Spy feuds raise heat in capital

The harsh words on exposing a secret agent reflect deep splits over intelligence matters.

Tensions created by troubles in Iraq have exploded into finger-pointing and high-level bickering in Washington.

What's new about this week's struggles is that they are not entirely partisan. In Congress, key Republicans are causing as much trouble for the White House as Democrats over such matters as funding for Iraqi reconstruction, and the search for those elusive weapons of mass destruction.

Most ominous for the administration may be the dispute over whether a Bush official leaked the name of a CIA clandestine operative to the media. It was the CIA itself that requested the Justice Department to look into this matter, and the CIA rank-and-file remain furious over the incident.

Thus the investigation into the matter may now represent the revenge of intelligence analysts who felt the administration hyped the danger posed by Saddam Hussein's regime before the war.

"That is what this [dispute] is all about - the politicization of intelligence," says Stanley Bedlington, a former senior analyst in the CIA's counterterrorism center.

Disputes over the progress of President Bush's $87 billion request for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan may be embarrassing for the administration, but they are unlikely to result in major changes to the legislation.

For instance, this week the Senate handily defeated an effort by Sen. Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia to shrink the amount of Iraqi reconstruction aid contained in the package from $20.3 billion to $5.1 billion.

However, pressure is building on the White House to make part of this aid a loan, instead of a grant. Support for such a move comes from both sides of the aisle, and includes both conservative and moderate Republicans.

"Given all the needs here in the United States, we have to sometimes draw lines, and that's one of them," says Sen. Olympia Snow (R) of Maine.

Administration officials say that the last thing the tottering Iraqi economy needs right now is more debt. Nor does the US want to do anything to bolster the widespread impression overseas that one of the main reasons the US went to war in the first place was to somehow gain control of Iraqi oil.

Meanwhile, the so-far fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq continues to frustrate the White House and serve as an easy target for criticism.

The CIA's special adviser for the weapons search, former UN chief weapons inspector David Kay, visited Capitol Hill on Thursday and updated Congress on his progress, or rather, on the lack thereof.

At the time of writing, details of his testimony had not been publicly released. But he was expected to have no new revelations to report. "He's not ruling anything out or in at this point on the search for WMD," says a CIA spokesman.

Two months ago Kay told Congress he was making "solid progress." Today some of his conclusions reportedly include the belief that Iraq may have retained civilian technology that could have been converted to WMD production capability on short notice.

The administration has clearly backtracked on its claims for Iraqi WMD in recent months, say critics. "We've gone from [saying they had] programs, to capabilities, to intentions to develop capabilities," says Joseph Cirincione, senior associate and director of the nonproliferation project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

As part of its $87 billion bill, the administration is asking for $600 million to continue the weapons hunt, on top of $300 million already spent, notes Mr. Cirincione.

While Mr. Kay and his effort may get those funds, it is likely to face more scrutiny from increasingly skeptical legislators.

"Congress is no longer likely to give [Kay] the latitude it once did," says Cirincione.

The White House's most acute problem related to Iraq is clearly the uproar over the alleged leaking of Valerie Plame, a CIA officer, by someone with administration ties.

Ms. Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, had angered the White House by publicly disputing its claims that Iraq had sought yellowcake uranium for a nuclear program in Niger.

Many in the CIA remain convinced that the White House distorted intelligence about Saddam Hussein's WMD programs and ties to terrorism prior to the Iraq war. Analysts were stung by charges from administration hard-liners that they were being too timid in their conclusions on this crucial issues.

Now they may be getting their revenge.

"I know there's a lot of anger in the CIA. [The White House] tried to foist the blame and use the agency as a scapegoat," says Mr. Bedlington.

It's possible this revenge theory may be overblown, however. Former CIA director Stansfield Turner notes that it is relatively routine for the agency to refer possible security breaches to the Justice Department.

"Of course, [CIA chief] George Tenet is really under pressure from his own people who they need to be backed up by their director, because they've been under pressure from [Vice President] Cheney and others," says Mr. Turner.

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