February 5, 2004

Tenet Says Analysts Never Painted Iraq as Imminent Threat

By TERENCE NEILAN

Agence France-Presse
George Tenet denied today that the C.I.A. tailored information on weapons of mass destruction to build a case for war on Iraq: "No one told us what to say or how to say it."

Intelligence analysts never said Iraq presented an imminent threat, the director of central intelligence, George J. Tenet, asserted today in his first public defense of prewar estimates of Iraq's weapons.

A National Intelligence Estimate in October 2002 asked if Iraq had chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, "and the means to deliver them," Mr. Tenet said in a speech at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

"We concluded that in some of these categories Iraq had weapons and that in others where it did not have them it was trying to develop them," he said.

"Let me be clear: analysts differed on several important aspects of these programs, and those debates were spelled out in the estimate.

"They 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."

He added: "No one told us what to say, or how to say it."

Mr. Tenet also noted that the search for banned weapons is continuing and "despite some public statements, we are nowhere near 85 percent finished."

That was a direct rebuttal to claims last month by David A. Kay, Mr. Tenet's former top adviser in the weapons search, that no stockpiles of illicit arms existed in Iraq at the time of the American-led invasion last March.

Mr. Tenet went on to say the analysts reached their conclusions through "three streams of information, none perfect, but important."

He said that in the early 1990's "we saw that Iraq was just a few years away from a nuclear weapon."

"This was not a theoretical program," he said. "It turned out that we and other intelligence services of the world had significantly underestimated his progress," referring to Saddam Hussein.

"And finally we could not forget that Iraq lied repeatedly about its unconventional weapons."

He went on: "To conclude before the war that Saddam had destroyed his existing weapons we would have had to ignore what the United Nations and allied intelligence said it could not verify."

He said it was "important to underline the word estimate, because not everything we analyze can be known to a standard of absolute proof."


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