Sunday, July 13, 2003

A Senate Republican yesterday said CIA director George J. Tenet should resign for failing to identify erroneous intelligence when the agency vetted President Bush’s State of the Union address.

“If I were the president, he wouldn’t be there,” said Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, who was ranking member of the intelligence committee when Democrats last ran the Senate.

“There have been more failures of intelligence on the watch of George Tenet than anybody in recent history as director of the CIA,” Mr. Shelby said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”

Both Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice yesterday said the British intelligence that said Iraq was trying to purchase nuclear-weapons material in Africa was accurate, but should not have been used in a presidential address.

“It is ludicrous to suggest that the president of the United States went to war on the question of whether Saddam Hussein sought uranium from Africa,” Miss Rice said on “Fox News Sunday.”

The British stand by their information, which also was repeated by the National Intelligence Estimate in a U.S. classified document, administration officials said.

Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. Bob Graham of Florida and John Kerry of Massachusetts both said yesterday that questions still needed to be answered.

Mr. Graham, senior Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that it was “a selective use of intelligence.”

Mr. Kerry said Mr. Tenet’s acceptance of responsibility does not end the question of who is ultimately responsible, particularly given that Mr. Bush made a similar assertion during a speech in Cincinnati three months earlier.

“I believe there is an enormous, serious question about our protection and the judgments we must make in the future and the quality of our intelligence — this is not a matter of politics,” Mr. Kerry said on CNN.

Mr. Graham agreed: “This is not an issue of George Tenet. This is an issue of George Bush.”

In his Jan. 20 address, Mr. Bush said, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” The British documents turned out to have been forged. The White House admitted the error last week.

On Friday, Mr. Tenet took responsibility.

“These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president,” Mr. Tenet said.

Mr. Shelby said the statement “is more than just a little flap. There is substance behind that. And somebody ought to be accountable.”

But Mr. Bush is defending the agency and its director. “I’ve got confidence in George Tenet. I’ve got confidence in the men and women who work at the CIA,” the president said Saturday.

Mr. Tenet, who was appointed by President Clinton in 1997, should “absolutely not” resign, said Miss Rice.

“The president has confidence in George Tenet. He has fought the war on terrorism well,” Miss Rice said on CNN.

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