Release of analysis on terror threat rekindles political fight over Iraq
Wednesday, September 27th 2006, 8:41 am
By: News On 6
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The White House refused Wednesday to release the rest of a secret intelligence assessment that depicts a growing terrorist threat as the Bush administration tried to quell election-season criticism that its anti-terror policies are seriously off track.
Press secretary Tony Snow said releasing the full report, portions of which President Bush declassified on Tuesday, would jeopardize the lives of agents who gathered the information.
It would also risk the nation's ability to work with foreign governments and to keep secret its U.S. intelligence-gathering methods, Snow said, and ``compromise the independence of people doing intelligence analysis.''
``If they think their work is constantly going to be released to the public they are going to pull their punches,'' Snow said.
In the bleak National Intelligence Estimate, the government's top analysts concluded Iraq has become a ``cause celebre'' for jihadists, who are growing in number and geographic reach. If the trend continues, the analysts found, the risks to the U.S. interests at home and abroad will grow.
Snow said the report confirms the importance of the war in Iraq as a bulwark against terrorists. ``Iraq has become, for them, the battleground,'' he said. ``If they lose, they lose their bragging rights. They lose their ability to recruit.''
The document has given both political parties new ammunition leading up to November's midterm elections.
For Republicans, the report provides more evidence that Iraq is central to the war on terrorism and can't be abandoned without giving jihadists a crucial victory.
For Democrats, the report furthers their argument that the 2003 Iraq invasion has inflamed anti-U.S. sentiments in the Muslim world and left the U.S. less safe. Democrats continued their push Wednesday for release of the rest of the report.
``The American people deserve the full story, not those parts of it that the Bush administration selects,'' said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, warned, however, that releasing more of the intelligence assessment could aid terrorists. ``We are very cautious and very restrained about the kind of information we want to give al-Qaida,'' Hoekstra said.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in Tirana, Albania for a meeting of defense ministers, said Bush had declassified the report's key judgments, after parts of it were leaked to the news media, so that ``the American people and the world will be able to see the truth and precisely what that document says.''
The NIE report, compiled by leading analysts across 16 U.S. spy agencies, says the ``global jihadist movement _ which includes al-Qaida, affiliated and independent terrorist groups, and emerging networks and cells _ is spreading and adapting to counterterrorism efforts.''
A separate high-level assessment focused solely on Iraq may be coming soon. At least two House Democrats _ Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Rep. Jane Harman of California _ have questioned whether that report has been stamped ``draft'' and shelved until after the Nov. 7 elections.
An intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the process, said National Intelligence Director John Negroponte told lawmakers in writing only one month ago that he ordered a new Iraq estimate to be assembled. The estimate on terrorism released Tuesday took about a year to produce.
The broad assessment on global terror trends, completed in April, escalated an election-year battle over which party is the best steward of national security.
At a news conference Tuesday, Bush said critics who believe the Iraq war has worsened terrorism are naive and mistaken, noting that al-Qaida and other groups have found inspiration to attack for more than a decade. ``My judgment is, if we weren't in Iraq, they'd find some other excuse, because they have ambitions,'' the president said.
But Sen. Joe Biden, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Wednesday that Bush has allowed Iraq to fester as a training ground for terrorists, and U.S. voters are worried about it.
``On Election Day, that morning, if there's still the carnage in the streets of Iraq, then it will be clear that they have concluded that this administration's policy has failed and there will be a political price for it,'' Biden, D-Del., predicted on CBS' ``The Early Show.''
Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the intelligence committee's top Democrat, said the decision to invade Iraq shifted focus away from U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
``There is no question that many of our policies have inflamed our enemies' hatred toward the U.S. and allowed violence to flourish,'' he said. ``But it is the mistakes we made in Iraq _ the lack of planning, the mismanagement and the complete incompetence of our leadership _ that has done the most damage to our security.''