Senate Intelligence Committee stalling pre-war intelligence report

Larisa Alexandrovna

Phase II, the follow-up to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into pre-war intelligence on Iraq, is still facing opposition from administration officials and has seen little action from the committee’s chairman, Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), RAW STORY has learned.

Following a surprising move early last month by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D -NV), in which he shut down the Senate in an effort to force discussion on the inquiry, the Senate leadership established a six member bipartisan task force and set a Nov. 15 deadline for a progress report.

The six task force members selected were Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Carl Levin (D-MI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Pat Roberts (R–KS), Trent Lott (R–MS) and Kit Bond (R-MO).

A week later, on Nov. 8, the Senate Intelligence Committee staff briefed task force members on the investigative work done thus far.

The full Intelligence Committee met Nov. 9 for a briefing from staff, but according to Senate sources close to the Intel Committee, the task force is “unable to provide a timeline for Phase II completion.”

To date, there has been no Phase II report.

Senior Democratic Senate aides familiar with the task force’s activities say Republicans are stonewalling. One aide, who asked not to be named citing the secrecy of the investigation, explained that without the power of subpoena, Democrats are left with few options. “Phase II is dead,” the staffer said.

Others familiar with the task force say some progress is being made, citing draft reports on two areas of focus:

-The postwar findings about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and weapons programs and links to terrorism and how they compare with prewar assessments.

-Prewar intelligence assessments about postwar Iraq.

Exactly who has seen these drafts and what is in them remains a mystery. “Everything remains to be seen,” one source said.

Key Areas of Focus
Phase II is the second part of a larger investigation into pre-war planning and post-invasion failures. Phase I focused primarily on intelligence failures by the CIA, while Phase II focuses on five specific areas of inquiry:

-Whether public statements and reports and testimony regarding Iraq by U.S. Government officials made between the Gulf War period and the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom were substantiated by intelligence information;

-The postwar findings about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and weapons programs and links to terrorism and how they compare with prewar assessments;

-Prewar intelligence assessments about conditions to be expected in postwar Iraq;

-Any intelligence activities relating to Iraq conducted by the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group (PCTEG) and the Office of Special Plans within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy; and

-The use by the Intelligence Community of information provided by the Iraqi National Congress (INC).

Feith and the Office of Special Plans
Part of the delay is due to resistance from the Pentagon regarding its ultra-secretive Office of Special Plans (OSP). The group was set up by then Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Doug Feith. OSP was considered by many Defense Department officers and staff to be highly paranoid, secretive cabal of ideologues bent on creating a war with Iraq.

The group was tasked with finding intelligence that fit the administration’s anti-Iraq policy.

The Pentagon has specifically refused to address Feith's role and the activities of OSP.

Members of OSP included Larry Franklin, now charged with conspiracy to leak classified and defense information to a Washington pro-Israel lobby; Iran Contra player Michael Ledeen, hired by Feith as a consultant; and Harold Rhode, a staunch anti-Muslim said to have been directly involved in purging the DOD of anyone opposing the anti-Iraq policy who Feith also brought on as a consultant.

Other, “visiting,” players in the group included the now-discredited German intelligence source , “Curveball”; Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, who fed bogus intelligence to the Pentagon and U.S. papers; and New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who conveyed Chalabi’s falsehoods to the American body politic.

Under orders from Feith, Ledeen, Rhode and Franklin made un-authorized trips to meet with Manucher Ghorbanifar, another Iran Contra figure, in Rome and Paris in 2001, 2002 and 2003. The meetings have yet to be explained, but some suspect they are linked to the Niger forgeries.

More documents are needed
Democratic senators on the Phase II task force have requested interviews and documents from Feith’s office regarding Chalabi, the Iraqi National Congress and “Curveball,” but have been denied access.

According to a Nov. 14 status report memo written by Democratic task force members Rockefeller, Levin and Feinstein, no agreement could be reached on how to handle Feith’s office, which has rebuffed requests for pre-war documentation and interviews for a year and a half.

The memo noted that Chairman Roberts asked the Defense Department inspector general to investigate Feith’s office and his activities, thus deferring a Senate inquiry.

Democrats expressed concern that the “Inspector General[’s] review should not take the place of the authorized Committee investigation and that it is essential that the Committee insist on the documents and interviews that the Department of Defense has denied us for the past two years, even if it means using the Committee's subpoena power.”

Subpoena power – the power to legally compel testimony and documents -- rests solely in the hands of Chairman Roberts, who has not indicated any interest in forcing the Pentagon’s hand. An earlier RAW STORY investigation of Roberts revealed a pattern of collusion with the Vice President’s office not only in stalling the investigation of pre-war intelligence, but also in thwarting inquiries into allegations of torture by the US military, the Niger forgeries and the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson.

Sources close to the Intelligence Committee say that the three Republicans on the task force -- Lott, Roberts and Bond -- have yet to provide the agreed-upon progress report to Sen. Frist and Sen. Reid.

“They claimed they were verbally in touch with Frist so it wasn’t necessary," a senior Senate aide said.

Democrats are also pressing for documents and interviews which would cast light on the Vice President’s role in stalling the investigation and in withholding documents. They cite “…troubling reports that the Office of the Vice President overruled White House lawyers and withheld documents from Committee will require that we undertake additional interviews to obtain a complete picture of how faulty intelligence made its way into Secretary of State Colin Powell's February 2003 speech before the United Nations.”

Some insiders question whether the Office of Special Plans, and Feith in particular, violated the 1947 National Security Act.

The Act requires the heads of all departments to:

“keep the congressional intelligence committees fully and currently informed of all intelligence activities, other than a covert action (as defined in section 503(e)), which are the responsibility of, are engaged in by, or are carried out for or on behalf of, any department, agency, or entity of the United States Government, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity and any significant intelligence failure; and

(2) furnish the congressional intelligence committees any information or material concerning intelligence activities, other than covert actions, which is within their custody or control, and which is requested by either of the congressional intelligence committees in order to carry out its authorized responsibilities.”

“If Feith’s office was running intelligence activities that were unauthorized or not in compliance with this National Security Act and other legal requirements, then the activity may have been unlawful,” a source said.

Others remain optimistic. During a Nov. 4 press conference, Sen. Levin said, “I just want to say that we're determined that this be finished, it be finished promptly, and it be finished thoroughly,” Levin said. “There is no justification for anything less than that. We owe it to the American people. We owe it to the families of the men and women who have given their lives and who have been injured in this combat.”