WASHINGTON -- President Bush, under mounting political pressure, will sign an executive order to establish an investigation of US intelligence failures in Iraq, modeled on the inquiry into the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a senior White House official confirmed yesterday.
The investigation will look at what the United States believed it knew before the war against Saddam Hussein's regime and what has been determined since the invasion. Former chief weapons inspector David Kay has concluded that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction, a chief rationale for the US-led war.
By setting up the investigation himself, Bush, who had resisted a probe, will have greater control over its membership and mandate. The senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it would be patterned after the Warren Commission, so named for its chairman Earl Warren, then the chief justice of the Supreme Court, which led a 10-month investigation that concluded in 1964 that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing President Kennedy.
The investigation will examine not only Iraq but also intelligence issues dealing with stateless groups such as terrorists and secretive regimes such as North Korea, the official said, insisting on anonymity. Given the broad mandate of the investigation, it is not likely to be completed before the November elections.
Lawmakers from both parties say America's credibility has been undermined by uncertainty over flawed intelligence that led the United States into war in Iraq. Republicans joined Democrats in calling for an investigation.
"I don't see there's any way around it," Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday on CNN's "Late Edition."
"We need to open this up in a very nonpartisan, outside commission, to see where we are," Hagel said. The issue is not just shortcomings of US intelligence, he said, but "the credibility of who we are around the world and the trust of our government and our leaders."
Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, another top Republican on the committee, told "Fox News Sunday" that he may be willing to go along with an independent commission because "I think we have major problems with our intelligence community. I think we need to take a look at a complete overhaul."
Asked by CNN whether it was time for such a commission, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, replied: "Absolutely." In appointing the members, Bush will draw heavily from intelligence specialists who are familiar with the problems in the field, the White House official said. The investigation will be independent and be provided with the resources it needs to do its job, the official said.At this point, the White House has not decided on a deadline for the investigation -- a sensitive issue since its findings could become an election issue. There was no indication when Bush would sign the order creating the panel.
Bush's decision comes amid assertions that America's credibility is being undermined by uncertainty over flawed intelligence that led the nation into war in Iraq.
The White House official said the investigation's members will be "distinguished citizens who have served their country in the past."
White House lawyers working on the structure of a commission settled on the pattern of the Warren Commission, which was created by President Johnson.
David Albright, a former weapons inspector, said the administration could use the commission as a way to delay judgments about the intelligence community and the administration's use of the intelligence information. "The bottom line for them is to delay the day of reckoning about their use of the weapons of mass destruction information," he said. "David Kay can blame the CIA and say `Oh, I made all these comments based on what I heard from the intelligence community.' President Bush can't do that. He's the boss."
Despite months of searching, US inspectors have found no banned weapons in Iraq. Bush cited the presence of such weapons as a rationale for the war. Kay has said that the administration's intelligence on Iraq was "almost all wrong."