CIA mostly right, Tenet says


February 06, 2004

CIA Director George J. Tenet gave his first public defense yesterday of the intelligence information provided to President Bush before the invasion of Iraq.

"I can tell you with certainty that the president of the United States gets his intelligence from one person and one community: me," Tenet said in a speech at Georgetown University in Washington. "And he has told me firmly and directly that he's wanted it straight and he's wanted it honest and he's never wanted the facts shaded. And that's what we do every day."

The following are excerpts from the speech (the entire speech can be found online at

By definition, intelligence deals with the unclear, the unknown, the deliberately hidden. What the enemies of the United States hope to deny, we work to reveal.

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 weapons of mass destruction. And like many of the toughest intelligence challenges, when the facts of Iraq are all in, we will neither be completely right nor completely wrong. ...

Let's turn to Iraq. Much of the current controversy centers on our prewar intelligence, summarized in the National Intelligence Estimate of October of 2002.

National estimates are publications where the intelligence community as a whole seeks to sum up what we know about a subject, what we don't know, what we suspect may be happening and where we differ on key issues.

This estimate asked if Iraq had chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. 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.

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 policy-makers 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. ...

We had three streams of information; none perfect, but each important.

First, Iraq's history. Everyone knew that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons in the 1980s and 1990s. Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against Iran and his own people on at least 10 different occasions. He launched missiles against Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

And we couldn't forget that in the early 1990s, we saw that Iraq was just a few years away from a nuclear weapon. ... And finally, we could not forget that Iraq lied repeatedly about its unconventional weapons.

So, to conclude before the war that Saddam had no interest in rebuilding his weapons of mass destruction programs, we would have had to ignore his long and brutal history of using them.

Our second stream of information was that the United Nations could not and Saddam would not account for all the weapons the Iraqis had: tons of chemical weapons precursors, hundreds of artillery shells and bombs filled with chemical or biological agents. ...

The third stream of information came after the U.N. inspectors left Iraq in 1998. We gathered intelligence through human agents, satellite photos and communications intercepts. Other foreign intelligence services were clearly focused on Iraq and assisted in the effort. ...

Did these strands of information weave into a perfect picture? Could they answer every question? No, far from it. But taken together, this information provided a solid basis on which to estimate whether Iraq did or did not have weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them.

It is important to underline the word estimate, because not everything we analyze can be known to a standard of absolute proof. ...

Our community said with high confidence that Saddam was continuing and expanding his missile programs, contrary to U.N. resolutions. He had missiles and other systems with ranges in excess of U.N. restrictions, and he was seeking missiles with even longer ranges. ...

My provisional bottom line on missiles: We were generally on target. ...

The estimate said that Iraq had been developing an unmanned aerial vehicle probably intended to deliver biological warfare agents. ...

My provisional bottom line today: We detected the development of prohibited and undeclared unmanned aerial vehicles. But the jury is still out on whether Iraq intended to use its newer, smaller unmanned aerial vehicle to deliver biological weapons. ...

In the estimate, all agencies agree that Saddam Hussein wanted nuclear weapons. Most were convinced that he still had a program and if he obtained fissile material he could have a weapon within a year.

But we detected no such acquisition.

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