WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans plan to call for a congressional commission to investigate the conclusions of the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran as well as the specific intelligence that went into it, according to congressional sources.
The move is the first official challenge, but it comes amid growing backlash from conservatives and neoconservatives unhappy about the assessment that Iran halted a clandestine nuclear weapons program four years ago. It reflects how quickly the NIE has become politicized, with critics even going after the analysts who wrote it, and shows a split among Republicans.
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said he plans to introduce legislation next week to establish a commission modeled on a congressionally mandated group that probed a disputed 1995 intelligence estimate on the emerging missile threat to the United States over the next 15 years.
“Iran is one of the greatest threats in the world today. Getting the intelligence right is absolutely critical, not only on Iran’s capability but its intent. So now there is a huge question raised, and instead of politicizing that report, let’s have a fresh set of eyes – objective, yes – look at it,” he said.
Although administration officials say they are very comfortable with the intelligence that produced the new NIE, conservative commentators challenge its veracity. Norman Podhoretz, a conservative commentator who has advocated airstrikes on Iranian sites, said he does not think the NIE is “very credible because it is a 180-degree turn in two years based on new discoveries. I don’t see any strong reason why in two years they won’t reverse themselves.”
Critics of the NIE have seized on the fact that career government officials who had battled with conservatives earlier in the administration on policy issues had now migrated to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which coordinated the writing of the estimate.
Meanwhile, the White House sought to tamp down accusations that Bush misled the public about when and how much he knew about the new intelligence. During his news conference this week, he said, he was told in August by the director of national intelligence that there was new information about Iran, but not what the new information was.
Press secretary Dana Perino said Thursday that Bush meant he was told the gist of the new intelligence – that Iran had had a covert nuclear weapons program but had suspended it – although he was not given details, pending a deeper assessment of the data. “The president could have been more precise in that language,” she said, “but the president was being truthful.”