WASHINGTON - The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee said yesterday that the Bush administration is not sharing enough intelligence on suspected Iraqi weapons sites with United Nations inspectors.
Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said administration officials are belittling the arms inspectors and appear determined to go to war even though President Bush has repeatedly said he has made no decision to do so.
Meeting with defense reporters, Levin said the U.S. intelligence community is turning over only a "small fraction" of information about suspected chemical, biological and long-range missile sites to the inspectors.
Asked why the intelligence community is not being more forthcoming with the inspectors, Levin said: "I think it is because [additional inspections] will take time, and they are trying to collapse time, not extend time. And ... because they genuinely believe the inspections are useless. ... The decision has been made; they presumed they were going to go to war."
Levin said the CIA listed a "huge" number of suspect sites in a classified report to Congress but did not share that information with the United Nations. He declined to provide a ballpark figure on the number, saying it was secret.
An intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said U.N. inspectors have not been given all the information that the U.S. spy agencies have, just the most important elements about suspected sites.
"We are turning over everything we have that we think has a medium to high degree of probability that there could be something there," the official said. "We don't want to swamp them with nuggets of information with low credibility."
The official noted that there is only a "finite" number of inspectors who can check the sites.
For months, Levin has pressed the Bush administration to give inspectors more time and assistance. He noted that U.S. officials last month called the Iraqi reluctance to allow American U-2 spy flights over the country a serious breach of U.N. resolutions, but when Iraq later agreed unconditionally to allow them, the administration played down that development.
Levin said the Bush administration has continued to mock the inspectors, referring to them at times as "so-called inspectors."
White House, Pentagon and State Department officials have said repeatedly that the mission of the U.N. inspection teams, headed by Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, is not to ferret out hidden arms caches but to verify the disarmament of the Iraqi regime. The problem, they say, is that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has no intention of disarming.
While Blix has criticized Iraq for not cooperating fully with inspectors, he has been more positive recently, noting that the Iraqis are destroying banned missiles and allowing some scientists to be interviewed without government minders. Blix is to update the Security Council today on his efforts.
In October, Levin offered a proposal in the Senate that would have required that the United Nations authorize force against Iraq before the United States could go to war. It was easily defeated.
The Senate then voted 77-23 in favor of a resolution authorizing Bush to use force to disarm Iraq, with Levin voting against the measure.
Levin told reporters yesterday that if a U.S.-led coalition were to attack Iraq, Hussein could not survive, though a battle for Baghdad could be "extremely bloody," with a large number of American casualties.