President Bush: Honors Vets, Defends Accusations

President Bush will respond Friday to accusations that his administration manipulated intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction to justify the war, a senior administration official said.

Bush plans to rebut his critics at a Veterans Day event in Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania. About 2,500 people are expected, including veterans and their families as well as members of the state's congressional delegation.

Bush will talk about the war on terror and plans to "directly take on some of these false attacks that have been recently brought up by some Democratic leaders," the official said.

National security adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters Thursday that the thrust of Bush's speech "is to continue to talk to the American people about the war on terror, the nature of the enemy, what is at stake (and) the importance that we see it through to success."

He also will discuss how U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan can help win the war on terror and advance democracy, Hadley said.

'Campaign-style' strategy

Earlier this week, senior White House officials told CNN they were working on a "campaign-style" strategy to respond to stepped-up Democratic criticism that Bush officials manipulated intelligence in making the case for war, an accusation the administration repeatedly has denied.

The intelligence debate intensified following the October 28 indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, who resigned the day he was indicted.

Libby was charged with obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements to federal agents investigating the leak to reporters of the identity of CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame. Her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, had publicly challenged a key element of the administration's case for war.

In his briefing Thursday, Hadley detoured from the president's upcoming four-nation Asia tour to defend the administration's rationale for invading Iraq and to rebut charges that intelligence had been manipulated.

Hadley told reporters the intelligence used to support the war had been developed over a "long period of time."

2003 CIA report raised doubt

"We all looked at the same intelligence, and most people -- on the intelligence -- reached the same conclusion," Hadley said, referring to the present and previous administrations and to Congress.

Adding to the intelligence dispute is a January 2003 CIA report that raised doubts about claims that al Qaeda sent operatives to Iraq to acquire chemical and biological weapons. (Full story)

In January and February 2003, President Bush and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell made dramatic assertions that Iraq had ties to al Qaeda and argued for military action to prevent Baghdad from providing its suspected stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.

Powell repeated the claim before the United Nations in making the case for the invasion of Iraq.

No such stockpiles turned up after the U.S.-led invasion, and the independent commission investigating al Qaeda's 2001 attacks on New York and Washington found no evidence of a collaborative relationship between the two entities.

CNN obtained a CIA document Thursday that outlined the history of the claim, which originated in 2002 with a captured al Qaeda operative who recanted two years later.

Unreliable source

The CIA report appears to support a recently declassified document that revealed the Defense Intelligence Agency thought in February 2002 that the source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, was lying to interrogators.

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, this week released the DIA report in alleging the administration cited faulty intelligence to argue for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In February 2003, al-Libi, a senior military trainer for al Qaeda in Afghanistan, claimed the terrorist network "sent operatives to Iraq" to acquire weapons. His claim was reported in a CIA paper seven months later entitled, "Iraqi Support for Terrorism."

The January 2003 updated version of the report added a key point that "the detainee was not in a position to know if any training had taken place."

Al-Libi recanted in January 2004 a number of claims he made while in custody, according to the CIA document.

His reversal prompted the CIA to order all prior intelligence suggesting Iraq trained al Qaeda personnel in chemical and biological warfare "recalled and re-issued" in February 2004.

The document obtained by CNN was provided recently to Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who have been pressing for an investigation into the ways the Bush administration used intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the war.