Pentagon agrees to probe Feith's role in Iraq intel

By David Morgan
Thu Nov 17, 2005 8:42 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon's inspector general has agreed to review the prewar intelligence activities of former U.S. defense undersecretary Douglas Feith, a main architect of the Iraq war, congressional officials said on Thursday.

News of the Defense Department probe comes at a time of bitter political debate over whether President George W. Bush misled the American people with prewar intelligence. The increasingly biter dispute has pitted the president and his top advisers against lawmakers including some from Bush's own Republican Party.

Democrats have accused Feith of manipulating information from sources including discredited Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi to suggest links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, which masterminded the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Bush and other top administration officials cited alleged ties between Iraq and al Qaeda as a justification for military action. But the September 11 commission later reported that no collaborative relationship existed between the two.

The inspector general's office informed the Senate on October 19 that it would undertake a review after receiving separate requests from the Republican chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Armed Services, officials said.

Congressional officials expect the review to look at whether Feith and his staff bypassed the CIA by giving the White House uncorroborated intelligence that sought to make a case for war in the months leading up to the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Feith, who was the Pentagon's policy chief until he left the Defense Department for the private sector earlier this year, was not immediately available for comment.

Officials said the Pentagon's inspector general told the Senate its review would begin sometime in November. One official estimated the probe could take at least six months.

"We're going to try to expedite it as much as possible," said Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, the Senate intelligence panel chairman who asked the inspector general on September 9 for a review of Feith's Office of Special Plans.

"The IG knows we are very eager to get this done but he wants to get it done right," he told Reuters.

Roberts said his request had been incorporated with a later one from Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, who asked acting Defense Department Inspector General Tom Gimble in a September 22 letter for a broad probe encompassing all elements of Feith's Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.

Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said in an e-mail on Thursday that the inspector general's office was still discussing the requests with committee staff.

Defense officials have defended Feith, saying no credible evidence of wrongdoing by him or his staff has ever been discovered. They also say Democratic lawmakers never responded to a Pentagon challenge to produce incriminating evidence.

A copy of Levin's letter to Gimble, which was obtained by Reuters, asks the inspector general to consider 10 questions including whether Feith's office undercut the intelligence community by providing the White House with its own analysis that went beyond the scope of the underlying intelligence.

Levin also wants the inspector general to look into whether Feith misled Congress in January 2004 by providing oversight committees with reports dealing with the credibility of prewar intelligence on Iraq.

Roberts' office declined to provide a copy of his written request to the inspector general.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll this week said 63 percent of Americans oppose Bush's handling of the Iraq war, and 52 percent say troops should be pulled out now or within 12 months.