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Lawmakers Seek Answers on Iraq Reports
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.

In a 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 administration officials.

"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 information."

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 keeper."

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 representative."

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.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company



For archive purposes, this article is being stored on website.
The purpose is to advance understandings of environmental, political,
human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues.