U.S., Brits Defend Prewar Intel

A U.S. Army vehicle fires on Taliban positions on a mountain side, outside a base held by the Army's 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division in the Pech River Valley of Afghanistan's Kunar province, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder) AP Photo/David Guttenfelder

The Bush administration and British government continued to defend the intelligence they used to argue for an invasion of Iraq.

In London, Prime Minister Tony Blair's powerful communications chief acknowledged Wednesday that the government made a mistake by including material from a graduate thesis posted on the Internet in a government dossier on Iraq's weapons capability.

But Alastair Campbell rejected accusations that he redrafted intelligence reports on Saddam Hussein's arsenal to exaggerate the threat posed by Iraqi weapons in another dossier as "complete and utter nonsense."

More than a month after major combat was declared over, search teams have yet to find any chemical or biological weapons in Iraq, one of the leading justifications for the war. The lack of evidence has fueled allegations that the Bush administration hyped the intelligence to bolster support for invading Iraq.

In response, administration officials have argued that weapons were not the sole reason for war. They have also said the search will take time, and are increasingly relying on intelligence from past administrations to back their case that Iraq was believed to possess banned weapons.

"I have reason, every reason, to believe that the intelligence that we were operating off was correct and that we will, in fact, find weapons or evidence of weapons programs that are conclusive," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in a briefing Tuesday. "But that's just a matter of time."

Rumsfeld referred to admissions Iraq made about chemical weapons it possessed in the early 1990s, and reports from the Clinton administration about Iraq's alleged stockpiles of botulin and anthrax germs and Scud missiles.

He said almost everyone believed Iraq had these weapons, "in Congress, in successive Democratic and Republican administrations, in the intelligence communities here in the United States, and also in foreign countries and at the U.N, even among those countries that did not favor military action in Iraq."

Three committees on Capitol Hill are reviewing the prewar intelligence. One of them has heard from a State Department analyst who says the Bush administration pressed him to align intelligence with a political agenda, a newspaper reports, although the pressure did not pertain to Iraq.

The New York Times reports the analyst, an expert on weapons of mass destruction, became the first administration figure to go on the record in alleging the administration skewed intelligence. Numerous press accounts have quoted intelligence workers offering similar criticism, but have not named them.

However, the analyst, Christian Westermann of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, told the House Intelligence Committee that the pressure was exerted on reports about Cuba, not Iraq.

He did not provide details, except to say that he had not actually altered his reports because of the pressure. He said he could offer more information to a smaller group of lawmakers.

In a later meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Times reports, Westermann said he had felt pressure from State Department official John Bolton after the two disagreed over whether Cuba had a biological weapons program. Bolton said last year that Cuba did.

In Parliament, two panels are looking at the prewar claims, focusing on two documents that were a key part of the government's argument for military action in Iraq.

Campbell told the Foreign Affairs Committee, which is focusing on the two dossiers as part of its probe on government claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, that the inclusion of material from the graduate thesis in a dossier published in February was "regrettable."

But he played down the importance of that document, repeatedly calling it a "briefing paper" that did not have the same gravitas as a dossier released in September 2002.

"The first dossier … was a serious, thorough piece of work setting out why it was so vital to tackle Saddam and WMD (weapons of mass destruction). The second paper was not," he said.

Earlier Wednesday, Blair told the House of Commons that the February document was "entirely accurate," even though he was not aware that parts of it were taken from a student's thesis when he published it.

The committee also grilled Campbell on reports that he had persuaded intelligence officials to highlight claims in the September dossier that Iraq could fire chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of Saddam giving an order to do so.

"The story that I put pressure on the intelligence agencies is untrue. The story that I 'sexed up' the dossier is untrue. The story that we somehow made more of the 45-minute command-and-control point than the intelligence agencies thought was suitable is untrue," Campbell said.

The U.S. House agreed Wednesday to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Blair, but only after lawmakers questioned the justification for the war.

With the medal, Congress was "perhaps trying to influence the outcome of some very serious investigations going on in Britain," said Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., an opponent of the war. "We are trying to prop up Mr. Blair."
  • Joel Roberts

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