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Official: McCain to serve on prewar intelligence panel

From John King
CNN Washington Bureau

Sen. John McCain and Sen. John Warner preside over the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Iraqi WMD last week.
Sen. John McCain and Sen. John Warner preside over the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Iraqi WMD last week.

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John McCain
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. John McCain of Arizona is among those who will serve on the new presidential commission investigating U.S. intelligence gathering, including the pre-war assessments of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, an administration official tells CNN.

McCain last week called for an independent and sweeping probe of flawed U.S. intelligence, pointing to Iraq's weapon capabilities, but also to those of North Korea and Libya.

The administration official said President Bush plans to name the nine-member panel on Friday.

Former lead U.S. weapons inspector David Kay met with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice at the White House Thursday. Kay told CNN after the meeting he had not been asked to join the commission.

Kay told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week that his group hasn't found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and said he didn't believe significant stockpiles of banned weapons would be found.

"It turns out we were all wrong, and that is most disturbing," Kay said at a hearing during which he called for an independent probe of the apparent intelligence failure.

When the president announces his commission he will assure the public that its members will have "access to any information they need to conduct a thorough review," a senior Bush administration official told CNN Thursday night. The commission's report will be due 2005 -- after the presidential election.

The official did not know, however, whether that access would include the president's daily briefing, which is the classified assessment given to Bush each day by the CIA. Access to the assessment has been a source of contention with the commission investigating intelligence lapses prior to the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The presidential commission's charge will include comparing pre-war intelligence in Iraq with the findings of the post-war Iraq Survey Group, the official said. It will also include assessing U.S. intelligence gathering in Afghanistan and Libya and compare what is now known to intelligence assessments before the removal of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and before Libya announced it would cooperate with the United States and Great Britain in ending its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.

"The goal is to take a very serious look at how we are meeting the intelligence challenge when it comes to weapons of mass destruction, proliferation and outlaw regimes," said a second administration official.

Democrats have questioned how the panel could be considered independent if all members were chosen by President Bush, who declared war and dictates how and what the panel will investigate.

The panel looking into possible intelligence lapses leading up to the September 11 attacks was appointed through a compromise in which the president named some members and congressional leaders chose others. Bush signed a broad intelligence authorization bill that created the commission. It is composed of five Republicans and five Democrats.

On Thursday, President Bush -- while acknowledging that no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq -- delivered an impassioned defense of his decision to invade the country and topple the regime of Saddam Hussein, saying the world is now safer. (Full story)

"Knowing what I knew then and knowing what I know today, America did the right thing in Iraq," Bush said in a speech delivered at the port of Charleston. Cheered heartily by the crowd, Bush ran though a litany of actions he ascribed to Saddam, including funding of terrorism, the torture of his own citizens and the invasion of neighboring countries.

CIA Director George Tenet also defended the prewar U.S. intelligence estimate of Iraq's suspected weapons programs and said his agency never depicted Iraq as an "imminent threat" to the United States.

The CIA "painted an objective assessment for our policy-makers of a brutal dictator who was continuing his efforts to deceive and build programs that might constantly surprise us and threaten our interests," he said. "No one told us what to say or how to say it." (Full story)

But Kay told CNN Thursday that he didn't believe the United States was threatened by Iraq's "intentions" of developing WMD, because Baghdad was unlikely to succeed in such an endeavor.

"If the administration had laid out a case based solely on the intentions of the Iraqi regime, I doubt you would have had massive public support or any international support for that. The argument last year was one not only of intentions but of capability and actual possession of weapons of mass destruction."

Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee's review of U.S. intelligence has found no evidence that political pressure shaped reports on Iraq before last year's invasion, the committee's Republican chairman reported Thursday. But the panel's ranking Democrat called for a broader probe. (Full story)

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