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CIA boss denies Iraq intelligence was manipulated
Updated: 2004-03-10 10:41

CIA chief mum on whether he tried to calm WMD rhetoric

CIA chief George Tenet said Tuesday he doesn't believe the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to justify war in Iraq but declined to say whether he tried to cool U.S. officials' rhetoric about the now-disputed claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

CIA Director George Tenet listens to remarks from a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington.  [Reuters]
Pressed by Senate Democrats, Tenet said he has told policy-makers when they were mischaracterizing intelligence, and he planned to call Vice President Dick Cheney to tell him he had referred to a discredited document in a newspaper interview.

Tenet also made clear that he believes policy-makers are entitled to flexibility in how they interpret and describe intelligence.

"At the end of the day, they make policy judgments and they talk about things differently," Tenet told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Annual threat assessment

Tenet appeared before the panel to present his annual worldwide threat assessment. He repeated themes he had discussed two weeks earlier before the Senate Intelligence Committee: Although al-Qaeda is damaged, the terror network's anti-American agenda has spread to other groups that threaten the United States.

Tenet also warned that violence in Iraq probably will continue as the July 1 transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis approaches.

But much of the hearing focused on whether Tenet is responsible for publicly correcting officials who make false or misleading statements on intelligence.

Prewar claims about Iraq have become a politically charged issue. It especially heated up after the former chief arms inspector, David Kay, said in January that deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was unlikely to have had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons or an advanced nuclear program before the war last year. President Bush's main argument for war was that an immediate threat was posed by illegal Iraqi weapons.

Administration officials say their claims reflected the intelligence available. Democrats insist the administration misrepresented intelligence, disregarding caveats and dissenting opinions to bolster its case for war.

In particular, they fault the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans with presenting a distorted picture of Saddam¡¯s weapons and ties to al-Qaeda.

Tough questions from Kennedy

Tenet said in a speech at Georgetown University last month that intelligence analysts had not claimed before the war that Iraq was an imminent threat, although they had described how Saddam was continuing programs that could have threatened U.S. interests.

Some of Tuesday's toughest questioning came from Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who last week criticized Tenet for not coming forward earlier to ¡°set the record straight.¡±

"You can't have it both ways, can you, Mr. Tenet?" Kennedy said, contrasting that speech to Tenet's refusal to describe steps he took to correct statements made by administration officials.

Tenet said, "I'm not going to sit here today and tell you what my interaction was. What I did, what I didn't do," Tenet said. ¡°When I believed that someone was misconstruing intelligence, I said something about it. I don¡¯t stand up in public and do it.¡±

When Tenet said policy-makers don't use precisely the same words as intelligence analysts, Kennedy said, "I'm not talking about parsing words. We're talking about words that are basically warmongering."

Kennedy asked if Tenet believed the administration had misrepresented facts to justify the war.

"No, sir, I don't," Tenet said.

Tenet-Cheney conversation

Though he generally did not discuss when he had spoken to administration officials about their intelligence statements, Tenet said he contacted Cheney after the vice president had said in an NPR interview in January that trailers seized in Iraq probably were biological weapons labs. Intelligence agencies now doubt that was the case.

The panel's top Democrat, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, noted a Jan. 9 interview with the Rocky Mountain News in which Cheney referred to a Weekly Standard article on links between al-Qaeda and Saddam. That article was based on a classified Defense Department assessment that was later retracted by the Pentagon.

Tenet said he wasn't aware of Cheney's comments until Monday night. "I will talk to him about that," he said.

Levin suggested Tenet should have been aware earlier of Cheney's statements.

"It seems to me there's got to be someone in your office who is going to say to you, ¡®You know, the vice president said something which just doesn't have our support."

Tenet replied, "Sir, it's a fair point."

Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., sought to fend off Democrats' insistence that Tenet monitor and correct the statements of administration officials. ¡°In the end, he is not their keeper," he said.

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