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What I Knew Before the Invasion

  By Bob Graham
Sunday, November 20, 2005; B07

    In the past week President Bush has twice attacked Democrats for
being hypocrites on the Iraq war. "[M]ore than 100 Democrats in the
House and Senate, who had access to the same intelligence, voted to
support removing Saddam Hussein from power," he said.

  The president's attacks are outrageous. Yes, more than 100
Democrats voted to authorize him to take the nation to war. Most of
them, though, like their Republican colleagues, did so in the
legitimate belief that the president and his administration were
truthful in their statements that Saddam Hussein was a gathering
menace -- that if Hussein was not disarmed, the smoking gun would
become a mushroom cloud.

  The president has undermined trust. No longer will the members of
Congress be entitled to accept his veracity. Caveat emptor has become
the word. Every member of Congress is on his or her own to determine
the truth.

  As chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during
the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, and the run-up to the Iraq war, I
probably had as much access to the intelligence on which the war was
predicated as any other member of Congress.

  I, too, presumed the president was being truthful -- until a series
of events undercut that confidence.

  In February 2002, after a briefing on the status of the war in
Afghanistan, the commanding officer, Gen. Tommy Franks, told me the
war was being compromised as specialized personnel and equipment were
being shifted from Afghanistan to prepare for the war in Iraq -- a
war more than a year away. Even at this early date, the White House
was signaling that the threat posed by Saddam Hussein was of such
urgency that it had priority over the crushing of al Qaeda.

  In the early fall of 2002, a joint House-Senate intelligence
inquiry committee, which I co-chaired, was in the final stages of its
investigation of what happened before Sept. 11. As the unclassified
final report of the inquiry documented, several failures of
intelligence contributed to the tragedy. But as of October 2002, 13
months later, the administration was resisting initiating any
substantial action to understand, much less fix, those problems.

  At a meeting of the Senate intelligence committee on Sept. 5, 2002,
CIA Director George Tenet was asked what the National Intelligence
Estimate (NIE) provided as the rationale for a preemptive war in
Iraq. An NIE is the product of the entire intelligence community, and
its most comprehensive assessment. I was stunned when Tenet said that
no NIE had been requested by the White House and none had been
prepared. Invoking our rarely used senatorial authority, I directed
the completion of an NIE.

  Tenet objected, saying that his people were too committed ttheo other
assignments to analyze Saddam Hussein's capabilities and will to use
chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons. We insisted, and
three weeks later the community produced a classified NIE
.

  There were troubling aspects to this 90-page document. While
slanted toward the conclusion that Hussein possessed weapons of mass
destruction stored or produced at 550 sites, it contained vigorous
dissents on key parts of the information, especially by the
departments of State and Energy. Particular skepticism was raised
about aluminum tubes that were offered as evidence Iraq was
reconstituting its nuclear program. As to Hussein's will to use
whatever weapons he might have, the estimate indicated he would not
do so unless he was first attacked
.

  Under questioning, Tenet added that the information in the NIE had
not been independently verified by an operative responsible to the
United States. In fact, no such person was inside Iraq. Most of the
alleged intelligence came from Iraqi exiles or third countries, all
of which had an interest in the United States' removing Hussein, by
force if necessary
.

  The American people needed to know these reservations, and I
requested that an unclassified, public version of the NIE be
prepared. On Oct. 4, Tenet presented a 25-page document
titled "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs." It represented
an unqualified case that Hussein possessed them, avoided a discussion
of whether he had the will to use them and omitted the dissenting
opinions contained in the classified version. Its conclusions, such
as "If Baghdad acquired sufficient weapons-grade fissile material
from abroad, it could make a nuclear weapon within a year,"
underscored the White House's claim that exactly such material was
being provided from Africa to Iraq.

  From my advantaged position, I had earlier concluded that a war
with Iraq would be a distraction from the successful and expeditious
completion of our aims in Afghanistan. Now I had come to question
whether the White House was telling the truth -- or even had an
interest in knowing the truth.

  On Oct. 11, I voted no on the resolution to give the president
authority to go to war against Iraq. I was able to apply caveat
emptor. Most of my colleagues could not.

  The writer is a former Democratic senator from Florida. He is
currently a fellow at Harvard University's Institute of Politics.

  2005 The Washington Post Company
  
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