Two reports issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday leveled harsh criticism at both the White House and Pentagon for their handling of intelligence concerning Iraq and Iran.
One report examined statements by top Bush administration officials between October 2002 and March 2003, when the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began, about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's regime. These officials, from President Bush on down, deliberately misled the American public about Saddam's relationship with al Qaeda and "led the nation to war on false premises," according to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
According to the report, officials erroneously linked Saddam to the Sept. 11 attacks and al Qaeda; claimed Iraq would give terrorist groups chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, and said Iraq was developing drones to spread chemical or biological agents over the United States.
None was borne out by intelligence.
"These reports are about holding the government accountable and making sure these mistakes never happen again," Rockefeller said Thursday.
Bush's press secretary, Dana Perino, said the problem was flawed intelligence heading into the war. "We had the intelligence that we had, fully vetted, but it was wrong. And we certainly regret that," she said.
According to Rockefeller, the problem was that the Bush administration concealed information that would have undermined the case for war. "We might have avoided this catastrophe," he said.
However, the report found that intelligence substantiated most of the administration's statements about Iraq before the war. But officials often did not mention the level of dissension or uncertainty in the intelligence agencies about the information.
Two Republicans, Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine, endorsed the report.
The committee's five other Republicans, however, assailed it as a partisan exercise. They accused Democrats of covering for their own members, including Rockefeller and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who made similar statements about Iraq based on the same intelligence the Bush administration used.
A report released earlier Thursday concluded that Pentagon officials concealed from U.S. intelligence agencies potentially useful tips from Iranian agents in 2001 and 2002, including one that Tehran allegedly sent hit teams to Afghanistan to kill Americans.
The Iranians also told two Pentagon employees at a December 2001 meeting in Rome of a purported tunnel complex used to store weapons and covertly move personnel out of Iran after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the U.S., according to the Senate Intelligence Committee. In addition, the Iranians told of a long-standing relationship with the Palestine Liberation Organization and the growth of anti-government sentiment inside Iran.
The information was questionable, the report suggests, citing the sources: a discredited former arms dealer who was peddling a plan to overthrow the Iranian government and a former U.S. official whose leads had failed to yield any substance for the CIA.
Nonetheless, the report sheds new light on the mistrust and lack of cooperation by Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld with the CIA and the State Department after 9/11.
Committee Republicans, in a dissent, said the report had nothing to do with the original scope of the review prewar intelligence on Iraq. They said it would be a "disappointment" to people looking for evidence of Pentagon wrongdoing.
The Iran-related report focuses on the series of meetings in Rome held over three days in December 2001. The U.S. was fighting in Afghanistan and working on initial planning for the Iraq war.
Then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley authorized the meetings. Two Pentagon employees, one of whom worked for then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith, went to Rome to meet with two Iranians - one a current member of the security service, the second a former member. Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian middleman already dismissed by the CIA as untrustworthy, also attended, as did a representative from an unspecified foreign government's intelligence service. Michael Ledeen, a former Pentagon official and an analyst with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, arranged the meeting and attended.
In one meeting, Ghorbanifar pressed for a change of government in Iran and, on a napkin, outlined a plan to do that, saying he would need $5 million to set it in motion, according to the report.
The report said Hadley failed to fully inform then-CIA Director George Tenet and then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage about the meeting. But Hadley and the Pentagon were within their rights to conduct the meeting, the report said.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Hadley notified all parties concerned appropriately.
But the report said Defense Department officials refused to allow "potentially useful and actionable intelligence" to be shared with intelligence agencies, even in the Defense Intelligence Agency. Then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz briefed the head of the DIA on the Iranian intelligence but would not let him discuss it, the report said.
Ledeen said Thursday that the meetings were not kept secret from U.S. intelligence, and said he had briefed the U.S. ambassador to Italy twice about them.
"Any time the CIA wanted to find out what was going on all they had to do was ask," he said.
One of the two Pentagon representatives, Larry Franklin, now faces jail time after pleading guilty to espionage-related charges unrelated to the Rome meeting. Franklin told the committee he believed the intelligence gathered at the meetings "saved American lives." He passed word of the alleged hit teams to a special operations forces commander in Afghanistan.