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Wednesday, July 7

Senate panel to blast CIA, but not Bush, on Iraq intelligence

By John Yaukey | GNS

WASHINGTON - A blistering Senate report due out Friday is expected to lay most of the blame for the weapons of mass destruction debacle in Iraq on the CIA and largely spare the White House, according to lawmakers who have publicly discussed some of the analysis.

The report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence says the CIA botched the pre-war intelligence. But it does not accuse the Bush administration of pressuring the agency to back White House claims that Iraq had banned weapons, as some war critics contend.

In his best-selling book ``Plan of Attack,'' author Bob Woodward says that before the war, CIA Director George Tenet told Bush it was ``a slam dunk'' case that Iraq had mass destruction weapons - the chief justification for going to war.

More than a year of searching has yet to turn up any.

The Senate report lays much of the blame on the CIA's failure to develop human spying networks in Iraq, where electronic espionage could never penetrate. It portrays the CIA as inept against terrorists and the nations that support them.

The report echoes a recent House Intelligence Committee analysis that concludes the CIA has ignored its chief mission of gathering human intelligence in favor of high-tech surveillance. The CIA is heading ``over a proverbial cliff'' after years of mismanagement, the House report said.

Tenet, who announced his resignation June 3, has written off much of the House report as ``frankly absurd.''

He cites agency successes such as exposing a Pakistani scientist who sold nuclear secrets to Iran and North Korea.

But he has not been able to dismiss the agency's performance on Iraq as easily.

Some Democrats, however, don't believe the mistakes in Iraq end with the CIA. They contend senior Bush officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, leaned on the CIA to get the ``slam dunk'' evidence Bush presented to voters and the United Nations in the run-up to the war. If enough voters believe that, it could become a major campaign liability for Bush.

Still, whoever wins the election in November will be faced with fixing the CIA, and much of the reform is sure to be based on the Senate and House reports as well as others.

On or around July 26, an independent panel probing the intelligence failures leading up to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will report its findings, which are also sure to be highly critical of the CIA.

After it completes its pre-war investigation, the Senate Intelligence Committee will examine the intelligence that failed to anticipate what has been a tenacious postwar insurgency in Iraq.

The CIA will feature prominently in that probe as well.

On Sunday, Tenet will officially leave his post after seven years of service.

Bush has not determined when he'll name a successor.

Topping the list of speculative favorites is Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., chairman of the House intelligence panel and a former CIA operative. Goss has refused to comment on a possible return to the agency.