CIA Director George Tenet plans to try to correct what he considers “misperceptions” about prewar intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in his first public appearance since fresh controversy erupted over the issue, an intelligence official said Wednesday.
In a speech at Georgetown University on Thursday, Tenet will “correct some of the misperceptions and downright inaccuracies concerning what the intelligence community reported and did not report regarding Iraq,” the U.S. intelligence official said on condition of anonymity.
“He will point out it is premature to reach conclusions,” the official added.
The furor over whether Iraq possessed banned weapons before the U.S.-led war flared again recently after former chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kay said he believed there were no large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq.
Kay, who was appointed by Tenet, had led the hunt since June for evidence of banned weapons and an active program to build nuclear weapons — the centerpiece for the U.S. decision to launch a pre-emptive invasion of Iraq last year.
After resigning in late January, Kay said the WMD search team had found probably 85 percent of what there was to find in Iraq.
His blunt comments that prewar intelligence on Iraq had been wrong bolstered calls for an independent inquiry and prompted the White House to agree to set up a commission to investigate the intelligence.
Expected to reject criticisms
Tenet is expected to reject some of the criticisms that have been leveled at the intelligence agencies.
“People who have leaped to the conclusion that the intelligence was all wrong simply aren’t right,” the intelligence official said. “Those who say the search for WMD is 85 percent finished are 100 percent wrong.”
Tenet plans to echo what other administration officials and congressional Republicans have been saying — that it is premature to reach firm conclusions.
“He’s going to make the point that in the search for WMD, there is still plenty of work that needs to be done on the ground before any conclusions should be reached,” the intelligence official said.
Rumsfeld to the defense
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defended the war in testimony to congressional committees on Wednesday and held out the possibility that the team still hunting for banned weapons in Iraq eventually might find them.
He said the intelligence agencies had a “tough assignment” trying to crack closed societies and avoid surprises from threats that can emerge suddenly.
Rumsfeld noted that when the intelligence agencies fail, “the world knows it. And when they succeed, as they often do to our country’s great benefit, their accomplishments often have to remain secret.”
Rumsfeld said he hoped Tenet would make some of the recent successes public “so that the impression that has and is being created of broad intelligence failures can be dispelled.”
Tenet is expected to talk about the “difficulties and complexities” of intelligence work, where it is unusual to have a complete picture but fragments of information must be pieced together. He also plans to discuss proliferation issues in other countries, the intelligence official said.