In a contentious, closed-door Senate hearing today, agency officials refused to comply with a request from the committee for a broad review of how the intelligence community’s clandestine role against the government of Saddam Hussein would be coordinated with the diplomatic and military actions that the Bush administration is planning.
Lawmakers said they were further incensed because the director of central intelligence, George J. Tenet, who had been expected to testify about the Iraq report, did not appear at the classified hearing. A senior intelligence official said Mr. Tenet was meeting with President Bush. Instead, the agency was represented by the deputy director, John McLaughlin, and Robert Walpole, the national intelligence officer for strategic and nuclear programs.
The agency rejected the committee’s request for a report. After the rejection, Congressional leaders accused the administration of not providing the information out of fear of revealing divisions among the State Department, C.I.A., Pentagon and other agencies over the Bush administration’s Iraq strategy.
Government officials said that the agency’s response also strongly suggested that Mr. Bush had already made important decisions on how to use the C.I.A. in a potential war with Iraq. One senior government official said it appeared that the C.I.A. did not want to issue an assessment of the Bush strategy that might appear to be “second-guessing” of the president’s plans.
The dispute was the latest of several confrontations between the C.I.A. and Congress over access to information about a range of domestic and foreign policy matters. Just last week, lawyers for the General Accounting Office and Vice President Dick Cheney argued in federal court over whether the White House must turn over confidential information on the energy policy task force that Mr. Cheney headed last year.
The C.I.A,’s rejection of the Congressional request, which some lawmakers contend was heavily influenced by the White House, comes as relations between the agency and Congress have badly deteriorated. The relations have soured over the ongoing investigation by a joint House-Senate inquiry — composed of members of the Senate and House intelligence committees — into the missed signals before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Mr. Tenet in particular has been a target of lawmakers. Last Friday, Mr. Tenet, a former Senate staffer himself, wrote a scathing letter to the leaders of the joint Congressional inquiry, denouncing the panel for writing a briefing paper that questioned the honesty of a senior C.I.A. official before he even testified.
A senior intelligence official said Mr. Tenet’s absence at the hearing today was unavoidable, and that no slight was intended. The official said that he missed the hearing because he was at the White House with Mr. Bush, helping to brief other Congressional leaders on Iraq. The official said Mr. Tenet had advised the committee staff several days ago that he would not be able to attend. Mr. Tenet has promised to testify about the matter in another classified hearing on Friday, officials said.
One Congressional official said that the incident has badly damaged Mr. Tenet’s relations with Congress, something that Mr. Tenet had always worked hard to cultivate.
“I hope we aren’t seeing some schoolyard level of petulance,” by the C.I.A., the official said.
While the House and Senate intelligence oversight committee have received classified information about planned covert operations against Iraq, the C.I.A. has not told lawmakers how the agency and the Bush administration see those operations fitting into the larger war on Iraq, or the global war on terrorism, Congressional officials said.
“What they haven’t told us is how does the intelligence piece fit into the larger offensive against Iraq, or how do these extra demands on our intelligence capabilities effect our commitment to the war on terrorism in Afghanistan,” said one official.
Congressional leaders complained that they have been left in the dark on how the intelligence community will be used just as they are about to debate a resolution to support war with Iraq.
Congressional leaders said the decision to fight the Congressional request may stem from a fear of exposing divisions within the intelligence community over the administration’s Iraq strategy, perhaps including a debate between the agency and the Pentagon over the military’s role in intelligence operations in Iraq.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has been moving to strengthen his control over the military’s intelligence apparatus, potentially setting up a turf war for dominance among American intelligence officials. Mr. Rumsfeld has also been pushing to expand the role of American Special Operations Forces into covert operations, including activities that have traditionally been the preserve of the C.I.A.
Congressional leaders asked for the report in July, and expressed particular discontent that the C.I.A. did not respond for two months. Lawmakers had asked that the report be provided in the form of a national intelligence estimate, a formal document that is supposed to provide a consensus judgment by the several intelligence agencies.
The committee wanted to see whether analysts at different agencies, including the C.I.A., the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the State Department, have sharply differing views about the proper role of the intelligence community in Iraq.
But intelligence officials say that a national intelligence estimate is designed to assess the policies of foreign countries — not those of the United States. “They were asking for an assessment of U.S. policy, and that falls outside the realm of the N.I.E., and it gets into the purview of the commander in chief,” an intelligence official said.
Committee members have also expressed anger that the C.I.A. refused to fully comply with a separate request for another national intelligence estimate, one that would have provided an overview of the intelligence community’s latest assessment on Iraq. Instead, the C.I.A. provided a narrower report, dealing specifically with Iraq’s program to develop weapons of mass destruction.
Lawmakers said that Mr. Tenet had assured the committee in early September that intelligence officials were in the midst of producing an updated national intelligence estimate on Iraq, and that the committee would receive it as soon as it was completed.
Instead, the Senate panel received the national intelligence estimate on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program after 10 p.m. on Tuesday night, too late for members to read it before Wednesday’s hearing.
The committee had “set out an explicit set of requests” for what was to be included in the Iraq national intelligence estimate, said one official. Those requirements were not met. “We wanted to know what the intelligence community’s assessment of the effect on a war in Iraq on neighboring states, and they did not answer that question,” the official said.
A senior intelligence official said the 100-page report on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program was completed in three weeks under very tight Congressional deadlines, and the writing had to be coordinated with several agencies.