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In recent days, media figures have continued to repeat false claims by President Bush and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley that the White House and Congress examined the "same intelligence" on the Iraqi threat during the buildup to war in late 2002. The media's frequent repetition of this claim provides ballast for the administration's attacks on Democrats, who are demanding that the Senate Intelligence Committee meet its promise of completing "phase two" of its investigation of pre-war intelligence, which is to include an examination into the administration's use, and possible misuse, of that intelligence. But Congress did not have access to the "same intelligence" on Iraq as the Bush administration. The White House typically receives a greater amount of intelligence on a daily basis than Congress, as Media Matters for America has noted. Moreover, there is ample evidence that the Bush administration played an active role in decisions to limit the intelligence delivered to Capitol Hill and utilized "unique" intelligence sources during the year prior to the war.
In a November 11 Veterans Day speech at Pennsylvania's Tobyhanna Army Depot, Bush criticized leading Democrats for their recent push to complete the intelligence committee's investigation into his administration's use of prewar intelligence on Iraq. He accused these lawmakers of attempting to "rewrite the history of how that war began" and further stated that "more than a hundred Democrats in the House and the Senate -- who had access to the same intelligence -- voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power." In a press conference a day earlier, Hadley stated, "Seventy-seven senators, representing both sides of the aisle ... all believed, based on the same intelligence, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and imposed an enormous threat to his neighbors and to the world at large."
In a November 12 Washington Post article, staff writers Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank directly addressed Bush and Hadley's claim that they saw the "same intelligence" as Congress. They wrote, "Bush and his aides had access to much more voluminous intelligence information than did lawmakers, who were dependent on the administration to provide the material."
Indeed, the Bush administration was not merely a recipient of intelligence, but also a participant in the decisions regarding what intelligence on Iraq would be emphasized and disseminated. For example, the CIA sent Congress 15 intelligence assessments in 2002 substantiating the White House's claim that Iraq had acquired aluminum tubes designed to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. According to The New York Times, however, "not one of them" included crucial dissenting views pertaining to the probable use of the tubes. The Times further reported that "the dissenting views were repeatedly discussed in meetings and telephone calls" between the CIA and administration officials. New evidence, such as the Downing Street Memo, has similarly depicted the administration as an active participant in the interagency debates over the Iraq intelligence.
The administration's use of intelligence provided by captured Al Qaeda operative Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi further demonstrated its disregard for dissenting views within the intelligence community. In early 2002, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) sent a report to the National Security Council and the White House that expressed serious doubts about the information provided by al-Libi. Despite the DIA's clear objections, his claims later became the basis for the alleged Al Qaeda-Iraq link put forth by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell in his February 5, 2003, speech before the United Nations Security Council.
The White House also received intelligence from outside channels with no link to Congress. For example, the White House relied heavily on the Office of Special Plans (OSP), a Department of Defense operation set up in late 2001 to work on issues related to a potential conflict between the U.S. and Iraq. Within the OSP, a two-man intelligence operation called the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group (CTEG) compiled information on the Iraqi threat from classified intelligence reports and, in some cases, directly from the primary sources. In particular, CTEG utilized information from the Iraqi National Congress, a group of exiles led by Ahmed Chalabi and long distrusted by intelligence officials. A November 7 Slate.com article described how CTEG's now-discredited intelligence assessments regularly bypassed traditional channels and instead traveled directly to senior administration officials:
The information CTEG put together was treated differently than other intelligence. Unlike other reports, CTEG's conclusions about Iraq's training of jihadists in the use of explosives and weapons of mass destruction were never distributed to the many different agencies in the intelligence community.
Moreover, the White House limited the ability of lawmakers to speak publicly about the major intelligence assessment on Iraq that they did receive, the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE).
Notwithstanding clear evidence that the administration had greater access to intelligence, several reporters -- such as ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper, Fox News correspondent Greg Kelly, and NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory -- responded to Bush's speech by citing without challenge the claim that he and Congress "saw the same intelligence." And New York Times reporter Richard W. Stevenson reported the claim uncritically in a November 12 article.
In the days since the address, numerous conservative media figures have repeated the claim as fact. These include Human Events editor Terry Jeffrey, Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, National Journal editor Rich Lowry, and Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes, as well as Fox News hosts Neil Cavuto and Chris Wallace.
From the November 11 edition of Fox News' DaySide:
JULIET HUDDY (co-host): Greg, I'm going to start with you. You obviously watched the president's speech. What was different today?
KELLY: Well, this whole theme, this attack, really, on Democrats who have been deeply critical of the administration on the whole question of prewar intelligence. The president has had difficulty on the issue, and Republicans have been kind of clamoring for what they call an Iraq pushback, kind of reminding the Democrats, saying, "Hey, a lot of you -- in fact, more than 100 in the Senate and in the House -- saw the same intelligence that the administration did and voted for the war."
From the November 11 broadcast of ABC's World News Tonight:
TAPPER: Well, Bob [Woodruff, anchor], the president took the occasion of his Veterans Day speech to respond to that charge, the accusation that his administration twisted intelligence to take the country to war. Speaking at an Army depot near Scranton, Pennsylvania, the president charged critics with hypocrisy, saying many Democrats also believed the same intelligence reports that Saddam Hussein had a dangerous arsenal.
BUSH: While it's perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began.
From the November 11 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
GREGORY: But the argument that he's making today is, "Don't accuse me and my administration of manipulating intelligence when you were looking at the same intelligence that I was working off of, the same intelligence the Clinton administration saw, the same that the U.N. did, the same that was generally agreed upon worldwide." And what Democrats are saying today is, "Look, that fundamentally misses the point. Yes, it's true that two investigations, the Senate and the president's own intelligence investigation found no evidence of any pressure on the part of the administration on intelligence analysts when it came to Iraq."
From the November 11 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
CAVUTO: Yes, but Fred Barnes, if it's research that was flawed and all, it's the same intelligence that the Intelligence Committee had, that the Select Intelligence Committee had, that the data and the intelligence was the same for all those parties. So, are Democrats and those who are now being critical of the war changing the playing pieces after the fact?
BARNES: Well, of course they are.
From the November 11 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
WOLF BLITZER (host): But you say, Terry, that the Democrats were looking at the same intelligence the president was looking at. But the intelligence community is part of the executive branch of the U.S. government; the legislative branch, Congress doesn't have an intelligence gathering community, they rely on what the executive branch is doing, the president is in charge of the executive branch.
JEFFREY: I mean, that's a good point. I mean, the person who was particularly responsible, who was the DCI [director of central intelligence] at the time, he was the person who was appointed by Bill Clinton. Formerly, he was a staffer to Patrick Leahy, one of the senior Democrats in the United States Senate. The National Intelligence Estimate, Wolf, that was produced in October of 2002 for the United States Congress, was requested by Senator [Richard J.] Durbin [D-IL], Senator [Dianne] Feinstein [D-CA], Senator [Bob] Graham [D-FL], and Senator [Carl] Levin [D-MI], all Democrats on the intelligence committee, provided to them under the authority of George Tenet, Bill Clinton's CIA director, the same information that the president had.
BLITZER: So the argument he is making, and it's a fair argument, presumably, that the president is as much a victim of bad intelligence as these Democratic lawmakers.
From the November 11 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:
FUND: One of the things we have to recall here is, every leading Democrat, including the Democrats who had access to the same intelligence information like [Sen.] Jay Rockefeller [D-WV], approved of the war in Iraq. They felt there were WMDs there. The Clinton administration felt there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Everybody made this mistake.
From the November 11 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
KRAUTHAMMER: So I think this is serious. I think it's really incomprehensible, given the fact that Democrats looked at the same intelligence, had the same conclusion, and that the Clinton administration looked at the same evidence. There was only two years between the war in Iraq, and Clinton leaving office. Do the Democrats imagine that Clinton had real evidence of real weapons, and in those two intervening years, Saddam disarmed, Bush knew about it and lied about it?
From the November 11 edition of PBS' The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer:
LOWRY: The State Department dissented on the notorious aluminum tubes and said they're probably not for a nuclear program, but then he explains the French came over and said, look, we've tested these things; we think they are for a nuclear program and the State Department dissented on a lot of the nuclear stuff but it was there on the chem and bio. So there's a reason why the administration was saying all these things, and then many Democrats were saying the same thing because they were all looking at the same body of intelligence.
From the November 12 edition of Fox News' The Beltway Boys:
BARNES: And this campaign against Bush and this intelligence subject, I think, is shameless, really cynical. And but, as, as you said, Mort, I agree, it has taken its toll. And it's not going to be dealt with just by presidential speeches. I thought the one on, on Friday was very good, the president was very emotional. But it needs more than that. You know, they had a couple days ago, they had Steve Hadley, the national security adviser, come down to the White House briefing and point up the hypocrisy of Democrats and all their statements before the war, which were the same ones which were based on the same intelligence that Bush looked at. And they were saying the same things Bush was.
From the November 13 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
WALLACE: But, Juan [Williams, NPR political correspondent], given the fact -- and, you know, we saw it with Jay Rockefeller today -- given the fact that the Democrats saw basically the same intelligence the president did and made statements, by and large, that were just as alarmist, how are they going to be able to win or even continue to make the argument that he hyped the intelligence, he was acting in bad faith?