Congressional Record: March 3, 2004 (Senate)
Page S2072-S2073

  Mr. BYRD. Madam President, I thank the distinguished Democratic whip 
and I thank the distinguished chairman of the committee for his 

          Independent Commissions on National Security Issues

  Most of us are familiar with the Aesop's fables, having read some of 
them at one or more times during our lives. Aesop once told the story 
of a jaybird that ventured into a yard where peacocks used to walk. 
There the jay found a number of feathers fallen from the majestic birds 
when they had last molted. He tied them all to his tail and strutted 
toward the peacocks. His cheat was quickly discovered, and the peacocks 
harassed the imposter until all his borrowed plumes had fallen away. 
When the jay could do no more than return to his own kind, having 
watched him from afar, they were equally affronted by the jay's 
  The moral of the story, said Aesop, is that it takes more than just 
fine feathers to make fine birds.
  It is an age-old lesson that the Congress should hold in its mind as 
we consider how best to investigate the distorted and misleading 
intelligence that the administration used to build its case for war in 
  On February 6, the President announced the creation of his own 
commission to investigate our intelligence agencies to find out, in the 
words of Dr. David Kay, why we were almost all wrong about the 
administration's prewar claims of huge Iraqi stockpiles of weapons of 
mass destruction. If Congress is serious about getting to the bottom of 
this apparent intelligence failure and the administration's rush to 
war, we must realize that once stripped of its dazzling plumage, the 
White House proposal for its own so-called independent commission is a 
real, honest to goodness turkey. It is not only fine feathers that make 
fine birds.
  The President has described the panel that he created as being an 
independent commission. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. 
This commission is 100 percent under the thumb of the White House. Who 
created the panel's charter? The President. Who chooses the panel 
members? The President. To whom does the panel report? The President. 
Whom shall the panel advise and assist? The President. Who is in charge 
of determining what classified reports the panel may see? The 
President. Who gets to decide whether the Congress may see the panel's 
report? The President.
  To describe this commission as independent is to turn that word's 
definition on its head. In fact, the deeper one delves into the text of 
the Executive order that creates the President's so-called independent 
commission, the more one finds that the commission is ill-equipped to 
discover just what went wrong with the prewar intelligence on Iraq.
  At first glance, the charter of the President's commission appears 
very broad. It is to assess whether the intelligence community of the 
United States is sufficiently authorized, organized, equipped, trained, 
and resourced to tackle the threats of terrorism and weapons of mass 
destruction. As part of that goal, the commission is to compare prewar 
intelligence on Iraq with what has so far been discovered.
  That mission sounds like a mouthful, but it really misses the point 
of why the American people are calling for a commission to investigate 
in this matter.
  The public has a right to know why our intelligence on Iraq was so 
wrong, how the administration may have misrepresented its intelligence, 
who is going to be held accountable for misleading our country into 
war, and what will be done to fix the problems with our intelligence. 
Those are exactly the questions an independent intelligence panel 
should be investigating, and yet the President's commission only skirts 
those key issues.
  What is more, even though the President promised that his commission 
will investigate current intelligence on North Korea, Iran, and 
Pakistan, his Executive order, in fact, does not bother to direct the 
commission to review intelligence on those countries. Instead, the 
President's Executive order directs the commission to focus its 
energies on Libya and Afghanistan. Libya and Afghanistan are not 
countries that the President has labeled as part of his axis of evil. A 
real independent intelligence commission would shine new light on how 
we assess the threats of North Korea and Iran, not be distracted by 
sideshows that will keep the commission busy until March 31, 2005.
  The President has carefully drafted this Executive order to allow 
himself to serve as the gatekeeper on what information the so-called 
independent commission might have access to. While the President 
directs Federal agencies to cooperate with this commission, he also has 
created a giant loophole that would prevent the most important 
intelligence products from being read by his commission.
  The Executive order reads as follows: The President may at any time 
modify the security rules or procedures of the commission to provide 
the necessary protection to classified information.
  I was born at night but not last night. All of America knows that the 
White House is in a dispute with the September 11 Commission over 
intelligence reports that were read by the President. The commission 

[[Page S2073]]

them. The White House will not give them. The Executive order drafted 
by the President to create an intelligence commission makes sure that 
his own commission will never see documents that the President does not 
want them to see.
  At least the 9/11 Commission has the power to issue subpoenas for 
critical information. The President's intelligence commission does not 
even have that power. The deck is being stacked against a full and open 
inquiry on the prewar intelligence on Iraq. Congress is not even 
assured of having access to the commission's report.
  The President has required that the commission send its report to him 
in March 2005 and then within 90 days the President will consult with 
the Congress concerning the commission's report and recommendations.
  Why can the Congress not simply read the commission's report? Why 
should the White House be given the opportunity to reword, reshape, 
redact, or even flat out censor the so-called independent commission's 
report before Congress can get their hands on it?
  It is quite possible that if this so-called independent commission is 
allowed to proceed as the President has directed, Congress will never 
have the chance to review the commission's work.
  Tucked away in the President's Executive order is a provision that 
intends to exempt this commission from judicial review. Let us not 
forget that the Office of the Vice President fought tooth and nail in 
Federal courts, and is still doing so, to keep the General Accounting 
Office, an arm of the Congress, from learning about the meetings of the 
Vice President's energy task force.
  Could this provision be an attempt to hide the work of the 
President's intelligence commission from Congress? I would not put such 
a scheme beyond the White House, which has already demonstrated its 
zeal for secrecy.
  The administration's case for war in Iraq appears to have been built 
upon cherry-picked intelligence, produced and massaged to hype the 
American people into going along with a war of choice. The President's 
so-called independent commission would allow the White House to do the 
exact same number on the commission's report as it did on prewar 
intelligence and analysis; namely, pick out only the parts that it 
wants the public to see and bury the rest.
  It is bitter irony that a report on whether the administration 
covered up evidence that contradicted a rush to war might itself be 
covered up under the terms of the President's Executive order.
  So what is next? An independent commission to investigate the 
President's own commission? Is that so? I wonder. Let us not make the 
mistake of ignoring the shortcomings of the White House's version of an 
intelligence commission on Iraq, only to be haunted by those problems 
  The revelation by Dr. Kay that he does not believe any stockpiles of 
weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq has dealt a blow to the 
President's case for war. It has shaken the American people's faith in 
their Government. We owe it to the American people to get to the bottom 
of what went wrong with our intelligence agencies and whether the 
administration misused the intelligence that it was provided.
  The President has simultaneously promised a commission to investigate 
these matters and stacked the deck against the independence of his very 
own panel. That is not the right way to gain the confidence of the 
American people in their Government. It is yet another in a string of 
attempts by this White House to mislead the American people on issues 
of national security.
  Congress must step in and correct the grievous error that the 
President has made in creating a commission that is not equipped 
properly to do its job. Congress should use the independent 9/11 
Commission, a commission that has shown itself to be fair, independent, 
and bipartisan, as a starting point for how to create an independent 
panel to investigate the Iraq intelligence failures. If the 
administration is serious about getting to the bottom of this debacle, 
this new commission might even be created in just a matter of days.
  The American people deserve answers on why the administration relied 
on faulty intelligence to take this country to war without presence of 
an imminent threat. A commission that is designed to keep the inquiry 
under the thumb of the same White House that misled Congress and the 
public about the nature of the threat from Saddam Hussein will never be 
able to operate independently. So Congress should not allow the 
President to get away with posting a fox at the door to the hen house.
  The structure of the 9/11 Commission is a solid foundation upon which 
to conduct an inquiry into the administration's prewar intelligence 
claims. The 9/11 Commission has been doing yeoman's work in digging 
into all of the events that led up to those catastrophic attacks on New 
York and Washington. In fact, the only real problem that the 9/11 
Commission has faced is the lack of cooperation from the White House.
  After refusing to meet with the full membership of the 9/11 
Commission, the President and Vice President have reluctantly proposed 
to meet only with the chairman and vice chairman of the panel. And for 
how long? Just 1 hour.
  The National Security Adviser has flatly refused to participate in 
any public discussions with the Commission. The White House position on 
dealing with the 9/11 Commission is so unreasonable that the 
administration is drawing criticism from both sides of that panel. 
There is even talk that former Senator Bob Kerrey, who once served as 
Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, could resign because of 
the administration's refusal to let the Commission do its work. What 
could possibly be the reason for this stonewalling by the White House?
  It is as if a whole swath of the Washington establishment has 
completely forgotten the horror of the terrorist attacks that killed 
3,000 innocent people. But the American people have not forgotten. The 
American people have their priorities straight. They place getting at 
the truth of how that tragedy was carried out above election year 
  Enough with the stonewalling. Enough with the foot dragging. Enough 
with the election year politics. The Senate acted correctly a few days 
ago to extend the life of the 9/11 Commission so that it can get its 
work done, and the House should promptly follow suit. Now Congress 
should act quickly to create an independent Iraq intelligence 
commission. The confidence of the American people in their Government, 
the people's government, hangs in the balance.
  Madam President, I yield the floor and I suggest the absence of a 
  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Hagel). The clerk will call the roll.
  The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. HATCH. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for 
the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.