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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 February, 2004, 10:05 GMT
US intelligence goes under microscope

By Adam Brookes
BBC correspondent in Washington

The Bush administration had been hinting for days that it might happen.

Now the president has confirmed there will be an independent inquiry into US intelligence and its role in the Iraq war.

President Bush, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld
The Bush administration will try to
The announcement follows public pressure on the Bush administration to explain how it concluded that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, when none have been found there in the wake of the war.

"I'm putting together an independent, bipartisan commission to analyse where we stand, what we can do better as we fight this war against terror," he said.

Ever since the chief US weapons expert, David Kay, said last week that the intelligence agencies' conclusions on Iraq were almost all wrong, the pressure has been mounting on Mr Bush.

Democrats, Republicans and the media have all been clamouring to know what kind of intelligence the president used in making the decision to go to war, how it was arrived at, and why it now seems to have been so misleading.

But President Bush indicated that this inquiry won't be only about Iraq. It will look into the activities of US intelligence across the board on issues of proliferation and weapons of mass destruction.

"We want to look at our war against proliferation and weapons of mass destruction in a broader context," he said.

Spotlight on the spies

That seems to mean that the activities of America's intelligence agencies in searching for information about nuclear weapons programmes in North Korea, Iran and Libya might come under the spotlight, too.

One commentator with links to the CIA told me the atmosphere at the agency's headquarters was 'funereal'
This commission will reportedly be made up of nine people - politicians from both parties, and intelligence experts. It's not clear when it will report.

But the Bush administration will be hoping that its conclusions will not emerge before next November's presidential elections, for fear of lending the Democrats electoral ammunition.

This is probably a very worrying development for the quiet men in Langley and all the other places that the 14 or so American intelligence agencies reside.

One commentator with links to the CIA told me the atmosphere at the agency's headquarters was "funereal".

The inquiry - depending on the degree of its assertiveness and the breadth of its remit - could portray the intelligence agencies as supplying flawed information to the administration, and allowing America's leaders to go to war without an accurate picture of the situation in Iraq.

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