WASHINGTON – George Tenet (search) may have provided reasonable explanations as to the nature of intelligence gathering, but the CIA director's claims are not the ones used by the Bush administration to sell Congress on war with Iraq, several Democrats said Thursday.
"[Tenet's] statements were much more cautious — possibilities, probabilities, likelihoods, beliefs, high level of confidence, medium level of confidence ... that's not what the leaders of this administration said. Their statements were that we're certain that he has this — he has chemicals, he has biological weapons," said Sen. Carl Levin (search), D-Mich., ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (search), D-W.Va., told Fox News that the administration "upped the ante a little more than the intelligence called for."
Since former chief weapons inspector David Kay (search) testified before a Senate panel last week that he did not think Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (search) nor are they likely to be found, more and more Democrats continue to insist that the decision to go to war against Iraq was based not only on flawed, pre-war intelligence but also on exaggerations by the Bush administration about the certainty of the intelligence and Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs.
On Thursday, Tenet defended the intelligence community for its work on discovering Saddam Hussein's weapons programs and denied that the intelligence community ever said that the threat was "imminent," a charge that Democrats have frequently made in recent days.
"They never said there was an imminent threat," Tenet said in a speech at Georgetown University about the details agents provided in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate. "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."
Tenet said Saddam was indeed working on unmanned aerial vehicles that could disperse chemical weapons, long-range missiles forbidden by U.N. resolutions, the acquisition of nuclear weapons and the production of biological agents.
"Clearly, research and development work was under way that would have permitted a rapid shift to agent production if seed stocks were available," he said.
Tenet added that analysts concluded Saddam was working on chemical weapons agents after they saw what they believed were satellite photos of shipments of materials from ammunition sites.
Citing sources on the ground in Iraq, Tenet said, "Iraq was aggressively and covertly discussing" building a nuclear weapon. Those sources indicated that the discussions inferred that a weapon could, in fact, be produced in 18 to 24 months.
The CIA director also defended the work of his agents, whom he said "painted an objective assessment" for policy-makers of a "brutal dictator" who was building on programs that "may constantly surprise us and threaten our interests."
"Both here and around the world, the men and women of American intelligence are performing courageously, often brilliantly, to support our military, to stop terrorism and to break up networks of proliferation. The risks are always high. Success and perfect outcomes are never guaranteed. But there's one unassailable fact: We will always call it as we see it," he said.
Speaking in South Carolina about homeland security, President Bush also defended the intelligence used to justify war in Iraq.
"We know that Saddam Hussein (search) had the intent to arm his regime with weapons of mass destruction because he hid the activities until the last day of his regime," Bush said. "He had a record of using weapons of mass destruction against his enemies and against innocent Iraqi citizens ... America did the right thing in Iraq."
On a plane to Munich, Germany, on Thursday for a NATO defense ministers meeting followed by an international security conference between private sector and government officials, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he was pleased with Tenet's presentation and said critics who claim the administration portrayed the threat to U.S. security as "imminent" didn't hear that characterization from him.
"I've read these critics' comments, and I can't find places where I've said those things. I've not gone back and researched everyone else in the administration. But it seems to me that it would be a worthwhile thing to do for folks if they want to get clarity on this. To take what people are saying and couple that and check it," Rumsfeld said.
In Sept. 2002, when Rumsfeld testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the threat from Iraq, he said in his opening statement that Saddam Hussein had "amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of biological weapons including anthrax, botulism toxin and possibly smallpox. He's amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons including vx, sarin and mustard gas. His regime has an active program to acquire nuclear weapons."
On Thursday, Rumsfeld said that, in fact, little daylight exists between Kay's statements and the administration's reports, and he acknowledged that it's unlikely that banned weapons will be found in Iraq.
"The question is the glass half full or half empty. Kay properly said in his judgment we're about 85 percent complete and I forgot what Tenet said, but he basically said what I said, that there is work yet to be done," Rumsfeld said.
Tenet said the hunt for weapons is not nearly over.
"Despite some public statements, we are nowhere near 85 percent finished," Tenet said. "The men and women who work in that dangerous environment are adamant about that fact."
But even with the work unfinished, Democrats are steamed.
"The Bush administration systematically overstated and distorted the case for war in Iraq, and Mr. Tenet, as the chief information source for the administration's faulty war hype, bears the responsibility. He had chance after chance to correct the misuse of intelligence on Iraq, and he missed every one," said Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass. "To restore the integrity of the CIA as a source of un-politicized information, George Tenet must resign."
"The president and [Tenet] both insist that the search must continue for WMD in Iraq before we can evaluate the intelligence. We cannot afford to wait," said Rep. Jane Harman, ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee. "Problems have already been identified by the intelligence committees and by other inquiries. We must take steps now to fix the problems, improve our intelligence, and restore U.S. credibility."
The question of credibility has also extended beyond Tenet. At the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (search) on Thursday, Kay said he doesn't believe analysts' arms were twisted, but he said the president's commission should look into whether political leaders manipulated the intelligence data given them.
"I think that is an important question that needs to be understood," he said.
Tenet and Rumsfeld have both denied allegations that the administration had pressured intelligence agencies to bolster the case for war.
"No one told us what to say or how to say it," Tenet said.
Rockefeller and other members of the Senate Intelligence Committee met behind closed doors Thursday to continue work on their final report about flaws in pre-war intelligence. As they emerged, Rockefeller and Senate Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., were asked whether they believed any members of the intelligence community had been persuaded to beef up the dossier on Iraq.
"In terms of any intimidation or coercion or any manipulation we have just not found that evidence, at all," Roberts said.
"I'm not going there, I think that the whole question of the use of intelligence by policy-makers. After all, [it was] the decision-makers who decided to go to war or not, not the intelligence community," Roberts said.
Rockefeller said the importance of the panel's review is not to cast blame, but to try to improve future analyses and collection of data.
But plenty of Democrats had criticism of the Bush administration.
"There is still a need to create an independent — truly independent — commission to look at the quality of intelligence, to look at this use of alternative intelligence and also look at the use of intelligence," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
It's hard to know how much Democrats are truly outraged and how much is politics. Sens. Levin, Rockefeller and Daschle were all cleared for pre-war intelligence briefings from the CIA and had opportunities to make independent assessments about what the CIA was reporting without any filtering by the administration.
Bush has said that he will name an independent panel to review the quality of intelligence, and the administration announced late Thursday that it would appoint Arizona Sen. John McCain to the panel. McCain's office would not confirm the reports. McCain was also headed to Munich on Thursday.
Fox News' Brian Wilson, Bret Baier and Liza Porteus contributed to this report.