Tenet Takes Responsibility for False Iraq Intelligence
CIA Director Admits Analysts Had Doubts About Information
By John Solomon
Associated Press Writer
Friday, July 11, 2003; 6:53 PM
WASHINGTON (AP) -
CIA Director George Tenet acknowledged Friday his agency wrongly
allowed President Bush to tell the American people that Iraq was
seeking nuclear material from Africa when analysts had doubts about the
quality of the intelligence.
"These 16 words should never
have been included in the text written for the president," Tenet said
in a statement released after Bush and his national security adviser,
Condoleezza Rice, blamed the miscue on the CIA and members of Congress
called for someone to be held accountable.
"This was a mistake," the director's statement said.
Tenet said the responsibility for vetting the allegations included in
Bush's State of the Union address about Iraqi efforts to get uranium
from Africa beloing to the CIA and ultimately with himself.
"Let me be clear about several things right up front," he said. "First,
CIA approved the president's State of the Union address before it was
delivered. Second, I am responsible for the approval process in my
agency. And third, the president had every reason to believe that the
text presented to him was sound."
Tenet said CIA officials
reviewed portions of the draft speech and raised some concerns with
national security aides at the White House that prompted changes in
language concerning allegations that Iraq sought to buy uranium from
the African nation of Niger. But he said the CIA officials failed to
stop the remark from being uttered despite the doubts about its
"Officials who were reviewing the draft remarks
on uranium raised several concerns about the fragmentary nature of the
intelligence with National Security Council colleagues," Tenet said.
"Some of the language was changed. From what we know now, agency
officials in the end concurred that the text in the speech was
factually correct that the British government report said that Iraq
sought uranium from Africa."
"This should not have been
the test for clearing a presidential address," the statement continued.
"This did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required
for presidential speeches, and CIA should have ensured that it was
Tenet's two-page statement came at the end of a
tumultous 24 hours in which reports surfaced suggesting the CIA had
raised concerns about the nature of the African allegations before the
president made his speech.
That prompted Bush and his Rice
to take issue. On a trip in Africa, they said Tenet's agency approved
the language in the speech and never raised objections to them.
Members of Congress called on the CIA to be held accountable. Senate
Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, said Tenet was
ultimately responsible for the mistake.
"The director of
central intelligence is the principal adviser to the president on
intelligence matters," Roberts said. "He should have told the
president. He failed. He failed to do so," Roberts said.
Tenet said there were "legitimate questions" about the CIA's conduct
and he sought in his statement explain his agency's role in the matter.
Although the CIA did not learn until well after the president's speech
in January that some documents obtained by British intelligence that
formed the basis of the Iraq-Niger uranium allegations were forged, CIA
officials recognized at the beginning that the allegation was based on
"fragmentary intelligence gathered in late 2001 and early 2002," the
A former diplomat was sent by the CIA to
the region to check on the allegations and reported back that one of
the Nigerian officials he met "stated that he was unaware of any
contract being signed between Niger and rogue states for the sale of
uranium during his tenure in office," Tenet said.
same former official also said that in June 1999 a businessman
approached him and insisted that the former official meet with an Iraqi
delegation to discuss 'expanding commercial relations' between Iraq and
Niger. The former official interpreted the overture as an attempt to
discuss uranium sales," Tenet said.
The diplomat sent to
the region has alleged he believed Vice President Dick Cheney's office
was apprised of the findings of his trip. But Tenet stated that the CIA
"did not brief it to the president, vice president or other senior
Tenet said when British
officials in fall 2002 discussed making the Niger information public,
his agency expressed their reservations to the British about the
quality of the intelligence.
A CIA report that came out in
October 2002 mentioned the allegations but did not give them full
credence, stating "we cannot confirm whether Iraq succeeded in
acquiring uranium ore." In addition, the report noted that State
Department intelligence analysts found the allegations "highly dubious."
Because of the doubts, Tenet said he never included the allegations in
his own congressional tetsimonies or public statements about Iraqi
efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction.
2003 The Associated Press