Senate Democrats


Senate Democratic Leader introduces Iran Intelligence Oversight Act

Washington, DC–Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid today delivered the following remarks on the Floor of the U.S. Senate, introducing the Iran Intelligence Oversight Act. The Bush Administration’s increased private and public diplomacy with Iran has made Congressional oversight more important than ever.

The Iran Intelligence Oversight Act will:

  • Require an updated national intelligence estimate on Iran with an unclassified summary available to inform debate by Congress and the American people
  • Require the President to report to Congress on his objectives regarding Iran and his strategy for achieving them
  • Require the Director of National Intelligence to report to Congress on the current policies and practices for vetting and clearing statements of senior Administration officials that are drawn from intelligence; how significant misstatements of intelligence in public statements of senior public officials are identified, brought to the attention of any such officials, and corrected; and recommend any process improvements.

The text of Senator Reid’s remarks, as prepared, is below.

Mr. President, we live in a dangerous time. The threats to our freedom are many. They range from terrorist attacks, like those that hit our shores on 9/11, to rogue nations with nuclear ambitions, like North Korea and Iran.

It is important that we–as a country–address each of these threats. Recent history is rife with examples of what happens if we fail to do so. The threats don’t go away, they only get worse.

This is a fact we can see in today’s headlines about North Korea’s missile tests, and also in Iran, where our efforts to halt the country’s nuclear program have been delayed and complicated by the Administration’s failures in Iraq.

This weekend, the Washington Post reported that top Bush Administration officials ignored an offer from Iran–in 2003 when American leverage in the region was at its height–to curtail its nuclear activities, support to terrorism, and interference in Middle East peace.

Paul Pillar, the former head of Middle East analysis for the Intelligence Community, said that the U.S. position regarding Iran is “inherently weaker now” because of Iraq, and that “there have been a lot of lost opportunities.” One expert analyst said the Administration’s mismanagement “strengthened the hands of those in Iran who believe the only way to compel the United States to talk or deal with Iran is not by sending peace offers but by being a nuisance.”

Today, I am introducing legislation which would improve Congress’ oversight of the Administration’s efforts on Iran – the Iran Intelligence Oversight Act.

This legislation will ensure the Congress is fully engaged in the Iran debate, and it will also push the Bush White House to develop and implement the right policy for dealing with Iran.

All of us are painfully aware of this Republican Congress’ unwillingness to hold this Administration accountable for its mistakes and misjudgments.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has led the way in terms of stonewalling and rubberstamping the Bush Administration. Nearly three years into its investigation of the White House’s politicization of Iraq intelligence, we still do not have a report.

Unfortunately, the committee record on Iran is not much better.

US News and World Report had a quote earlier this spring from the committee’s chairman, saying “we have not made the progress on our oversight of Iran intelligence, which is critical.” US News said the panel had done only piecemeal scrutiny of the spy agencies’ work on Iran, quoting a Republican staffer as saying “There is no organized committee staff effort to look at Iran right now…It’s all sort of on hold.”

Mr. President, perhaps Tehran will be kind enough to wait for them, but the Senate should not.

The Senate must be engaged as we move our diplomacy forward with Iran. We must take seriously our responsibility to insist on a thorough review of the facts, a full debate of the threat, and full consultation as events move forward.

The legislation I am introducing today would put in place the rigorous oversight necessary to hold the Administration accountable for its rhetoric, and its all too frequent tendency to spin and distort the facts.

The Act requires the Administration to give Congress and the American people solid answers to three questions:

First, what is the judgment of the government’s professional intelligence analysts about the threat of Iran, and what tools are most likely to influence the Iranians to change their ways?

Second, what are the President’s policy objectives with Iran, and what is his strategy for achieving these objectives?

Currently we are only left to guess.

To the best of my knowledge, Congress has not yet been briefed on any of the key details of the deal offered to Iran a few weeks ago. The Iranians have been briefed. The Europeans have been briefed. The Russians and Chinese have been briefed. But not the United States Senate.

Congress needs to be in on the takeoff, not asked to board the plane for the crash landing.

Third, this legislation asks the question – what is the process for making sure that senior Administration officials don’t publicly mischaracterize the evidence and the challenge of Iran?

Much of what we heard from the Administration in the run-up to Iraq about mushroom clouds, yellow cake, and aluminum tubes turned out to be overstated or based on intelligence that was known to be suspect.

I am told that the most famous of the Vice President’s speeches on Iraq–the August 2002 VFW speech that set the rush to war and dramatically overstated the threat from Iraq–was never even cleared by the Intelligence Community.

With my legislation in place, and with vigilance from Congress, we will be one step closer to ensuring this kind of misleading does not happen regarding the threat posed by Iran.

Mr. President, let me be clear: President Bush must take seriously the challenge of Iran, but the way to success will be a policy based on the facts. Under my legislation, the Administration will be held accountable for anything less.