House intelligence panel disputes Rice’s Iraq claims |

House intelligence panel disputes Rice’s Iraq claims

WASHINGTON — The leading Democrat on the House intelligence committee Monday strongly disputed the assertion by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that there was new information to support the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the war and was a looming threat to the United States.

“We don’t see the support for that,” said Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat and ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, whose staff has spent four months scrutinizing 19 volumes of intelligence underlying the intelligence community’s prewar judgments about Iraq.

“As we moved to war, did the claims the policy-makers made, were those claims supported by the intelligence?” Harman asked. “My conclusion is no.”

Last week, Harman and committee chairman Rep. Porter Goss, a Florida Republican, sent a letter to CIA Director George Tenet outlining their preliminary view of the material used to compile a classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq in October 2002. The 90-page NIE, parts of which were declassified at Congress’ request, was the key document used by members of Congress and other policy-makers to decide whether to go to war in Iraq.

In the letter, the two committee members criticized the intelligence community for using information that was outdated, circumstantial and fragmentary to come to the conclusion that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons and had links to al-Qaida.

Most of the information was collected before 1998, when U.N. weapons inspectors left Iraq because the United States had made it clear it was about to strike the country, the two members noted.

Rice told “Fox News Sunday” that “there was an enrichment of the intelligence from 1998 over the period leading up to the war” and that Saddam Hussein had “very good programs in weapons of mass destruction. … It was a gathering danger.”

Rice said the intelligence included new information about Iraq’s procurement efforts and attempts to “reconstitute groups of scientists that had worked” for Saddam.

“Yes, I think I would call it new information, and it was certainly enriching the case in the same direction that this is somebody who had had weapons of mass destruction, had used them, and was continuing to pursue them,” she said.

Harman said the letter to Tenet was meant to elicit a response from him about why the NIE made assertions that appear not to be supported by the underlying evidence. “We want an explanation from him,” she said.

“I’m concerned that the proper process of vetting information … has been seriously neglected,” she said, “and that what we end up with is a chorus of, ‘We too,’ which is not very helpful.”

Goss, a former CIA officer, was unavailable for comment.

“The intelligence community stands fully behind its findings and judgments as stated in the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program,” said a statement issued by CIA spokesman Bill Harlow on Saturday. The statement said “important gains were made” in finding new information after 1998. The agency said the two members had reached their judgments “quickly, and without all the facts.”

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