Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.), who is leading a spurious Democratic campaign that alleges President Bush misled the country into war, admitted last week that he did not read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs that Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet prepared in 2002 at the request of Senate Democrats specifically so Congress would have up-to-date intelligence as it debated whether to authorize the Iraq war.
The NIE was delivered to Congress at the beginning of October 2002, and Reid voted on Oct. 11, 2002, in favor of authorizing the war.
The NIE concluded that Saddam Hussein’s regime was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program and possessed chemical and biological weapons (see story by Terence Jeffrey earlier this week).
Reid locked the Senate into a controversial closed session three weeks ago to demand accountability on prewar intelligence, but it turns out he did not bother in 2002 to thoroughly familiarize himself with what the U.S. Intelligence Community was saying about Iraq in the run-up to his own pro-war vote.
In an April 7, 2004, article by Dana Priest, the Washington Post reported that few members of Congress read the full 92-page October 2002 NIE. “No more than six senators and a handful of House members read beyond the five-page National Intelligence Estimate executive summary, according to several congressional aides responsible for safeguarding the classified material,” the Post said.
On the November 13 edition of “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D.-W.Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told host Chris Wallace, “There were only six people in the Senate who did [read the NIE], and I was one of them.” Rockefeller said he was “sure” that Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts (R.-Kan.) had also read it.
Roberts confirmed to me that he had in fact read the report. But it turns out that Reid did not.
At a November 15 press conference, I asked Reid and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D.-N.Y.): “The Washington Post reported that six senators read that NIE in 2002 before the vote to authorize the war. Did both of you read it?” Reid at first said: “As indicated last week, Sen. [Carl] Levin [D.-Mich.] has worked very hard to make that public. Now, everyone has read it. Everyone has read it.”
But following up, I asked: “But before you voted for the war—“
Reid said: “We’re talking about six senators. The answer is, if you ask me, I didn’t read it. But I don’t know who did. But there’s a hundred senators, not six. And some members of the Intelligence Committee may have read it. I don’t know. But the fact of the matter is—you can’t escape this—the administration manipulated the evidence and the people who opposed them, like Amb. [Joseph] Wilson were taken to the woodshed.”
Key Democrats who have joined Reid in his campaign to charge the administration with misleading the country about the Iraq intelligence, also failed to read the prewar NIE on Iraq. When asked if he had read it, former presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass.) said: “I got briefings. I got a personal briefing at the Pentagon.”
Asked if she had read it, likely 2008 presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.), said: “I’m not going to say anything about that. Just let the intelligence committee do their work, okay?”
To the same question, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D.-Conn.) said: “I’m not sure I did. I read a lot of intelligence information around that time, but I don’t know whether I formally read the NIE. I’d have to go back on that.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D.-Calif.), who wrote a letter to Bush on Sept. 13, 2002, asking for his assistance in making sure that Tenet produced the requested NIE about Iraq, said she did in fact read it before casting her vote in favor of the war.
The process that produced the prewar Iraq NIE began on Sept. 9, 2002, when Sen. Richard Durbin (D.-Ill.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, wrote to Tenet requesting it.
Tenet and the intelligence community produced the document, but Congress made very little use of it.
In response to a follow-up question asking to Sen. Reid’s office, asking why he had not read the October 2002 NIE on Iraq before voting for the war, a Reid spokeswoman answered by email: “Senator Reid gave his floor statement on the Iraq resolution on October 9, 2002, and the reasoning he gave for voting for the resolution does not have much to do with current assessments of the intelligence on WMD. Members got their information on Iraq from lots of sources in the months leading up to the October 2002 vote. The most important sources of information were White House/Administration officials, including the President, Vice President, and Secretary of Defense.”