Everyone had the same intelligence on Iraq? Not exactly

A new report confirms that the executive branch routinely has access to more intel than Congress sees.

By Tim Grieve

Published December 16, 2005 2:37PM (EST)

When Democrats had George W. Bush on the defensive about prewar intelligence last month, the White House kept insisting that Congress saw the "same intelligence" the president saw and made the decision to go to war, too.

We said that it wasn't true then, and now a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service seems to provide confirmation. At the request of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the CRS compared the intelligence that is available to the White House with that which is available to members of Congress. The conclusion: There's really no comparison.

The president and a small number of presidentially designated Cabinet-level officials, including the vice president -- in contrast to members of Congress -- have access to a far greater overall volume of intelligence and to more sensitive intelligence information, including information regarding intelligence sources and methods," the CRS says in a report distributed by Feinstein's office. Unlike members of Congress, the report says, the president and those who work for him "have the authority to more extensively task the intelligence community, and its extensive cadre of analysts, for follow-up information. As a result, the president and his most senior advisors arguably are better positioned to assess the quality of the communitys intelligence more accurately than is Congress."

Generally speaking, the report says, the executive branch withholds from Congress four types of intelligence: the identities of intelligence sources; the methods used to collect and analyze intelligence; "raw" or "lightly" evaluated intelligence; and "certain written intelligence products tailored to the specific needs of the president and other high-level executive branch policymakers," including the President's Daily Briefing.

In releasing the report, Feinstein said that it puts the lie to the administration's "we all saw the same intelligence" argument and underscores the need for completion of the second phase of the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation. "When the Senate voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq in 2002, it was based on a more limited scope of prewar intelligence than was available to the administration," Feinstein said. "I believe that Congress and the American people deserve to know what precisely was known by the president and the administration before the use of force in Iraq. If the Senate Intelligence Committee is to produce a credible and useful report for its ongoing 'Phase II' investigation, it must have access to all the same intelligence as the administration that it was previously denied, particularly the PDBs."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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