- The Washington Times - Friday, March 5, 2004

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy yesterday challenged CIA Director George J. Tenet to “explain to Congress and the country” why he waited until last month to “set the record straight” that Iraq wasn’t an immediate threat in the months before the war.

Mr. Kennedy said he wondered why Mr. Tenet didn’t correct Bush administration officials before the war when they were indicating otherwise.

“Where was the CIA director when the vice president was going nuclear about Saddam going nuclear?” the Massachusetts Democrat asked in a speech yesterday before the Council on Foreign Relations. “Did Tenet fail to convince the policy-makers to cool their overheated rhetoric? Did he even try to convince them?”

Mr. Kennedy, who is campaigning hard for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, ripped into President Bush and the administration for what he said was their “manipulation of the intelligence in making its case for war.”

The senator cited both Mr. Bush and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice’s warning of a mushroom cloud and the president saying Iraq posed “a unique and urgent threat.” He added that Vice President Dick Cheney asserted that Saddam Hussein was trying to get nuclear weapons and many believed he would soon succeed, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld publicly stated the same thing.

“This was the administration’s rallying cry for war. But those were not the words of the intelligence community,” Mr. Kennedy said. “The community recognized that Saddam was a threat but it never suggested the threat was imminent, or immediate, or urgent.”

In a speech last month, Mr. Tenet said that while Saddam posed a danger, he was several years away from acquiring a nuclear weapon. He noted intelligence analysts had “said Saddam did not have a nuclear weapon, and probably would have been unable to make one until 2007 to 2009.”

Mr. Kennedy said Mr. Tenet, “clearly distanced himself from the administration’s statements about the urgency of the threat from Iraq,” but he “stopped short” of saying the administration distorted the intelligence.

The senator added that Mr. Tenet should state plainly whether he believes this to be the case.

Mr. Tenet is to testify Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, of which Mr. Kennedy is a member.

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