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Democrats to press for Iraq intelligence
Boston Globe
By Rick Klein
December 14, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Democrats in Congress this week want to force the White House to release the daily intelligence briefings that President Bush reviewed in the months before the US invasion of Iraq -- an attempt to undercut the president's claim that lawmakers saw the same reports that he did before voting to authorize the war.

Bush has said repeatedly in recent weeks that the senators and House members who gave him the the power to depose Saddam Hussein by force did so because they'd all seen the same CIA assessments and agreed that Iraq's weapons program was a national security threat.

But congressional Democrats point out that they didn't have access to the Presidential Daily Briefs that summarize American intelligence for the president each day -- briefings that were seriously flawed, according to an independent panel. The White House won't allow lawmakers investigating breakdowns in prewar intelligence to review the daily briefs submitted to the president before the invasion.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, said that seeing the briefs is the only way lawmakers can determine whether the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to justify the war -- and the best way to ensure that future presidents and Congress are on the same page when it comes to crucial intelligence matters.

''It is essential to get to the bottom of the rush to war in Iraq not only to get the truth, but also because there are other threats on the horizon in Iran, North Korea, and elsewhere," said Kennedy, who is offering an amendment to the intelligence authorization bill that would require Iraq-related daily briefs to be released. ''Americans deserve a White House that lifts the veil of secrecy, so that America can get it right next time."

Senate Democrats want Bush to release the Iraq-related items in the Presidential Daily Briefs from the first two years of his presidency and from the last year of the Clinton administration. Senate aides said the Clinton-era briefs are important because Bush has said that he and President Clinton had seen the same intelligence.

Kennedy's amendment is part of Democrats' effort to turn up the pressure on Bush to open intelligence reports that have so far remained under wraps. Democrats on the House intelligence committee have renewed their calls for a House-led investigation on how the administration used prewar intelligence, though Republican leaders continue to reject it.

''If you want to move forward and learn from the mistakes of the past, you have to understand what went on," said Representative John F. Tierney, a Salem Democrat who serves on the intelligence committee. The daily briefs ''are more pieces of documentation and evidence that will give us an idea of what was known and what wasn't known."

Along with the amendment, Democrats on the House International Relations Committee intend to push a measure tomorrow that would require the White House to turn over documents used to prepare speeches in which Bush claimed that Iraq was trying to get uranium from Niger. That since-discredited claim was part of the president's 2003 State of the Union Address, the cornerstone of his argument for war.

In 2003, the White House rejected requests to have members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence review a limited number of Presidential Daily Briefs. The committee has recently revived a long-stalled investigation into the administration's use of prewar intelligence; Senate Democrats yesterday demanded that the investigation be expedited.

Bush administration officials said yesterday they won't agree to release the intelligence briefs. Executive privilege allows the president to get candid advice from his staff; that confidentiality would be jeopardized if Congress is allowed to review the briefs, said Frederick Jones, a spokesman for the National Security Council. ''The PDBs reflect advice given directly to the president by his most senior intelligence advisers, on the most important national security matters of the day," Jones said. ''The president must continue to get unvarnished advice on intelligence matters."

The Robb-Silberman Commission -- appointed by the president -- is the only outside panel that has seen some of Bush's daily briefs. The panel reported in March that the briefs' ''daily drumbeat of reports" on Iraq's purported efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction left an ''impression of confirming evidence, even when the reports all come from the same source."

Though the intelligence in the briefs was not ''markedly different" than that in the intelligence summary provided to Congress, the language was ''more alarmist and less nuanced" than it was in the National Intelligence Estimate, the commission found.

''With their attention-grabbing headlines and drumbeat of repetition, [the daily briefs] left an impression of many corroborating reports where in fact there were very few sources," the report stated.

Bush's contention that he and Congress had the same intelligence about Iraq when they supported the invasion is a central part of his efforts to rebuild crumbling public support for the war.

''Leaders in my administration and members of the United States Congress from both political parties looked at the same intelligence on Iraq, and reached the same conclusion: Saddam Hussein was a threat," Bush said last month in a speech in Anchorage.
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