Tenet attacked over intelligence failures

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The Independent US

George Tenet, the CIA director, rejected charges yesterday from senior Democrats that he made no effort to stop the Bush administration making false claims about the threat represented by Saddam Hussein and his alleged weapons of mass destruction.

George Tenet, the CIA director, rejected charges yesterday from senior Democrats that he made no effort to stop the Bush administration making false claims about the threat represented by Saddam Hussein and his alleged weapons of mass destruction.

During a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mr Tenet told one of his fiercest critics, Senator Edward Kennedy: "I do the intelligence and they [the President and his top officials] take the intelligence, assess the risk and make a policy judgement."

Pointing to the CIA's pre-war view that Saddam did not pose an imminent threat, the Massachusetts senator cited several instances of what he termed war-mongering by Mr Bush, the Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other officials. "What is your responsibility," he asked, "when you hear the President or the Secretary of Defence use such overheated rhetoric?"

With Iraq intelligence set to be an issue in the autumn general election campaign, the questioning of Mr Tenet predictably broke along party lines. Republicans generally heaped praise on him, and Democrats argued that he did not do enough to prevent pre-war intelligence being exaggerated.

They also suggested that the man who theoretically runs the US intelligence establishment had been blindsided by a special Pentagon intelligence gathering unit, feeding much more aggressive assessments directly to Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Once again Mr Tenet, whom many Republicans would like to make the scapegoat for the Iraq WMD fiasco, had to walk a fine line, defending the actions of the White House but insisting that the CIA had behaved honourably.

He was challenged by Carl Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the committee, who listed disparities between the secret October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq's weapons capability and the "scarier" assessment in a White Paper published soon afterwards. Mr Levin said that doubts expressed in the NIE had been "buried" in the White Paper and a host of qualifiers had been omitted on specific issues, from Iraq's chemical capabilities to its alleged efforts to buy uranium from Africa, and claims that Saddam would give WMDs to terrorists plotting attacks on the US.

He said: "Why was the scepticism left out of the White Paper? Was it because of pressure from the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans?"

Whatever the reason, the global credibility of the US had "taken a very big hit". There was now less support around the world for the US and for the war on terror, he said.

Mr Bush has appointed a commission to examine pre-war intelligence on Iraq. But it will only report in early 2005, after the election. Democrats will do their utmost to keep the issue in the public eye. Suspicions that the administration misled the public over Iraq have helped dent the President's popularity. Two polls yesterday showed him trailing John Kerry, his probable Democratic opponent in November, by between six and eight points.

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