WASHINGTON – CIA Director George Tenet (search) must explain why he waited until last month to "set the record straight" that Iraq posed no immediate threat to the United State in the months leading up to the war, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (search) said Friday.
Kennedy, D-Mass., said Tenet must explain why he never corrected President Bush and others in the administration when they warned of a nuclear threat building in Iraq.
"Where was the CIA director when the vice president was going nuclear about Saddam going nuclear?" said Kennedy in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations (search). "Did Tenet fail to convince the policy-makers to cool their overheated rhetoric? Did he even try to convince them?"
Kennedy, a persistent and vigorous Bush critic, said the administration distorted and manipulated the intelligence, when "the only imminent threat was the November congressional election."
It was, Kennedy said, "pure, unadulterated fear-mongering," in order to justify Bush's determined decision to go to war.
A CIA spokesman declined to comment.
In a speech last month, Tenet said that Saddam Hussein's government had posed a danger but that analysts had had varying opinions about whether Iraq possessed chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. He said that information was passed on to the White House.
The analysts, said Tenet, "never said there was an imminent threat." But while he has distanced himself from the administration's assertions of an urgent threat in Iraq, Tenet has never said the White House distorted the intelligence.
Meanwhile Friday, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said that "our senior leaders are still in a deep state of denial" about intelligence failures.
Rep. Jane Harman of California said in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute (search) that she sees "no discernible signs from the vice president or president acknowledging the obvious flaws in our intelligence systems."
"The White House is unwilling to fix the problems in an election year, and so it has kicked the can down the road," she said.
Harman did not mention Tenet in her speech, but defended him in response to a question from the audience.
"The senior leadership I was talking to is above Tenet's pay grade," she said. "As far as George Tenet goes I have given him credit, I believe this, for many of the reforms at the CIA ... and my own personal view is that while he serves at the pleasure of the president, I hope he will serve through this year."
Kennedy is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, where Tenet is scheduled to testify Tuesday. During that appearance, Kennedy said, the CIA director will have the opportunity to explain "why he was so silent when it mattered most — in the days and months leading up to the war."
Tenet, named to the CIA post by President Clinton, has been on the hot seat for months as Congress has questioned the quality of the intelligence on Iraq and the existence of weapons of mass destruction (search).