Many House members cite, but don't read, full NIE Iraq report

During last week’s war debate, House members repeatedly cited the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq. Judging from the debate, it supported both sides.

Democratic Rep. David Wu (Ore.) warned that “[t]he fact that we are in a civil war is backed up by our own National Intelligence Estimate.”

But Republican Jeb Hensarling (Texas) said the report shows that the U.S. troop presence in Iraq is preventing attacks within the United States.

“If we leave Iraq before subduing [the enemy], he will follow us to America, make no mistake about it ... Read the National Intelligence Estimate,” Hensarling said. 

But it seems very few, if any, House members read the full, classified version of the report. That 90-page tome is now available to all representatives, thanks to a surprise decision by the House Intelligence Committee a week before the debate.

A sampling by The Hill could not find a single House member who had trekked to the committee’s secure office in the Capitol to view the classified version of the document. When asked, many said that they had read only the three-and-a-half-page declassified summary of “key judgments” that the office of the director of national intelligence released earlier this month.

The Hill’s query of members was unscientific and non-comprehensive, so it asked Kira Maas, spokeswoman to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), which members had dropped by the secure office to read the full report.

“I’m not sure, given the classified nature of the information, if that’s something that’s public,” Maas said. She promised to check again with the committee, but she didn’t call back over the course of the week. The Hill repeatedly left messages asking whether the problem was not the sensitive nature of the information but embarrassment that no one had bothered to read it.

Like most members, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he had read the unclassified summary available to the public, but not the full, classified report.

“That’s just more detail,” Hoyer said. “I think it has more specifics, but its conclusions aren’t that different than the public version.”

When the committee decided to let members review the classified version, it required them to take a secrecy oath before viewing the report in the committee’s secure office in the Capitol. They are not to be allowed to leave with notes.

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) also noted the NIE’s conclusions about civil war on the floor of the House. But she said she drew her knowledge of the text from media reports. She said it was only one part of her decision-making on the Iraq resolution.

“The NIE adds to the weight of the evidence that we shouldn’t escalate this,” DeGette said.

Leading war critic John Murtha (D-Pa.) was dismissive of the classified NIE, but noted that he constantly reviews intelligence reports.

“I don’t think there’s anything in there I haven’t seen in the press,” Murtha said. “The best intelligence I get is in the field.”

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said he plans to read the full NIE, although he didn’t do so in time for the debate. He said it’s difficult to carve out the time to make a special trip to the Intelligence Committee office.

“You’ve got to go sit up there,” Walden said. “The last time, there wasn’t much more in the long version than there was in the summary.”