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Key Senate Democrat says Pentagon Exaggerated Threat from Iraq to Justify War

A key Senate Democrat is accusing the U.S. Defense Department of exaggerating the threat from Iraq to justify the war.

Senator Carl Levin, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee and a member of the Intelligence Committee, says an investigation by his staff into prewar intelligence shows that the Pentagon shaped its analysis to justify a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

At a Capitol Hill news conference to release the report, Mr. Levin said the office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Douglas Feith, provided intelligence to the White House that Iraq had ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network. It was a link that intelligence agencies could not corroborate.

"The Feith folks set out to show a connection," he said. "They set out to prove a connection, which you are not supposed to do when you are an analyst. You are supposed to look for the facts wherever they lie. But they set out to prove a relationship, and then they jimmied in reports, which were unsubstantiated, to support their conclusion. The intelligence community would not do that. The intelligence community did not have solid corroborative reports of this relationship, to the extent it existed, and so they were skeptical."

Mr. Levin's report is the product of Democratic lawmakers and staffers.

But a bipartisan report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee in July found no evidence that Bush administration officials tried to pressure or influence intelligence analysts to change their judgments about the threats posed by Iraq, including its links to terrorism. But the panel is to further probe the issue and release a second report sometime after November 2 presidential election.

Because the committee has yet to make a final conclusion about how intelligence was used by policymakers, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and fellow member of the Intelligence Committee, Republican Senator John Warner, said Mr. Levin's conclusions are premature.

In a written statement, Mr. Warner also expressed concern about the timing of Mr. Levin's report, coming 11 days before the election, saying it could hurt bipartisan efforts to reform intelligence.

But Mr. Levin says he released the report now precisely because congressional negotiators are working to resolve differences in House and Senate-passed bills to reform the intelligence community. He says he hopes his report will highlight the urgency of such reform.

Mr. Levin hopes final legislation will give Congress better access to intelligence to improve its oversight responsibility and the accountability of intelligence agencies.

At the Defense Department, officials released a statement in response to Mr. Levin's report, citing the Senate Intelligence Committee's finding that there is no evidence that the administration pressured intelligence analysts

The statement also notes that the bipartisan federal commission that investigated the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks said there was evidence that relationships existed between al-Qaida and Iraq prior to the attacks.

Still, even though the commission found there had been contacts between Iraq and al-Qaida, it did not find evidence of cooperation between the two.