CIA Director Defends Administration's Stance
By Dana Priest and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 10, 2004; Page A20
CIA Director George J.
Tenet said yesterday that he did not believe the Bush administration
misrepresented intelligence to justify going to war in Iraq but said he
spoke privately to senior officials when he believed they publicly
misconstrued facts they had been given.
sometimes contentious hearing before the Senate Armed Services
Committee, Tenet defended the administration against charges by
Democratic senators that President Bush, Vice President Cheney and
other officials exaggerated intelligence reports when they
characterized the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons arsenal.
Asked by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) whether he
believed the administration misrepresented the prewar intelligence on
Iraq, Tenet answered: "No, sir, I don't."
Kennedy followed up by asking Tenet whether he ever told the president or vice president "that they were overstating the case."
"If there are areas where I thought someone said
something they shouldn't say, I talked to them about it," the CIA
director responded. He cited as one example his taking public blame for
Bush's mentioning in the 2003 State of the Union address a discredited
allegation that Iraq tried to purchase uranium in Africa.
Kennedy continued to press Tenet, asking, "When you see
this intelligence you provide being misrepresented, misstated by the
highest authorities, when do you say no?" Kennedy told Tenet he could
not tell the panel that the director had "no obligation to correct"
inaccurate statements "or didn't even try."
The CIA director shot back: "I'm not going to sit here
and tell you what my interaction was" with the president or vice
president. "When I believed someone was misconstruing intelligence, I
stood up and said something about it. I don't stand up in public and do
it. I do my job the way I did it in two administrations," a reference
to his four years as director in the Clinton administration.
"Sometimes," Tenet continued, language used by
policymakers in public "doesn't uniquely comport" with the complex,
more nuanced language of the intelligence community. But, he said, "I
lived up to my responsibility."
The tense give-and-take was the latest public step in
an intense political and policy debate over prewar Iraq intelligence.
Two congressional committees and a White House commission are
investigating why the CIA and other intelligence agencies were so far
wrong in their assessment that Iraq possessed stockpiles of weapons of
mass destruction. No such weapons have been found.
Democrats are pressing their argument that the Bush
administration consistently exaggerated intelligence reports while
failing to acknowledge publicly that they included significant caveats
and areas where analysts could not agree.
Yesterday, Democrats questioned why Tenet would not
have said so publicly when he disagreed with statements by top
"I don't do my job that way," Tenet countered. "If I believed something needs to be corrected, I go correct it."
Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), the ranking minority
member of the panel, questioned Tenet about a Cheney interview,
published Jan. 9 in the Rocky Mountain News. The vice president, asked
about the general relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq, directed the
reporter to an article in the Weekly Standard from November that Cheney
said was "based on an assessment that was done by the Department of
Defense and forwarded to the Senate Intelligence Committee some weeks
ago." He went on to describe the article as "your best source of
The Weekly Standard article discussed a memo that was
classified, drafted in the Pentagon office of Undersecretary of Defense
Douglas J. Feith in October 2003 using raw, unverified intelligence
reports. It was put together in response to questions sent to Feith by
a congressional intelligence committee seeking support for his claim of
a close relationship between Hussein and Osama bin Laden's network.
Tenet said yesterday that when the CIA learned of the
Feith memo in November, it got the Pentagon to retract it "because of
our concerns with what the document said." Asked by Levin whether he
was going to inform the vice president of the CIA's doubts about the
accuracy of the memo, Tenet replied, "I will talk to him about it."
A senior administration official close to the vice
president's office said yesterday that Cheney "was merely lending a
hand to an interested reporter by mentioning an article that had
already been published." He added: "Entirely too much is being made of
an offhand reference to an article that was in the public domain."
At one point, Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of
the committee, stepped in to defend Tenet, saying: "There are times
when he felt the necessity to express his views, which may well have
been at variance with the policymakers. But in the end, he is not their
Much of Tenet's testimony before the committee
mirrored the worldwide threat assessment he gave members of the Senate
Select Committee on Intelligence two weeks ago.
Topics yesterday included Iraq's immediate future.
Levin asked whether the CIA expected "civil strife" between Iraqi
ethnic and religious groups when the United States transfers
sovereignty to an Iraqi government on June 30. Tenet said he could only
speculate that there was a "low probability" of that but said much
depended on creating an interim government that is "broadly
The CIA director also cautioned that jihadists,
particularly Abu Musab Zarqawi, will step up attacks and efforts to
create civil disorder as the June 30 handover nears.
"We have to work very, very hard to disrupt this," Tenet said.
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