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CIA Head Defends WMD Intelligence On Iraq

Washington, 5 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- For the second straight day, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush had a senior official make a public defense of the intelligence that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq last March.

Today, George Tenet, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) said in a Washington speech it is too early to state unequivocally that weapons of mass destruction (WMD) will not be found in Iraq. The same point was made yesterday by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in testimony before Congress.

The two men were countering statements made by David Kay, the former United Nations weapons inspector personally chosen by Tenet to search for weapons in Iraq on behalf of the CIA.

Two weeks ago, Kay resigned the position and returned to Washington, where he has repeatedly stated that no such weapons likely will be found. He said the intelligence of the United States, the United Nations, and others evidently was wrong in indicating that Iraq's president at the time, Saddam Hussein, had the weapons.

As war approached a year ago, Bush repeatedly cited Hussein's suspected weapons as a reason for an invasion, despite reluctance from key members of the UN Security Council, including long-standing U.S. allies.

In today's speech at Georgetown University in Washington, Tenet said CIA analysts never portrayed Hussein as an imminent threat to the region, the world, or the United States in particular. And he directly countered some critics' assertions that administration policymakers influenced his agency in how it interpreted its intelligence.

"They [CIA analysts] never said there was an imminent threat. Rather, they painted an objective assessment for our policymakers of a brutal dictator who was continuing his efforts to deceive and build programs that might constantly surprise us and threaten our interests. No one told us what to say or how to say it," Tenet said.

Tenet said his analysts differed on some aspects of Iraq's weapons capabilities, and that those differences were included in the CIA's intelligence summary given to the White House five months before the war began.

However, the CIA director did not portray his agency's results as full.

"The question being asked about Iraq, in the starkest terms, is, 'Were we right or were we wrong?' In the intelligence business, you are almost never completely wrong or completely right. That applies, in full, to the question of Saddam's [Hussein] weapons of mass destruction," Tenet said.

In a further response to Kay's recent statements, Tenet reminded his audience that despite Kay's resignation from the Iraq Survey Group, the American inspectors are still looking for weapons.

"As we meet here today, the Iraq Survey Group is continuing its important search for people and data and, despite some public statements, we are no where near 85 percent finished," Tenet said.

Yesterday, Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee that U.S. intelligence has had what he called "some wonderful successes" that have not been made public. He said it is only the failures that become public. Under tough questioning from some senators, Rumsfeld insisted that American inspectors may still find banned weapons in Iraq.

The failure so far to find the weapons has become problematic for Bush as he faces re-election in November. Opposition Democrats say his administration compounded the suspected intelligence failures by interpreting them in a way that would ensure war.

Bush has approved the idea of naming a bipartisan commission to investigate pre-war intelligence, and is expected to announce its formation soon. Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee is conducting its own examination of that intelligence.

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