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Sunday, March 27, 2005

How Pat Roberts Lost His Investigative Urge 

Courtesy of our revered colleague Avedon Carol: Last summer, as you recall, the Senate Intelligence Committee completed its investigation into the flawed intel-gathering that led to the Iraq war. The CIA and FBI received failing grades and George Tenet was axed, clearing a corner office for administration loyalist Porter Goss. But Phase Two of the investigation, which was to examine how the Bush administration itself misused and manipulated intelligence in the runup to war, was postponed; chairman Pat Roberts claimed that there was not enough time to finish the job before the November election.

Well, the election is over, and Sen. Roberts's man is back in office, and now it turns out, as David Corn reports in the Nation, that the promised second half of the investigation won't be necessary after all:
In mid-March, Roberts declared further investigation pointless. He noted that if his committee asked Bush officials whether they had overstated or mischaracterized prewar intelligence, they'd simply claim their statements had been based on "bum intelligence." Roberts remarked, "To go though that exercise, it seems to me, in a postelection environment--we didn't see how we could do that and achieve any possible progress. I think everybody pretty well gets it." Gets what, precisely? The evidence is strong that Bush and his aides overstated the overstated intelligence. One example: Bush claimed that Iraq possessed stockpiles of biological weapons, yet the CIA reported only that Saddam had an active biological weapons R&D program. (It turns out he had neither stockpiles nor an active program.) The question is, How and why did Bush and his lieutenants come to exaggerate exaggerations? And just because the answer is obvious doesn't mean an investigation is unwarranted.

While Roberts has dismissed the need for Phase II, Rockefeller has been trying to push the investigation forward. But the committee has not yet bothered to interview any Administration officials about the use of prewar intelligence. The committee also appears to be stymied by obstacles it encountered last year while pursuing a matter to be included in the Phase II inquiry: the actions of the Office of Special Plans. The OSP was a neocon-linked, maverick intelligence shop in the Pentagon set up to search for intelligence (good or bad) to support the case for war. Phase II was supposed to determine whether the OSP had operated appropriately. But when committee staff were probing the OSP last year, people connected to it began hiring lawyers and clamming up, and the committee had a hard time prying documents from the Pentagon. "We received documents up to a point," comments a Rockefeller aide. "Then it stopped. The issue for us became whether to wrap up the investigation on the basis of what we got, or to try to get more information." Roberts, however, has signaled he's no longer interested in the OSP inquiry. "We sort of came to a crossroads, and that is basically on the back burner," he said recently. So stonewalling works . . . .

When the intelligence committee released its report last summer, I asked Roberts if the public and relatives of US troops killed in Iraq deserved to know "whether this Administration handled intelligence matters adequately and made statements that were justified." He replied, "I have made my commitment, and it will be done." His promise was--oh-so shocking!--nothing but a maneuver to protect Bush's backside. Rockefeller and other Democrats are insisting Phase II be carried out. But Bush may benefit from the attempted cover-up. A President doesn't have to worry about troubling answers if no one asks the questions.

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