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Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Tenet rebuts Cheney

Yesterday, CIA Director George Tenet testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. When responding to questions from some Democratic Senators, Tenet acknowledged that the White House had mischaracterized intelligence evidence about Iraq WMD and/or links to terrorism and that he had privately corrected them.

Jonathan Landay filed the story for Knight-Ridder newspapers.
CIA Director George Tenet on Tuesday rejected recent assertions by Vice President Dick Cheney that Iraq cooperated with the al-Qaida terrorist network and that the administration had proof of an illicit Iraqi biological warfare program....

"I'm not going to sit here and tell you what my interaction was ... and what I did and didn't do, except that you have to have confidence to know that when I believed that somebody was misconstruing intelligence, I said something about it," Tenet said. "I don't stand up publicly and do it."

Tenet admitted to Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee's senior Democrat, that he had told Cheney that the vice president was wrong in saying that two truck trailers recovered in Iraq were "conclusive evidence" that Saddam had a biological weapons program.

Cheney made the assertion in a Jan. 22 interview with National Public Radio.

Tenet said that U.S. intelligence agencies still disagree on the purpose of the trailers. Some analysts believe they were mobile biological-weapons facilities; others think they may have been for making hydrogen gas for weather balloons.
That's good stuff -- though it is kind of late. This has all been public knowledge for some time.

Tenet also shot down the material compiled by Doug Feith, leaked to The Weekly Standard and previously disavowed by the Pentagon:
Levin also questioned Tenet about a Jan. 9 interview with the Rocky Mountain News, in which Cheney cited a November article in the Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, as "the best source of information" on cooperation between Saddam and al-Qaida.

The article was based on a leaked top-secret memorandum. It purportedly set out evidence, compiled by a special Pentagon intelligence cell, that Saddam was in league with al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. It was written by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, the third-highest Pentagon official and a key proponent of the war.

"Did the CIA agree with the contents of the Feith document?" asked Levin.

"Senator, we did not clear the document," replied Tenet. "We did not agree with the way the data was characterized in that document."

Tenet, who pointed out that the Pentagon, too, had disavowed the document, said he learned of the article Monday night, and he planned to speak with Cheney about the CIA's view of the Feith document.
Finally, Landay also brings in the role of Iraqi defectors in fostering intelligence falsehoods:
Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the military's main intelligence arm, said that "some" information provided by defectors had checked out, but that they also gave material that was "fabricated or embellished."
Previously, I noted that the Pentagon found major problems with the overwhelming majority of evidence provided by the defectors -- especially on WMD.

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