Thursday, February 5, 2004

CIA Director George J. Tenet yesterday acknowledged intelligence shortcomings in the run-up to the Iraq war but said teams searching for Saddam Hussein’s banned weapons of mass destruction need more time.

In a speech vigorously defending the CIA’s record, Mr. Tenet also said foreign intelligence from two human sources close to Saddam’s inner circle revealed that production of Iraqi chemical arms had resumed before the war.

Mr. Tenet said intelligence-gathering is difficult, and the full truth about Iraq’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs may never be known.

However, he said the CIA had a mixed record in trying to “penetrate Iraq” and spy on Saddam’s activities.

“We did not have enough of our own human intelligence,” Mr. Tenet said. “We did not ourselves penetrate the inner sanctum. Our agents were on the periphery of [weapons of mass destruction] activities, providing some useful information.”

Mr. Tenet disputed the recent testimony of former arms inspector David Kay, the top CIA representative on the Iraqi Survey Group, the 1,400-member team searching Iraq. Mr. Kay has said work to find Saddam Hussein’s arms is 85 percent complete and that no large stocks of weapons existed before the war.

He also said prewar intelligence on Iraq was “almost all wrong.”

But Mr. Tenet told a packed auditorium at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service that “we are nowhere near 85 percent finished.”

“Any call that I make today is necessarily provisional. Why? Because we need more time and we need more data,” he said.

President Bush is set to name a blue-ribbon commission to study U.S. intelligence failures amid calls from Democrats and others that the administration manipulated data to make the public case for war in Iraq.

On Capitol Hill yesterday, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence made available to senators a 300-page classified assessment of intelligence on Iraq. No details were made public, but one Senate aide said the report reflected some of Mr. Kay’s criticisms of prewar data.

Mr. Kay, speaking at a news conference yesterday, repeated his claim that work in searching for arms was about 85 percent finished.

“Look, if there were large stockpiles, they had to be produced by people, they had to be produced in facilities and they would have left some indelible signs,” Mr. Kay told the Carnegie Endowment.

“Where are those people? Where are those facilities? Where are the documents, the importation and the other records of such large production? Those have not been found. And I think those are pretty compelling proof at this point, maybe even the famous 85 percent level, for me, of proof that those don’t exist.”

Mr. Tenet, in his speech, defended the decision to invade Iraq, noting that intelligence confirmed Saddam’s government had violated U.N. weapons restrictions.

“How long do you let material breach, deception and denial go on before you’re risked with the kind of surprise that I can never fully and 100 percent predict?” he asked.

Answering a question from a student, Mr. Tenet dismissed suggestions that the White House was influenced on Iraq by a small group of Pentagon intelligence analysts who offered contrary assessments to those of the 14-agency U.S. intelligence community.

“The president of the United States sees me six days a week, every day,” Mr. Tenet said. “I tell him what the American intelligence community believes. … I can tell you with certainty that the president of the United States gets his intelligence from one person and one community: me.”

Mr. Tenet provided details on how a 2002 interagency intelligence assessment stated that Iraq had some chemical and biological weapons and was working to develop nuclear arms.

Intelligence analysts disagreed on the arms and “never said there was an imminent threat,” he said.

“Rather, they painted an objective assessment for our policy-makers of a brutal dictator who was continuing his efforts to deceive and build programs that might constantly surprise us and threaten our interests,” he said. “No one told us what to say or how to say it.”

A key factor in gauging Iraq’s weapons programs were foreign intelligence-agency reports from two sources in Iraq.

One source had direct access to Saddam and stated that Iraq was aggressively and covertly building a nuclear bomb.

“The same source said that Iraq was stockpiling chemical weapons and that equipment to produce insecticides under the oil-for-food program had been diverted to covert chemical-weapons production,” he said.

The agent reported that Iraq’s “weapon of last resort” was to use missiles with chemical warheads against Israel, he said.

A second source with access to senior Iraqis also said production of chemical and biological arms was under way.

The information “solidified and reinforced the judgments that we had reached and my own view of the danger posed by Saddam Hussein, and I conveyed this view to our nation’s leaders,” Mr. Tenet said. “Could I have ignored or dismissed such reports? Absolutely not.”

The CIA chief said satellite photographs also indicated that Iraq had restarted production of chemical arms.

“My provisional bottom line today: Saddam had the intent and capability to quickly convert civilian industry to chemical-weapons production,” Mr. Tenet said. “However, we have not yet found the weapons we expected.”

Mr. Tenet said analysts incorrectly reported that Baghdad had lethal biological agents, including anthrax, that could be quickly multiplied and placed in bombs, missiles, aerial sprayers and used by covert operatives.

“My provisional bottom line today: Iraq intended to develop biological weapons,” he said.

Iraqi efforts to develop biological arms are still being investigated, he said.

“The question being asked about Iraq in the starkest terms is, were we right or were we wrong?” he said. “In the intelligence business, you are almost never completely wrong or completely right. That applies in full to the question of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. And like many of the toughest intelligence challenges, when the facts of Iraq are all in, we will neither be completely right nor completely wrong.”

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