The Oct. 27 memo from Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith provided details of intelligence linking Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and the toppled Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. Details of the memo were published in the Nov. 24 issue of The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine.
Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he expected to ask the Justice Department and the Pentagon to determine if the leak constituted a crime. If it did, a criminal investigation should be conducted, he said.
"That's highly classified material and an egregious leak of classified material," he told reporters.
He said committee staff drafted a letter to the Justice Department and but was waiting to consult with the panel's top Democrat, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, before sending it.
A spokeswoman for Rockefeller, Wendy Morigi, said he would support sending the letter.
Roberts said he did not believe that the leak came from the committee.
The memo provided what the magazine described as a collection of old and new reports that Saddam had provided training, logistical and financial support for al Qaeda. It said the memo depicted "a history of collaboration between two of America's most determined and dangerous enemies."
A Pentagon statement Saturday said the memo did not include new information about al Qaeda's contacts with Iran. It said the memo provided details of intelligence reports Feith referred when testifying before the committee on July 10. It said the leak of classified material "is deplorable and may be illegal."
Committee Democrats have focused on Feith's office as they question whether the Bush administration distorted intelligence to make the case for war. The committee is examining prewar intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs and ties to terrorism. The panel's Republicans and Democrats have accused the other side of trying to manipulate the inquiry for political purposes.
War critics have said Feith's Office of Special Plans selectively mined intelligence to produce reports, choosing only the data that supported the conclusion Saddam was illegally armed and an imminent threat with terrorist links.
The memo in question culls together intelligence from the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency and defense intelligence. Some of the reports come from recent debriefings of captured Iraqi officials. Other material dates to the Clinton administration. Some elements of the 16-page memo, as reported by the Weekly Standard, appear to be based on single sources.
According to the Standard, the memo details a relationship that began in 1990 when al Qaeda sent envoys to Jordan to meet with Iraqi officials. Intelligence suggests Saddam was also interested in a relationship as early as 1991.
However, it has previously been reported that in 1990, bin Laden offered to raise an army to drive Saddam out of Kuwait.
Some analysts have doubted any link between the terror group and Saddam's regime because al Qaeda considered Saddam's secular state an affront to Islam. The memo, according to the Standard, claims al Qaeda decided to suppress their unease about Saddam in order to acquire an ally in Baghdad.
The memo, in the account provided by the Standard, details reports of a series of meetings from 1992 on involving various Iraqi officials and al Qaeda operatives, including bin Laden. A former senior Iraqi intelligence official is quoted as claiming that bin Laden met Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.
During these meetings, the suggestion is that al Qaeda sought instruction on making bombs and deploying poison gas, as well as money, passports and safe haven. Iraq allegedly wanted operatives for sabotage attacks on the United States and Britain. The establishment of terrorist camps in Iraq was also discussed, although it is unclear if any were built.
The memo references conflicting intelligence over whether the alleged al Qaeda contacts with the Iraqi government ceased in 1999, at Saddam's direction, or continued.
According to the Standard, the memo repeats disputed claims that Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta met in Prague in 2001 with the former head of the Iraqi intelligence station there, and that the Iraqi may have given Atta funds. The CIA and FBI have not confirmed that meeting occurred.
It also reports that an Iraqi national working in Malaysia helped a Sept. 11 hijacker get to a January 2000 meeting in Kuala Lampur.
President Bush and other administration officials have recently acknowledged there are no links between Saddam and Sept. 11.
According to portions that have been declassified, the CIA's October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq — a key prewar summary of data on the country — said that Saddam might ally with al Qaeda "if sufficiently desperate."
The NIE reported that under such circumstances, Saddam might decide to assist al Qaeda with an attack using weapons of mass destruction. But it treated that conclusion with a low degree of confidence.
The Justice Department has been investigating the leak of an undercover CIA officer's name to columnist Robert Novak in July. Novak said he got the information from two senior administration officials.
The officer, Valerie Plame, is married to former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, who has said he believes his wife's identity was revealed to discredit his claims that the administration exaggerated Iraq's nuclear capabilities to make the case for war.