Tenet Details Intelligence About Iraq's Weapons Program
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 5, 2004 It is still too soon to know if prewar intelligence estimates about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs were accurate, the U.S. director of central intelligence said here today.
But based on facts known today, George J. Tenet did venture to make what he called "provisional" assessments for a Georgetown University audience: that deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein either had, had expressed an interest in, or was pursing ways to get and deliver chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
Tenet said time and additional information will bear out how accurately the intelligence community assessed the threat posed by Saddam in its October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate.
The director explained that "in the intelligence business, you are almost never completely wrong or completely right," and said that when all the facts are in about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs, initial intelligence estimates will be neither completely right nor completely wrong.
The CIA assessment, Tenet said, never claimed that Iraq posed an "imminent threat." Rather, he said, it "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 and threaten us."
Tenet said that assessment was based on several "steams of information." These included Iraq's history of using unconventional weapons, its continued efforts to undermine United Nations inspections, and its failure to account for the weapons.
But just as important, Tenet said, was intelligence gathered through human agents, satellite photos and communications intercepts after U.N. inspectors left Iraq in 1998.
While emphasizing that intelligence gathering and analysis isn't foolproof, Tenet said many of the CIA's assertions are proving to be "on target," although others have yet to be validated.
He said CIA assertions that Iraq had an aggressive missile program it concealed from the international community were "generally on target," and he added that evidence shows Iraq was, in fact, developing prohibited unmanned aerial vehicles. But he acknowledged the "jury is still out" on whether Iraq intended to use these new, smaller vehicles to deliver biological weapons.
Based on facts known today, Tenet said, he believes Saddam did not have a nuclear weapon, but that he wanted one and intended eventually to reconstitute a nuclear program.
"But we have not yet found clear evidence that the dual-use items Iraq sought were for nuclear reconstitution," Tenet said. "We do not know if any reconstitution efforts had begun, but we may have overestimated the progress Saddam was making."
Tenet said he also believes, based on facts known today, that Iraq intended to develop biological weapons.
"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. "But we do not know if production took place, and just as clearly, we have not yet found biological weapons."
Tenet said current information also indicates that Saddam "had the intent and the capability to quickly convert civilian industry to chemical weapons production." However, "we have not yet found the weapons we expected," he acknowledged.
Tenet praised the intelligence community, saying it is "performing courageously, often brilliantly, to support our military, to stop terrorism and to break up networks of proliferation."
He said the intelligence business never is fail-proof and that by definition, "intelligence deals with the unclear, the unknown, the deliberately hidden," and works to reveal "what the enemies of the United States hope to deny."
"The risks are always high, and success and perfect outcomes are never guaranteed," he said. "But we will always call it as we see it."