WASHINGTON – In his first public defense of prewar intelligence, CIA Director George Tenet said Thursday U.S. analysts never claimed before the war that Iraq posed an imminent threat.
Tenet said analysts had varying opinions on the state of Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs and those differences were spelled out in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate given to the White House. That report summarized intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs.
Analysts "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, " he said in a speech at Georgetown University.
"No one told us what to say or how to say it," Tenet said.
He said that "in the intelligence business, you are never completely wrong or completely right ... When the facts of Iraq are all in, we will neither be completely right nor completely wrong."
He 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 made by David Kay, Tenet's former top adviser in the weapons search.
Since Kay resigned two weeks ago, his statements that Saddam Hussein's purported weapons didn't exist at the time of the U.S. invasion have sparked an intense debate over the prewar intelligence the Bush administration used to justify the war.
The failure to find weapons of mass destruction is turning into a major political issue ahead of the presidential election, calling into question the justification for the war as U.S. casualties mount. Republicans in Congress have increasingly been blaming poor intelligence and Tenet, who was originally appointed by President Clinton.
Democrats have said intelligence agencies deserved only part of the blame and have accused the White House of showcasing intelligence that bolstered the case for war, while ignoring dissenting opinions.
Bush was expected to announce another commission this week to review the intelligence community. At least five other inquiries into prewar intelligence are already under way.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., scheduled a meeting Thursday to study a 200-plus-page report compiled by committee staff on the prewar intelligence.