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US Lawmakers Ponder Use of Intelligence on Iraq - 2003-07-15

Key House lawmakers say evidence so far does not point to the existence of large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The statement by members of the House Select Committee on Intelligence comes amid more heated debate over intelligence used by President Bush and his administration to justify military action.

The day began with allegations by two former intelligence officials, one Australian the other American, that main coalition partners engaged in "a coordinated effort" to manipulate pre-war information.

Andrew Wilkie resigned from Australia's Office of National Assessments, its top intelligence agency, last March to protest the way his government used intelligence to justify its participation in the Iraq war.

He said the Australian, British and U.S. administrations made broad assumptions about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction to sell the war to the public.

"We were all sold a war in Iraq on the basis of Iraq possessing a massive arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, not programs," he said. "Of course, that arsenal has not been found and I'm confident that whatever will be found now will be a long way short of the massive arsenal of weapons that was used as the basis for the war."

Mr. Wilkie and Raymond McGovern, a former CIA analyst, appeared at a news conference with Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a Democratic candidate for president and a critic of President Bush.

Mr. McGovern, who as a CIA officer in the 1980s used to prepare a document called the President's Daily Brief, said he and other former intelligence officials had concerns in the months leading up to the war.

"We could see that the role of intelligence in this war, this upcoming war, and we're talking about January, would be incredibly important and we saw very strong danger signals that intelligence could be abused," he said.

Meanwhile, the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Select Committee on Intelligence issued more initial details of their investigation.

Congresswoman Jane Harman said evidence so far shows the administration exaggerated intelligence information, leaving the American people with an inaccurate impression of the threat from Iraq.

As for specific information President Bush used in his State of the Union Address, Mrs. Harman said, "the buck [responsibility] has to stop with the president."

"It was wrong to include the 16 words in the president's State of the Union message regarding alleged attempts by Iraq to purchase uranium from Africa," she said. "The speech should not have cited British information about which the U.S. intelligence community had expressed serious doubt."

Mrs. Harman nonetheless has opposed calls by Democrats for a separate special commission to investigate pre-war intelligence or the question of information in President Bush's address. Republican Porter Goss insisted the House inquiry will get to the bottom of all major issues.

"I am not going to fall for the bait of getting into the political discussion that is going on in Washington," he said. "We're involved in the very serious business of protecting national security and helping out some Americans who are working very hard in the worst operational climate I have ever seen in my life, in Iraq, today."

House intelligence committee members recently visited Iraq to meet with the chief U.S. administrator Paul Bremer, and U.S. military officials.

They say coalition forces are unlikely to find large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, given Saddam Hussein's extensive programs to conceal them. Rather, coalition efforts are likely to yield confirmation of weapons programs.

And, in the lawmaker's words: "Large number of U.S. troops are likely to remain in Iraq for years" and will probably suffer further casualties against an insurgency that is possibly being coordinated by elements of the former regime and/or foreign elements.