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Published: Saturday, 11/5/2005

Intelligence and the WMDs

THE President went on television to announce: "Earlier today, I ordered America's armed forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq. Their mission is to attack Iraq's nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors."

"There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years," the vice chairman of the Intelligence committee told the Senate.

The president was Bill Clinton (Dec. 16, 1998). The senator was Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat from West Virginia (Oct. 10, 2002).

These statements should be kept in mind when assessing the hissy fit Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid threw Tuesday when he called the Senate into secret session to discuss whether Bush Administration officials had exaggerated prewar intelligence about Iraq.

Mr. Reid claimed his action was prompted by the indictment of I. Lewis Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, for allegedly lying to a federal grand jury about from whom he learned that Valerie Plame, the wife of Ambassador Joseph Wilson, worked for the CIA.

"The Libby indictment provides a window into what this is really all about, how this administration manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to sell the war in Iraq," Mr. Reid said.

But Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had made it clear that that was not what the Libby indictment was about. "This indictment is not about the war," he said. "This indictment will not seek to prove the war was justified or unjustified."

The Iraq Survey Group found no large stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons in Iraq. This could be because no such weapons actually existed. Or it could be because they were moved to another country between the time Congress authorized the use of force against Iraq and when the war actually began.

"We've had six or seven credible reports of Iraqi weapons being moved into Syria before the war," a senior administration official told reporter Kenneth Timmerman.

Or it could be the Iraq Survey Group had an unusually restrictive definition of what constitutes a WMD stockpile.

The 4th Infantry Division discovered in an ammo dump near the town of Baiji 55-gallon drums of chemicals which, when mixed together, form nerve gas. They were stored next to surface-to-surface missiles which had been configured to carry a liquid payload.

If prewar intelligence was faulty, the fault lies with the CIA, which supplied the erroneous information, not with the political leaders, Democratic and Republican, who relied upon it.

But Democrats who had access to the same intelligence President Bush had, and who because of it voted to authorize war with Iraq, are charging now that Mr. Bush deliberately deceived the nation into war.

The slender reed on which this weighty charge is hung is the credibility of Mr. Wilson, who the CIA had sent to Niger in 2002 to determine if Saddam had tried to buy uranium there.

The Senate Intelligence committee snapped that reed when it issued its report on prewar intelligence in July of last year. The committee found unanimously that Mr. Wilson lied when he said Mr. Cheney had sent him on the mission; lied when he denied his wife had recommended him for it, and lied when he said he'd found no evidence Saddam had tried to buy uranium from Niger.

Journalists who interview Mr. Wilson - who's been enjoying a second 15 minutes of fame in the wake of the indictment of Mr. Libby - rarely bring this up. Most think it best to ignore facts that get in the way of the story they want to tell.

The press' amnesia has convinced Democrats they can regain power by lying about prewar intelligence. But facts are stubborn things.

"The Committee did not find any evidence that administration officials attempted to coerce, influence, or pressure analysts to change their judgments," said the Senate Intelligence committee.

"We conclude that it was the paucity of intelligence and poor analytical tradecraft, rather than political pressure, that produced the inaccurate pre-war intelligence assessments," said the Robb-Silberman report on WMD intelligence, issued in March.

Thanks to really lousy reporting, most Americans are unaware of how much evidence there is of Saddam's WMD programs and his ties to international terror groups. This is a debate Republicans should welcome.

Jack Kelly is national security writer for The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Contact him at: jkelly@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1476.



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