threat Iraq was and what course of action to take to mitigate it, "there was very little difference around the world on the issue of 'Does [Saddam] have weapons?'" Kay told CNN. " ' Yes, he did,' was the consensus."

In the National Intelligence Estimate, which was declassified in October 2002, the State Department said it could not find a compelling case that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons. But the administration never cited that report in making the public case to go to war.

"There are caveats that clearly dropped out, dissenting opinions that clearly dropped out, as you moved higher up and people read the headline summaries," Kay said. "I think this is something that needs to be investigated and looked at."

Kay said Bush's policy of pre-emptive war cannot survive intact unless the quality of U.S. intelligence-gathering and analysis is improved.

"If you cannot rely on good, accurate intelligence that is credible to the American people and to others abroad, you certainly can't have a policy of pre-emption," he said on "Fox News Sunday."

U.S. officials may have misused what intelligence they did have, suggested Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, a Democrat who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee. He accused Vice President Dick Cheney of making inaccurate statements about Iraq's weapons capabilities before the war.

Biden cited comments Cheney gave in March, before the U.S.-led attack on Iraq, to NBC's "Meet the Press" that "We believe Saddam has reconstituted nuclear weapons."

Biden said he had seen no such evidence.

"No intelligence person ever said that, that I'm aware of, and the vice president went ahead and blandly and boldly stated it. It was not accurate. So, one of the things we have to look at is not just whether there was pressure, but whether the information given the administration was properly used."

Bipartisan support in Senate

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona has been calling for a probe since last summer, when discrepancies emerged about Bush's State of the Union assertion that Iraq had tried to buy uranium in Africa.

Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and the Select Intelligence Committee, agreed that an investigation is needed.

"We need to open this up in a very nonpartisan, outside commission to see where we are," he told CNN. "I don't think there's any way around it ... America's credibility is at stake."

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California is prepared to support a resolution calling for an independent probe, a spokesman said last week.

Feinstein has opposed such resolutions in the past, and her switch is important because she is considered a centrist and has a reputation for dealing with intelligence matters in a non-partisan way.

A key member of the Senate Intelligence Committee expressed reluctant support for an independent commission to investigate the matter.

"I'm not a fan of commissions, generally speaking," Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi said. "But, in this case, there's no question that there was an intelligence failure, in some form or another."

He added, "What I want to know is, what happened? Why wasn't it more reliable, why wasn't it more accurate? And, more importantly, what are we going to do about it?"

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat of West Virginia, urged that any mandate go beyond prewar intelligence to include scrutiny of the relationship between intelligence and decision-making, and he urged that the inquiry begin soon.

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