Faced with the failure to find the Iraqi chemical and biological weapons that President Bush warned the world about, the Pentagon is preparing to send in the cavalry -- 1,400 technicians and interrogators. Their mission is as much political as military: to vindicate Administration hawks, silence obstreperous congressional Democrats, and possibly even save the job of embattled CIA Director George J. Tenet.
The controversy over weapons of mass destruction has the Bush administration playing defense just two months after a major military triumph. Democrats are demanding televised hearings by the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees. Says Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), a member of both intelligence and armed services: "if the U.S. is to gain international support for taking military action in the future, particularly preemptive action, the evidence [it] offers to back up its action must be totally reliable and trustworthy."
Republicans can't afford to completely dismiss the criticism as partisan sniping. indeed, former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) sees a string of intelligence failures dating back to September 11 as reason to dump tenet and to overhaul the CIA. Still, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill aren't ready to launch an open-ended investigation. Instead, the Administration offered up just two tightly controlled internal reviews -- one at the Pentagon and one at the CIA. Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) opposes any public probe by his panel.
Meantime, the White House has begun inching away from Bush's prewar statement that Iraq "possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons." Now, it's emphasizing its reliance on CIA intelligence. Tenet, a holdover from the Clinton Administration, is caught in the crossfire. "Most of my colleagues think it's only a matter of time before Tenet is fired," says Raymond McGovern, a 27-year veteran of the agency and co-founder of a group of ex-CIA officials, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. Also on the hot seat: Defense Under Secretary Douglas J. Feith, who ran an intelligence reassessment project for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Feith and his Pentagon allies, who had "the ear of the President" on the weapons issue, "generated a good number of opponents [within the Administration] who are still after them," says Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.).
Whoever is at fault, the White House has an intelligence problem. Either America's $30 billion-a-year intelligence agencies bungled the job, or they bowed to pressure to support the Administration's pro-invasion sales job at the U.N., or the Administration misrepresented the evidence from Tenet, who briefs the President daily. Dems are pointing to Bush's State of the Union allegation that Iraq tried to buy weapons-grade uranium from Niger, which the White House later conceded was based on documents obtained by Britain that the CIA apparently knew were faked. And Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told the U.N. in his dramatic prewar presentation that aluminum tubes imported by Iraq were for use in the production of nuclear weapons, though that was never certain.
The controversy is also likely to revive efforts to overhaul the intelligence community. Pentagon chiefs confirm that a commission headed by former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft has concluded in a still-secret report that all intelligence agencies, including the CIA and the National Security Agency, should report to one overall spy chief. The Pentagon vigorously opposes that recommendation, but even a rookie spook can figure out that big changes are in the air. President Bush has solidified his standing among a key voting bloc: Republican women. A bipartisan poll on May 27-29 by Republican William D. McInturff and Democrat Stanley B. Greenberg found that GOP women are the most supportive Bush bloc in the electorate, with 94% committed to his reelection. That's a significant shift from 1996, when 20% backed Bill Clinton. Political analysts credit Bush's emphasis on education, security, and "compassionate conservative" policies. House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) is reeling from a Washington Post report that he had tried to insert a provision into 2002 Homeland Security Dept. legislation to benefit tobacco giant Philip Morris, which employs his son and a woman with whom the Post says he has a relationship. But don't expect Blunt's powers to wane. He's a Bush family friend. He's a longtime ally of Attorney General John Ashcroft. And he's the top vote-counter for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). The maker of WD-40 has called out the legal beagles to protect the famous lubricant from a bunch of middle-aged white men. No, not their customers. The alleged copyright infringers are some of the Texas Democratic lawmakers who fled to Oklahoma in May to foil a GOP redistricting scheme. They began calling themselves the WD-40s, for White Democrats over 40. Now, to protest a "cease and desist" letter, the Dems are wearing lapel pins featuring WD-40's yellow-and-blue can.