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Rediscovered testimony given by CIA director in 2001 suggests manipulation of pre-war intelligence

by Open-Publishing - Friday 6 January 2006

Wars and conflicts Governments Secret Services USA Jason Leopold

By Jason Leopold

President George W. Bush’s attempt Friday to silence critics who say his
administration manipulated prewar intelligence on Iraq is undercut by
congressional testimony given in February 2001 by former CIA Director George
Tenet, who said that Iraq posed no immediate threat to the United States or
other countries in the Middle East.

Details of Tenet’s testimony have not been reported before.

Since a criminal indictment was handed up last month against Vice President
Dick Cheney’s former Chief of Staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, for his role
in allegedly leaking the name of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson to
reporters in an attempt to muzzle criticism of the administration’s
rationale for war, questions have resurfaced in the halls of Congress about
whether the president and his close advisers manipulated intelligence in an
effort to dupe lawmakers and the American public into believing Saddam
Hussein was a grave threat.

The White House insists that such a suggestion is ludicrous and wholly
political. It has launched a full-scale public relations effort to restate
its case for war by saying Democrats saw the same intelligence as their
Republican counterparts prior to the March 2003 invasion.

But as a bipartisan investigation into prewar intelligence heats up, some
key Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), have unearthed
unreported evidence that indicates Congress was misled. This evidence
includes Tenet’s testimony before Congress, dissenting views from the
scientific community and statements made by members of the administration in
early 2001.

Tenet told Congress http://www.fas.org/irp/threat/bian_feb_2001.htm in
February 2001 that Iraq was "probably" pursuing chemical and biological
weapons programs but that the CIA had no direct evidence that Iraq had
actually obtained such weapons. However, such caveats as "may" and
"probably" were removed from intelligence reports by key members of the Bush
administration immediately after 9/11 when discussing Iraq.

"We do not have any direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since
(Operation) Desert Fox to reconstitute its WMD programs," Tenet said in an
agency report http://www.fas.org/irp/threat/bian_feb_2001.htm to Congress
Feb. 7, 2001. "Moreover, the automated video monitoring systems installed by
the UN at known and suspect WMD facilities in Iraq are still not operating.
Having lost this on-the-ground access, it is more difficult for the UN or
the U.S. to accurately assess the current state of Iraq’s WMD programs."

In fact, more than two dozen pieces of testimony and interviews of top
officials in the Bush administration, including those given by former
Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz prior to 9-11, show that the U.S.
never believed Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat to anyone other than
his own people.

Powell said the U.S. had successfully "contained" Iraq in the years since
the first Gulf War. Further, he said that because of economic sanctions,
Iraq was unable to obtain WMD.

"We have been able to keep weapons from going into Iraq," Powell said during
a Feb. 11, 2001 interview with "Face the Nation." "We have been able to keep
the sanctions in place to the extent that items that might support weapons
of mass destruction development have had some controls."

"It’s been quite a success for ten years," he added.

During a meeting with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in February
2001, Powell said https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-110hres1345rth/html/BILLS-110hres1345rth.htm the UN, the U.S. and its allies "have succeeded in containing
Saddam Hussein and his ambitions."

Saddam’s "forces are about one-third their original size. They don’t really
possess the capability to attack their neighbors the way they did ten years
ago," Powell said.

Powell added that Iraq was "not threatening America."

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld seemed to agree with Powell’s
assessment. In a Feb. 12, 2001 interview http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2001/t02122001_t0211fox.html with
the Fox News Channel, Rumsfeld said, "Iraq is probably not a nuclear threat
at the present time."

Ironically, just five days before Rumsfeld’s Fox News interview, Tenet told
Congress http://www.cia.gov/terrorism/pub_statements_terrorism.html that
Osama bin Laden and his al-Qa’ida terrorist network remained the single
greatest threat to U.S. interests. Tenet eerily describes in the report a
scenario that six months later would become a grim reality.

"Terrorists are also becoming more operationally adept and more technically
sophisticated in order to defeat counter-terrorism measures," the former CIA
director said. "For example, as we have increased security around government
and military facilities, terrorists are seeking out "softer" targets that
provide opportunities for mass casualties."

"Osama bin Laden and his global network of lieutenants and associates remain
the most immediate and serious threat," he added.

Between 1998 and early 2002, the CIA’s reports on the so-called terror
threat offered no details on what types of chemical and biological weapons
Iraq had obtained. After 9/11, however, these reports radically changed. In
October 2002, the agency issued another report http://www.fas.org/irp/cia/product/Iraq_Oct_2002.htm , this time alleging
Iraq had vast supply of chemical and biological weapons. Much of that
information turned out to be based on forged documents and unreliable Iraqi

The October 2002 CIA report stated that Iraq had been stockpiling sarin,
mustard gas, VX and numerous other chemical weapons. This was in stark
contrast to Tenet’s earlier reports which said the agency had no evidence to
support such claims. And unlike testimony Tenet gave a year earlier, in
which he said the CIA had no direct evidence of Iraq’s WMD programs, Tenet
said the intelligence information in the 2002 report was rock solid.

"It comes to us from credible and reliable sources," Tenet said http://www.iraqwatch.org/government/US/CIA/cia-tenet-threats-021103.htm
during a 2003 CIA briefing. "Much of it is corroborated by multiple

The intelligence sources turned out to be Iraqi exiles supplied by then-head
of the Iraqi National Congress Ahmed Chalabi, who was paid $330,000 a month
by the Pentagon to provide intelligence on Iraq. The exiles’ credibility and
the veracity of their reports came under scrutiny by the CIA but these
reports were championed as smoking gun proof by President Bush, Vice
President Dick Cheney and other members of the Bush administration.

Unanswered questions remain. Democrats are increasingly suggesting that the
Administration may have known their intelligence was bad.

Sen. Levin’s office directed RAW STORY to a statement the senator released
Friday, claiming that the administration’s assertion that al-Qaeda was
providing Iraq with chemical and biological weapons training was based on
bogus evidence and a source who knowingly lied about al-Qaeda’s ties to
Iraq. The Michigan Democrat also released a newly declassified report from
the Defense Intelligence Agency to back up his allegations that the Bush
administration misled the public.

"The CIA’s unclassified statement at the time was that the reporting was
’credible,’ a statement the Administration used repeatedly," he said. "What
the Administration omitted was the second half of the CIA statement: that
the source was not in a position to know whether any training had taken

That issue, along with other reports, is now the cornerstone of the
bipartisan investigation into prewar intelligence.

Levin’s office said the senator is going to provide the committee
investigating prewar intelligence with reports from experts who warned
officials in the Bush administration before the Iraq war that intelligence
reports showing Iraq was stockpiling chemical and biological weapons were