MICHELE NORRIS, host:
While debate continues over a newly disclosed national intelligence estimate on terrorism, work has begun on a second and separate estimate. This one focused solely on Iraq, and this one, too, is already proving controversial, as NPR's Mary Louise Kelly reports.
MARY LOUISE KELLY: Work on the Iraq N.I.E. got underway last month. This will be the first comprehensive report from U.S. intelligence since July 2004, on sectarian violence, the stability of Iraq's government and the state of the insurgency there. N.I.E.s are detailed assessments. They represent the views of all 16 U.S. spy agencies, and they normally take months to complete. The White House says this one won't be finished until early next year.
But Democrats say they hear otherwise. The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman, believes the Bush administration is stalling, that the intelligence on Iraq is grim and is being held back until after the November elections.
Representative JANE HARMAN (Democrat, California): I have reason to believe that this N.I.E. is substantially complete. My view is that the Congress, the American people and surely our soldiers in harm's way have a right to know to the extent they can what our intelligence community thinks.
KELLY: Now let me just press you on that, because what we're hearing both from the White House and from intelligence officials is that this document is nowhere near done.
Representative HARMAN: Well, they've seen it, or maybe they have seen it, and I haven't seen it. But my sources tell me that it is substantially done.
KELLY: These are sources whom you hold in high confidence?
Representative HARMAN: In high confidence. I would not - I'm pretty careful. I may be worn out and grumpy, but I'm pretty careful, and I wouldn't say something like this if I didn't have a good reason to believe that it was true.
KELLY: But the White House says Harman is flat wrong. White House spokesman Tony Snow.
Mr. TONY SNOW (Spokesman, White House): The idea that it is in, quote, "draft form" - they're just beginning to their work on it, and intelligence committee members, if they don't know it, should, but there is not a waiting Iraq document that's sitting around gathering dust waiting until after the election.
KELLY: Here's another point of contention. Given the intense amount of interest already generated by this Iraq report, should it be made public? Jane Harman and other Democrats say yes, with care taken to protect sources and methods.
Again, the Bush administration disagrees. The president noted this week he thinks it's, quote, "a bad habit to declassify just because something gets leaked" or, in this case, might get leaked in the future. John McLaughlin agrees. He's former deputy director of central intelligence. He tells NPR he would oppose falling into a routine of declassifying national intelligence estimates.
Mr. JOHN McLAUGHLIN (Former Deputy Director, Central Intelligence): What that does, it has a kind of chilling effect on analysts who write these things, because you see what happens. It becomes the object of a political fight and that's not a healthy thing.
KELLY: There are only two precedents for declassifying even part of a current N.I.E. This week, when officials released just the key judgments of a much-longer assessment on global terrorism, and three years ago, when the administration made public a small part of the notorious 2002 N.I.E. on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction.
Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Washington.