The CIA is checking to see if American intelligence on Iraq was on target, a newspaper reports.
The internal review will examine how prewar predictions on Iraq's suspected weapons stockpiles and alleged links to terrorism match up with the reality U.S. troops and investigators have seen on the ground.
The New York Times says the review was suggested by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld before the war, when Pentagon officials expressed irritation at CIA reports that defense officials felt understated the links between Saddam Hussein's regime and al Qaeda.
The review was meant to test the reliability of U.S. intelligence in general.
But two months after the start of the war, there are growing doubts about the accuracy of U.S. allegations that Iraq harbored large quantities of banned biological and chemical weapons, ran a nuclear weapons program and had active ties to al Qaeda.
CIA director George Tenet will oversee the review, and has named current and former CIA analysts to conduct it, the Times reports. They'll review classified reports produced by the CIA, National Intelligence Council, the Defense Intelligence Agency and other intelligence units.
According to the newspaper, the review is still intended as a learning exercise and not a formal inquiry. Officials who spoke to The Times also insist that the review does not mean the weapons hunt is over.
Officials also dismissed reports of a feud between the CIA and the Pentagon over intelligence. The CIA ombudsman reports only one complaint by an agency analyst that intelligence data was misused, and it was deemed to be unfounded.
However, a driving force behind the review are analysts who feel the intelligence about Iraq was politicized.
The Times reports the review may be a forum for criticizing a Pentagon unit set up right before the war to review CIA reports and highlight evidence of al Qaeda ties that the may have been downplayed.
Some CIA analysts were angered by the move, and claimed the Pentagon team examined the reports with a political agenda in mind.
The accuracy of U.S. and British intelligence came into question even before the war. U.N. inspectors claimed the leads provided by American agencies were off base. A document that linked Iraq to an attempt to buy uranium from Africa was exposed as a possible forgery.
Since the war, in weeks of searches of more than 100 sites, the only evidence uncovered so far of illegal arms programs are trailers that U.S. experts say appear to be mobile biological laboratories. But no traces of biological agents have been found in them, making it hard to tell if they were ever used to manufacture germs.
No sign has been found of the materials for producing or deploying anthrax, botolinum toxin, sarin or VX nerve gas, as the White House alleged Iraq possessed. No illegal Scud missiles were fired during the war or found afterward.
The Bush administration — which once warned that Iraqi forces had been given orders to use chemical weapons on American troops — now says Saddam may have ordered his illegal arms hidden or destroyed.
The administration has contended that the search would not bear fruit until tips flowed in from Iraqis, including former regime officials.
But reports indicate that Iraqi leaders in U.S. custody have maintained the prewar Iraqi line that the country had no weapons of mass destruction.
Secretary of State Colin Powell told a German interviewer last Friday he believes it's just a matter of time before weapons turn up.
"We are flooding it (Iraq) with inspectors, we are flooding it with experts who will look in every place that one can look in to find documents and to get evidence of their programs of weapons of mass destruction. And we're quite sure we'll find it," he said.
But Joseph Cirincione, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said, "It's obvious that the WMD program did not exist on the scale that the administration claimed. If it did, we would have seen it by now."
Iraq's suspected illegal arsenal was a major justification for the war. Baghdad's alleged links to terror was another. Powell accused the Iraqis of training al Qaeda and harboring some of its members.
U.S. forces near Baghdad did capture a man they describe as a midlevel terrorist operative with links to al Qaeda, a counterterrorism official said. The operative, whose name was not provided, works for Abu Musab Zarqawi, a senior associate of Osama bin Laden, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
They also nabbed Abu Abbas, the convicted mastermind of the 1985 Achille Lauro hijacking.
But while documents have surfaced describing a 1998 meeting between Iraqi officials and al Qaeda, no proof of any extensive relationship has come to light.