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CIA Chief Takes Blame for False Accusation on Iraq Weapons - 2003-07-12

CIA Director George Tenet is taking responsibility for President Bush's use of an allegation about Iraq's weapons program that turned out to be wrong.

Making his case against Saddam Hussein in his January State of the Union address, President Bush said the then-Iraqi leader had tried to buy uranium here in Africa.

Documents concerning that alleged attempt to buy uranium in Niger were turned over to the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency which concluded they were forgeries.

Mr. Bush was asked about the issue during his visit to Uganda Friday. He said his speech was reviewed by U-S intelligence services and explained to the American people some of the threats they were facing from Saddam Hussein.

"I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services, and it was a speech that detailed to the American people the dangers posed by the Saddam Hussein regime, and my government took the appropriate response to those dangers, and as a result the world is going to be more secure and more peaceful," said Mr. Bush.

The president's National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice says Director Tenet reviewed the president's speech and if anyone at the CIA had doubts about those allegations they "were not communicated to the president."

If Mr. Tenet had said to remove that claim from the speech, Ms. Rice says "it would have been gone."

Mr. Tenet Friday took responsibility for the mistake. In a written statement, he said CIA concerns about the allegations should have prevented that information from being included in the State of the Union.

He says President Bush had every reason to believe that the text presented to him was sound and the mistake raises what he calls "legitimate questions" about the CIA's conduct.

Ms. Rice says the president has absolute confidence in Director Tenet and she is not really blaming anyone. Ms. Rice repeated White House assertions that President Bush did not knowingly say anything in his State of the Union that the White House knew to be false.

Yet just a week later, Secretary of State Colin Powell chose not to use that claim in his speech to the United Nations because he decided it was not appropriate after reviewing what he calls "every single thing" the administration knew about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

He says the issue of the president's use of erroneous information against Iraq is "overblown" and he does not believe it threatens the president's credibility.

The immediacy of the threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was Mr. Bush's biggest justification for invading Iraq. More than two months after the fall of Baghdad, none of those weapons has yet been found.