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US Lawmakers Criticize Bush Administration Over Intelligence on Syria

U.S. legislators of both political parties are criticizing the Bush administration for only recently disclosing intelligence it possessed about an alleged secret Syrian nuclear reactor that Israel bombed last year. From Washington, VOA's Michael Bowman reports.

Last week, senior U.S. intelligence officials revealed that they have long believed that the facility targeted by Israel was a Syrian reactor designed to produce plutonium that had been constructed with the assistance of North Korea. The revelation took many in Washington and beyond by surprise, and is causing deep concern among Republican and Democratic members of Congress.

A key ally of President Bush on Capitol Hill, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Peter Hoekstra, says last week's briefing by U.S. intelligence officials left him with more questions than answers. Hoekstra voiced his concerns about the Syrian facility on CNN's Late Edition program.

"How close was this to being operational? Who funded this for Syria? How close was the North Korean-Syrian cooperation? And where else might North Korea have been involved in proliferation," he asked.

Hoekstra said, had the Bush administration revealed what it knew about the Syrian facility sooner, his committee and other entities could have probed the matter and possibly arrived at answers before now.

Hoekstra's words were echoed by a Democratic member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Senator Dianne Feinstein said, not only should the Bush administration have been more forthcoming about the intelligence it possessed on the Syrian facility, the intelligence should have been presented to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"I think it should have gone immediately to the IAEA," she said. "That is why the IAEA is there [to investigate]. And by not sharing information immediately, what we do is destroy their verification potential as an independent outside agency."

Feinstein added that she was puzzled by the timing of the Bush administration's release of intelligence on Syria, coming seven months after Israel bombed the suspected nuclear facility.

In briefings with the news media, U.S. intelligence officials said the delay in disclosure was motivated by a desire to prevent confrontation and conflict in the Middle East. They said they feared Syria would feel greater pressure to retaliate against Israel for the bombing if U.S. intelligence about the facility had been made public.

Syria has steadfastly denied U.S. allegations about the purpose of the facility.

U.S. intelligence has come under greater scrutiny at home and abroad with many questioning the reliability and accuracy of the information America gathers on its adversaries since the lead-up to the 2003 the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

At the time, the Bush administration alleged Iraq was actively pursuing weapons of mass destruction. To date, little if any proof has come to light in Iraq that supports the administration's contention, which served as a primary justification for ousting Saddam Hussein.