The Bush administration is defending U.S. intelligence gathered prior to the war in Iraq and refuting criticism that information concerning weapons of mass destruction was outdated.
Top administration officials, appearing on Sunday television talk shows, were responding to congressional criticism of the quality of U.S. intelligence the administration relied on in deciding to go to war.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was asked on the program Fox News Sunday about a letter from ranking members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. New reports say the letter alleges that information about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were "fragmentary" and based largely on past assessments dating to the 1998 departure of international weapons inspectors.
"I think the way to put this is that there was enrichment of the intelligence from 1998 over the period leading up the war. And nothing pointed to a reversal of Saddam Hussein's very active efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. It was very clear that this had continued, and that it was a gathering danger," she said.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, appearing on CNN's Late Edition program, pointed out that the former Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein had a long history of involvement with weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Powell acknowledged limitations in U.S. intelligence gathering in Iraq prior to the war, but insisted that U.S. assumptions about Iraq's pursuit of banned weapons were reasonable.
"In 1991, after the first Gulf War, we found chemical weapons [in Iraq]. We learned a lot about the program. We put in place an inspection regime to pull it all out [rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction]. By 1998, Saddam had frustrated that inspection regime. The inspectors left, and then there was a four-year period when there was a gap [in intelligence about Iraq). Are we supposed to believe that he [Saddam] gave up all that capability, that he no longer has the intent [to produce banned weapons]?" Mr. Powell said.
Speaking on NBC's Meet the Press program, Democratic Congressman and presidential candidate Dick Gephardt said questions about the accuracy of U.S. intelligence reports must be investigated. "The American people have to believe that the information they are getting from their government is credible and true. And if there was a failure of intelligence, then we have to have more than intelligence [congressional] committees look at it. We need a [special] commission, and get to the bottom of it," he said.
Meanwhile, U.S. weapons inspector David Kay is preparing an interim report on efforts to locate evidence of banned weapons in Iraq. National Security Adviser Rice says it is unlikely the report will contain major revelations about weapons of mass destruction, but emphasized that the report is preliminary. She said its conclusions will be made public.