Friday, August 04, 2006

Republican Senator Faults Bid to Classify Report on Iraq

The New York Times
Senator Faults Bid to Classify Report on Iraq

WASHINGTON, Aug. 3 — The Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee lashed out at the White House on Thursday, criticizing attempts by the Bush administration to keep secret parts of a report on the role Iraqi exiles played in building the case for war against Iraq.

The chairman, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, said his committee had completed the first two parts of its investigation of prewar intelligence. But he chastised the White House for efforts to classify most of the part that examines intelligence provided to the Bush administration by the Iraqi National Congress, an exile group.

“I have been disappointed by this administration’s unwillingness to declassify material contained in these reports, material which I believe better informs the public, but that does not — I repeat, does not — jeopardize intelligence operations, sources and methods,” Mr. Roberts said in a statement issued Thursday.

One completed section of the Senate report is said to be a harsh critique of how information from the Iraqi exile group made its way into intelligence community reports, said people who have read the report but spoke on condition of anonymity because it is still classified.

The second section compares prewar assessments of Iraq’s unconventional weapons programs and its links to terrorism with what American troops and intelligence operatives have found since the war began in March 2003.

The two parts of the report will not be made public for weeks, and neither is likely to present conclusions very different from past investigations into faulty prewar intelligence. Yet the current dispute is a sign that more than three years into the conflict, emotions remain raw over the role that the Iraqi group and its leader, Ahmad Chalabi — who was close to Pentagon officials and Vice President Dick Cheney — played in the administration’s decision to wage war against Saddam Hussein.

The group’s role in building the case against Mr. Hussein has been the source of fierce ideological arguments in Washington for years. The report also concludes that the group did provide useful information regarding the disposition of Iraq’s military. In the end, four Republicans on the committee and all seven Democratic members approved of the section of the report about the group. Four Republicans voted against it.

Congressional officials said Thursday that they were puzzled by White House efforts to keep large portions of that section classified. Mr. Roberts pledged in his statement to maintain the pressure to declassify all of the Senate’s conclusions.

“This Committee will not settle for anything less,” he said. “Neither will the American people.” A spokesman for the director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, whose office is in charge of the declassification, declined to comment.

The committee approved the other section of the report 14 to 1.