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Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Wilson Defends Case For Iraq War
By John Fleck
Journal Staff Writer
The debate over pre-war intelligence came to Albuquerque on Monday as two prominent Republicans defended their decision to block an investigation into faulty information about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
The United States needs to look at the threats it faces now and in the future, and a House investigation into intelligence failures leading up to the war in Iraq would be a distraction, Rep. Heather Wilson said Monday.
"We would do this country a terrible disservice if we spent our time looking in the rearview mirror," said Wilson, a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Wilson's comments came during a tour of Sandia National Laboratories Monday with Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich.
According to Wilson, Sandia played a role in 2001 as analysts tried to figure out whether Saddam Hussein's government was attempting to acquire nuclear weapons.
Wilson said in an interview that analysts from Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratory were part of a team of Department of Energy nuclear experts who concluded that a key piece of evidence high-strength aluminum tubes Iraq wanted to buy were probably not intended for nuclear weapons manufacturing.
According to the March report from the independent Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, the tubes were more likely intended for use in non-nuclear battlefield rockets.
In contradiction to the conclusion by the nation's nuclear weapons experts, President Bush told the United Nations Security Council in September 2002, "Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon."
The Sandia appearance by Hoekstra and Wilson came amid a battle between the House Intelligence Committee's Republicans and Democrats over an inquiry into faulty intelligence about claims regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Critics claim officials prior to the war ignored or suppressed evidence contradicting assertions that Saddam Hussein's government was developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
One thing committee Democrats want to look into is whether the lab scientists' views about the aluminum tubes were ignored or suppressed.
Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., the Intelligence Committee's ranking Democrat, complained earlier this month that committee Republicans, in refusing to continue an investigation begun in 2003, were "curtail(ing) oversight over one of the worst intelligence failures in American history."
Hoekstra, speaking to reporters at Sandia on Monday, said "there is no evidence that pre-war intelligence was manipulated," and that it is more important for his committee to spend its time overseeing reforms of U.S. intelligence to help cope with present and future threats.
Wilson and Hoekstra made their comments during a news conference following a day of briefings on Sandia's classified intelligence work. They also saw demonstrations of robotics technology being developed for intelligence and military work.
Wilson said in an interview Monday that lab analysts' views on the aluminum tubes, though classified, were available to members of Congress prior to the war.
"What was amazing to me was the number of members of Congress who didn't ask the tough questions," Wilson said.
She said that as a result of the labs' doubt about the aluminum tubes, she remained skeptical of that part of the administration's claim regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program.
But she added, "That piece of information was not critical to my decision" about whether to support a Congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.
In an Oct. 8, 2002, statement on the House floor as members of Congress were debating the resolution, Wilson said, "Iraq had an advanced nuclear weapons program before the Gulf War and is seeking to develop nuclear weapons again."
Wilson supported the resolution.