WASHINGTON – In a rare public appearance,George Tenet,director of the CIA,Thursday defended the agency's allegations that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
The CIA,whose intelligence played a significant role in pursuing the war against Iraq,has come under attack in recent months because WMDs have not been found.
“Based on an assessment of the data we collected over the past 10 years,it would have been difficult for analysts to come to any different conclusions than the ones reached in October of 2002,” Tenet said in a speech at Georgetown University.
The main factor for the wrong information,Tenet said,was a lack of information from U.S. covert agents. Most of the information was compiled from foreign sources,including émigrés,defectors and “a trusted foreign partner” whom he did not identify.
“We did not ourselves penetrate the inner sanctum – our agents were on the periphery of WMD activities,providing some useful information,” Tenet said. “I want to be clear about something,a blanket indictment of our human intelligence around the world is dead wrong.”
The National Intelligence Estimate,published in October 2002,reported that Saddam Hussein was working toward developing unmanned aerial vehicles,that Iraq was well on its way to having a nuclear weapon and that Iraq had both chemical and biological weapons.
Tenet said some of the report was incorrect: The CIA has not found proof that Hussein was going to use UAVs to deliver biological weapons,the CIA “overestimated the progress Hussein was making” toward a nuclear weapon and that he intended to build chemical and biological weapons.
“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,” Tenet said.
The search for weapons is not done,and Tenet said it would take time and data.
“Despite some public statements,we are nowhere near 85 percent finished,” he said.
Not all of the NIE was wrong. For instance,the report said that Iraq had missiles and other systems “with range in excess of [United Nations] restrictions and was seeking missiles with even longer ranges.” Tenet said that the report was “generally on target.”
“Like many of the toughest intelligence challenges,when the facts on Iraq are all in,we will be neither completely right nor completely wrong,” Tenet said.
Tenet said that the nature of the intelligence business has been excluded from recent debate. He also said that the information provided to the president and his council was not biased.
“Our analysts at the end of the day have a duty to inform and warn. They did so honestly and with integrity when making judgments about the dangers posed by Saddam Hussein,” he said.
He noted that recent human intelligence led to the captures of Khalid Sheik Muhammad,the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11,2001,attacks; Rahim al-Nashiri,an al Qaeda operational chief who planned and executed the attack on the USS Cole; and Hambali,the chief terrorist in South Asia whose organization was responsible for the bombing of a nightclub in Bali that killed hundreds.
CIA intelligence was also vital in Libya's promise to dismantle its WMD programs,said Tenet.
He also reported that CIA intelligence played a part in the recent identification of a major nuclear broker,Abdul Qadeer Kahn,a Pakistani nuclear physicist.
Tenet said the next step for the CIA is to continue to build a new network of clandestine agents.
“When I came to the CIA in the mid-‘90s our graduating class of clandestine officers was unbelievably low. Now,after years of rebuilding our training program … we are graduating more clandestine officers than at any time in CIA's history,” Tenet said.
Tenet spoke to a crowd of mostly students and faculty in Georgetown's Gaston Hall. He finished his speech with questions from students. A Georgetown alumnus,Tenet also cheered on the Hoyas in tonight's basketball game against Villanova.