CIA Director George Tenet has delivered a strong defense of pre-war U.S. intelligence about Iraq's suspected weapons of mass destruction but says many questions still need to be answered about why no weapons have been found. The top U.S. intelligence official spoke out just days after his chief Iraq weapons hunter concluded Saddam Hussein probably had no banned weapons at the time of the U.S.-led invasion last year.
George Tenet says one thing was clear before the start of the war - intelligence from many nations concluded that Iraq was trying to develop illegal weapons and, in some cases, had succeeded. But he denies U.S. intelligence analysts ever suggested to the White House that Iraq posed an urgent threat to the world.
"They never said there was an imminent threat," Mr. Tenet said. "Rather, they painted an objective assessment for our policymakers of a brutal dictator who was continuing his efforts to deceive and build programs that might constantly surprise us and threaten our interests."
Mr. Tenet said the hunt for banned weapons is nowhere near completion. At the same time, he gave tenative backing to conclusions reached by outgoing U.S. weapons inspector David Kay.
"My provisional bottom line today, Saddam had the intent and capability to quickly convert civilian industry to chemical weapons production," he said. "However, we have not yet found the weapons we expected. Just as clearly, we have not yet found biological weapons." This was the first time that the man who holds overall responsibility for the accuracy of U.S. intelligence has spoken out in public about the apparent failure to find stockpiles of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in Iraq.
"Based on an assessment of the data we collected over the past 10 years, it would have been difficult for analysts to come to any different conclusions than the ones reached in October of 2002. However, in our business, simply saying this is not good enough. We must constantly review the quality of our work," he said.
That review will now continue when President Bush appoints members of what he says will be a bipartisan commission to investigate intelligence failures.
CIA Director Tenet denied any political pressure was placed on U.S. intelligence analysts to come up with findings that would have justified the Bush administration's main reason for the Iraq invasion.
His speech comes one year to the day after Secretary of State Colin Powell went before the United Nations and delivered what he said was an exhaustive list of banned weapons which were in Iraq's arsenal. Now, he says he is not sure whether he would have recommended invading Iraq if he had known the country did not have stockpiles of the weapons that the Bush administration said posed a grave and gathering threat to the world.