05 March 2004
Allegations of Intelligence Distortions a Partisan Issue in 2004
CIA's Tenet to testify on Iraqi intelligence in Congress March
Allegations that intelligence assessments were manipulated or
distorted by the Bush administration to justify the war in Iraq
is shaping up as a major issue in the 2004 presidential election
Senator Edward Kennedy, a strong critic of the invasion of Iraq
and a major supporter of the presumed Democratic candidate John
Kerry, spelled out the Democrats' allegations in a speech to the
Council on Foreign Relations in Washington March 5.
"The Bush Administration is obviously digging in its heels
against any further serious investigation of the reasons we went
to war. The Administration's highest priority is to prevent any
more additional stubborn facts about this fateful issue from coming
to light before the election in November," Kennedy said.
Kennedy said a hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee
March 9 will provide Central Intelligence Director George Tenet
an opportunity to explain his views on how the administration used
intelligence assessments in the period leading up to the invasion.
"If he feels that the White House altered the facts, or misused
the intelligence, or ignored it and relied on dubious sources in
the Iraqi exile community, Tenet should say so, and say it plainly," Kennedy
In his State of the Union speech in January, Bush said investigators
continue to search for the facts surrounding Iraq's weapons of
mass destruction programs.
"We're seeking all the facts. Already, the Kay Report identified
dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities
and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the
United Nations. Had we failed to act, the dictator's weapons of
mass destruction programs would continue to this day. Had we failed
to act, Security Council resolutions on Iraq would have been revealed
as empty threats, weakening the United Nations and encouraging
defiance by dictators around the world. Iraq's torture chambers
would still be filled with victims, terrified and innocent. The
killing fields of Iraq -- where hundreds of thousands of men and
women and children vanished into the sands -- would still be known
only to the killers," Bush said.
"For all who love freedom and peace, the world without Saddam
Hussein's regime is a better and safer place," Bush added
in his State of the Union speech.
Following is the transcript of Kennedy's speech about intelligence
and the war in Iraq:
Senator Edward M. Kennedy Delivers Speech to the Council on Foreign
March 5, 2004
For Immediate Release
Contact: David Smith / Jim Manley
SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY SPEECH TO THE COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS
Thank you, Glenn Kessler, for that generous introduction. As you
all know, Glenn does an outstanding job covering diplomacy and
foreign policy for the Washington Post.
It's a privilege to be here today with the Council on Foreign
Relations. The Council and its members have a distinguished record
of notable contributions to the national debate over the years.
On the most important foreign policy issues confronting our nation
and the world, the Council is at the forefront. Your views and
analyses are more important than ever today as America tries to
find its way in this vastly transformed modern world.
The nation is engaged in a major ongoing debate about why America
went to war in Iraq, when Iraq was not an imminent threat, had
no nuclear weapons, no persuasive links to Al Qaeda, no connection
to the terrorist attacks of September 11th, and no stockpiles of
weapons of mass destruction.
Over two centuries ago, John Adams spoke eloquently about the
need to let facts and evidence guide actions and policies. He said, "Facts
are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations,
or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of
facts and evidence." Listen to those words again, and you
can hear John Adams speaking to us now about Iraq. "Facts
are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations,
or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of
facts and evidence."
Tragically, in making the decision to go to war in Iraq, the Bush
Administration allowed its wishes, its inclinations and its passions
to alter the state of facts and the evidence of the threat we faced
A month ago, in an address at Georgetown University, CIA Director
George Tenet discussed the strengths and flaws in the intelligence
on Iraq. Tenet testified to several Senate and House committees
on these issues, and next Tuesday, he will come before our Senate
Armed Services Committee. He will have an opportunity to explain
why he waited until last month to publicly state the facts and
evidence on these fundamental questions, and why he was so silent
when it mattered most - in the days and months leading up to the
If he feels that the White House altered the facts, or misused
the intelligence, or ignored it and relied on dubious sources in
the Iraqi exile community, Tenet should say so, and say it plainly.
It is not sufficient for Tenet to say only, as he did last week
to the Senate Intelligence Committee, that we must be patient.
When he was appointed Director of Central Intelligence in 1997,
Tenet said to President Clinton. "... I have believed that
you...and the Vice President must be provided with ... complete
and objective intelligence...We must always be straight and tell
you the facts as we know them." The American people and our
men and women serving in Iraq deserve the facts and they deserve
The rushed decision to invade Iraq cannot all be blamed on flawed
intelligence. If we view these events simply as an intelligence
failure - rather than a larger failure of decision-making and leadership
- we will learn the wrong lessons.
The more we find out, the clearer it becomes that any failure
in the intelligence itself is dwarfed by the Administration's manipulation
of the intelligence in making the case for war. Specific warnings
from the intelligence community were consistently ignored as the
Administration rushed toward war.
We now know that from the moment President Bush took office, Iraq
was given high priority as unfinished business from the first Bush
According to former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's account
in Ron Suskind's book, The Price of Loyalty, Iraq was on the agenda
at the very first meeting of the National Security Council, just
ten days after President Bush's inauguration in 2001. At that meeting,
the President quickly - and wrongly - concluded that the U.S. could
not do much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He said we
should "pull out of that situation," and then turned
to a discussion of "how Iraq is destabilizing the region."
Secretary O'Neill remembers: "Getting Hussein was now the
Administration's focus. From the start, we were building the case
against Hussein and looking at how we could take him out and change
Iraq into a new country. And, if we did that, it would solve everything.
It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it.
The President saying, 'Fine. Go find me a way to do this.'"
By the end of February 2001, the talk on Iraq was mostly about
how - and how quickly - to get rid of Saddam Hussein. President
Bush was clearly frustrated with what the intelligence community
was providing. According to Secretary O'Neill, on May 16, 2001,
he and the other principals of the National Security Council met
with the President to discuss the Middle East. Tenet presented
his intelligence report, and told the President that it was still
only speculation whether Saddam had weapons of mass destruction,
or was even starting a program to build such weapons.
Secretary O'Neill says: "Everything Tenet sent up to Bush
and Cheney about Iraq was very judicious and precisely qualified.
The President was clearly very interested in weapons or weapons
programs - and frustrated about our weak intelligence capability
- but Tenet was clearly being careful to say, here's the little
that we know and the great deal that we don't. That wouldn't change,
and I read those CIA reports for two years," said O'Neill.
Then came 9/11. In the months that followed, the war in Afghanistan
and the hunt for Osama bin Laden had obvious priority. Al Qaeda
was clearly the most imminent threat to our national security.
In fact, in his testimony to Congress in February 2001, one month
after President Bush's inauguration and seven months before 9/11,
Tenet had said: "Osama bin Laden and his global network of
lieutenants and associates remain the most immediate and serious
threat." That testimony emphasized the clear danger of bin
Laden in light of the specific attacks in previous years on American
citizens and American institutions.
In February 2002, five months after 9/11, Tenet testified: "Last
year, I told you that Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network
were the most immediate and serious threat this country faced.
This remains true despite the progress we have made in Afghanistan
and in disrupting the network elsewhere."
Even during the buildup to the war in Iraq, in February 2003,
Tenet again testified, "the threat from Al Qaeda remains ...
We place no limitations on our expectations on what Al Qaeda might
do to survive ... Al Qaeda is living in the expectation of resuming
In his testimony last week to the Senate Intelligence Committee,
Tenet repeated his earlier warnings. He said again that Al Qaeda
is not defeated and that "We are still at war...This is a
learning organization that remains committed to attacking the United
States, its friends and allies."
Tenet never used that kind of strong language to describe the
threat from Iraq. Yet despite all the clear and consistent warnings
about Al Qaeda, by the summer of 2002, President Bush was ready
for war with Iraq. The war in Afghanistan was no longer in the
headlines or at the center of attention. Bin Laden was hard to
find, the economy was in trouble, and so was the President's approval
rating in the polls.
Karl Rove had tipped his hand earlier by stating that the war
on terrorism could bring political benefits as well. The President's
undeniable goal was to convince the American people that war was
necessary - and necessary soon, because soon-to-be-acquired nuclear
weapons in the hands of Saddam Hussein could easily be handed off
This conclusion was not supported by the facts, but the intelligence
could be retrofitted to support it. Greg Thielmann, former Director
of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research,
put it bluntly last July. He said, "Some of the fault lies
with the performance of the intelligence community, but most of
it lies with the way senior officials misused the information they
were provided." He said, "They surveyed the data, and
picked out what they liked. The whole thing was bizarre. The Secretary
of Defense had this huge Defense Intelligence Agency, and he went
around it." Thielmann also said, "This administration
has had a faith-based intelligence attitude, its top-down use of
intelligence: we know the answers; give us the intelligence to
support those answers...Going down the list of administration deficiencies,
or distortions, one has to talk about, first and foremost, the
nuclear threat being hyped," he said.
David Albright, the former weapons inspector with the International
Atomic Energy Agency, put it this way: "Leaders will use worst
case assessments that point to nuclear weapons to generate political
support because they know people fear nuclear weapons so much."
Even though they make semantic denials, there is no doubt that
senior Administration officials were suggesting the threat from
Iraq was imminent.
At a roundtable discussion with European journalists last month,
Secretary Rumsfeld insisted: "I never said imminent threat."
In fact, Secretary Rumsfeld had told the House Armed Services
Committee on September 18, 2002, "...Some have argued that
the nuclear threat from Iraq is not imminent - that Saddam is at
least 5-7 years away from having nuclear weapons. I would not be
In February 2003, with war only weeks away, then Deputy Press
Secretary Scott McClellan was asked why NATO allies should support
Turkey's request for military assistance against Iraq. His clear
response was, "This is about an imminent threat." In
May 2003, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was asked whether
we went to war "because we said WMD were a direct and imminent
threat to the United States." Fleischer responded, "Absolutely."
What else could National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice have
been suggesting, other than an imminent threat - an extremely imminent
threat - when she said on September 8, 2002, "We don't want
the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
President Bush himself may not have used the word "imminent",
but he carefully chose strong and loaded words about the nature
of the threat - words that the intelligence community never used
- to persuade and prepare the nation to go to war against Iraq.
In the Rose Garden on October 2, 2002, as Congress was preparing
to vote on authorizing the war, the President said the Iraqi regime "is
a threat of unique urgency."
In a speech in Cincinnati on October 7, President Bush echoed
Condoleezza Rice's image of nuclear devastation: "Facing clear
evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof - the smoking
gun - that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."
At a political appearance in New Mexico on October 28, 2002, after
Congress had voted to authorize war, and a week before the election,
President Bush said Iraq is a "real and dangerous threat."
At a NATO summit on November 20, 2002, President Bush said Iraq
posed a "unique and urgent threat."
In Fort Hood, Texas on January 3, 2003, President Bush called
the Iraqi regime a "grave threat."
Nuclear weapons. Mushroom cloud. Unique and urgent threat. Real
and dangerous threat. Grave threat. This was the Administration's
rallying cry for war. But those were not the words of the intelligence
community. The community recognized that Saddam was a threat, but
it never suggested the threat was imminent, or immediate, or urgent.
In his speech last month at Georgetown, CIA Director Tenet stated
that, despite attempts to acquire a nuclear capability, Saddam
was many years away from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Tenet's precise
words were: "We said Saddam did not have a nuclear weapon,
and probably would have been unable to make one until 2007 to 2009."
The acquisition of enough nuclear material is an extremely difficult
task for a country seeking nuclear weapons. Tenet bluntly stated
that the intelligence community had "detected no such acquisition" by
Saddam. The October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate also outlined
the disagreement in the intelligence community over whether the
notorious aluminum tubes were intended for nuclear weapons or not.
Tenet clearly distanced himself from the Administration's statements
about the urgency of the threat from Iraq in his speech at Georgetown.
But he stopped short of saying the Administration distorted the
intelligence or relied on other sources to make the case for war.
He said he only gave the President the CIA's daily assessment of
the intelligence, and the rest he did not know.
Tenet needs to explain to Congress and the country why he waited
until last month - nearly a year after the war started - to set
the record straight. Intelligence analysts had long been frustrated
about the way intelligence was being misused to justify war. In
February 2003, an official described the feelings of some analysts
in the intelligence agencies to the New York Times, saying "I
think there is also a sense of disappointment with the community's
leadership that they are not standing up for them at a time when
the intelligence is obviously being politicized."
Why wasn't CIA Director Tenet correcting the President and the
Vice President and the Secretary of Defense a year ago, when it
could have made a difference, when it could have prevented a needless
war, when it could have saved so many lives?
It was Vice President Cheney who first laid out the trumped up
argument for war with Iraq to an unsuspecting public. In a speech
on August 26, 2002, to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, he asserted: "...We
now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear
weapons...Many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear
weapons fairly soon." As we now know, the intelligence community
was far from certain. Yet the Vice President had been convinced.
On September 8, 2002, Cheney was even more emphatic about Saddam.
He said, "[We] do know, with absolute certainty, that he is
using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs
in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon." The
intelligence community was deeply divided about the aluminum tubes,
but Cheney was absolutely certain.
Where was the CIA Director when the Vice President was going nuclear
about Saddam going nuclear? Did Tenet fail to convince the policy
makers to cool their overheated rhetoric? Did he even try to convince
One month later, on the eve of the watershed vote by Congress
to authorize the war, President Bush said it even more vividly.
He said, "Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum
tubes...which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. If
the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy, or steal an amount of
highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball,
it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year. And if we allow
that to happen, a terrible line would be crossed...Saddam Hussein
would be in a position to pass nuclear technology to terrorists."
In fact, as we now know, the intelligence community was far from
unified on Iraq's nuclear threat. The Administration attempted
to conceal that fact by classifying the information and the dissents
within the intelligence community until after the war, even while
making dramatic and excessive public statements about the immediacy
of the danger.
In a February 2004 article in the Atlantic Monthly, Ken Pollack,
a former CIA analyst who supported the war, said, "...Time
after time senior Administration officials discussed only the worst
case and least likely scenario, and failed to mention the intelligence
community's most likely scenario." In a January interview,
Pollack added, "Only the Administration has access to all
the information available to various agencies of the U.S. government
- and withholding or downplaying some of that information for its
own purposes is a betrayal of that responsibility."
In October 2002, the intelligence agencies jointly issued a National
Intelligence Estimate stating that "most agencies" believed
that Iraq had restarted its nuclear program after inspectors left
in 1998, and that, if left unchecked, Iraq "probably will
have a nuclear weapon during this decade."
The State Department's intelligence bureau, however, said the "available
evidence" was inadequate to support that judgment. It refused
to predict when "Iraq could acquire a nuclear device or weapon."
The National Intelligence Estimate cited a foreign government
report that, as of early 2001, Niger planned to send several tons
of nuclear material to Iraq. The Estimate also said, "reports
indicate that Iraq has sought uranium ore from Somalia and possibly
the Democratic Republic of the Congo." The State Department's
intelligence bureau, however, responded that claims of Iraq seeking
to purchase nuclear material from Africa were "highly dubious." The
CIA sent two memos to the White House stressing strong doubts about
But the following January, the President included the claims about
Africa in his State of the Union Address, and conspicuously cited
the British government as the source of that intelligence.
Information about nuclear weapons was not the only intelligence
distorted by the Administration. On the question of whether Iraq
was pursuing a chemical weapons program, the Defense Intelligence
Agency concluded in September 2002 that "there is no reliable
information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical
weapons, or where Iraq has - or will - establish its chemical warfare
agent production facilities."
That same month, however, Secretary Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed
Services Committee that Saddam has chemical-weapons stockpiles.
He said that "we do know that the Iraqi regime has chemical
and biological weapons of mass destruction," that Saddam "has
amassed large clandestine stocks of chemical weapons," that "he
has stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons," and that
Iraq has "active chemical, biological and nuclear programs." He
was wrong on all counts.
Yet the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate actually quantified
the size of the stockpiles, finding that "although we have
little specific information on Iraq's CW stockpile, Saddam probably
has stocked at least 100 metric tons and possibly as much as 500
metric tons of CW agents - much of it added in the last year." In
his speech at the United Nations on February 5, 2003, Secretary
of State Powell went further, calling the 100-500 metric ton stockpile
a "conservative estimate."
Secretary Rumsfeld made an even more explicit assertion in his
March 30, 2003, interview on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." When
asked about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, he said, "We
know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad
and east, west, south and north somewhat."
The second major claim in the Administration's case for war was
the linkage between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.
Significantly here as well, the Intelligence Estimate did not
find a cooperative relationship between Saddam and Al Qaeda. On
the contrary, it stated only that such a relationship might happen
if Saddam were "sufficiently desperate" - in other words,
if America went to war. But the estimate placed "low confidence" that,
even in desperation, Saddam would give weapons of mass destruction
to Al Qaeda.
A year before the war began, senior Al Qaeda leaders themselves
had rejected a link with Saddam. The New York Times reported last
June that a top Al Qaeda planner and recruiter captured in March
2002 told his questioners last year that "the idea of working
with Mr. Hussein's government had been discussed among Al Qaeda
leaders, but Osama bin Laden had rejected such proposals." According
to the Times, an Al Qaeda chief of operations had also told interrogators
that the group did not work with Saddam.
Mel Goodman, a CIA analyst for 20 years, put it bluntly: "Saddam
Hussein and bin Laden were enemies. Bin Laden considered and said
that Saddam was the socialist infidel. These were very different
kinds of individuals competing for power in their own way and Saddam
Hussein made very sure that Al Qaeda couldn't function in Iraq."
In February 2003, investigators at the FBI told the New York Times
they were baffled by the Administration's insistence on a solid
link between Al Qaeda and Iraq. One investigator said: "We've
been looking at this hard for more than a year and you know what,
we just don't think it's there."
But President Bush was not deterred. He was relentless in using
America's fears after the devastating 9/11 tragedy. He drew a clear
link - and drew it repeatedly - between Al Qaeda and Saddam.
In a September 25, 2002, statement at the White House, President
Bush flatly declared: "You can't distinguish between Al Qaeda
and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror."
In his State of the Union Address in January 2003, President Bush
said, "Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications,
and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein
aids and protects terrorists, including members of Al Qaeda," and
that he could provide "lethal viruses" to a "shadowy
Two weeks later, in his radio address to the nation, a month before
the war began, President Bush described the ties in detail, saying, "Saddam
Hussein has longstanding, direct and continuing ties to terrorist
He said: "Senior members of Iraqi intelligence and Al Qaeda
have met at least eight times since the early 1990s. Iraq has sent
bomb-making and document-forgery experts to work with Al Qaeda.
Iraq has also provided Al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons
training. An Al Qaeda operative was sent to Iraq several times
in the late 1990s for help in acquiring poisons and gases. We also
know that Iraq is harboring a terrorist network headed by a senior
Al Qaeda terrorist planner. This network runs a poison and explosive
training camp in northeast Iraq, and many of its leaders are known
to be in Baghdad."
In fact, there was no operational link and no clear and persuasive
pattern of ties between the Iraqi government and Al Qaeda. That
fact should have been abundantly clear to the President. Iraq and
Al Qaeda had diametrically opposing views of the world.
In the march to war, the President exaggerated the threat anyway.
It was not subtle. It was not nuanced. It was pure, unadulterated
fear-mongering, based on a devious strategy to convince the American
people that Saddam's ability to provide nuclear weapons to Al Qaeda
justified immediate war.
Why would the Administration go to such lengths to go to war?
Was it trying to change the subject from its failed economic policy,
the corporate scandals, and its failed effort to capture Osama
bin Laden? The only imminent threat was the November Congressional
election. The politics of the election trumped the stubborn facts.
Early in the Bush Administration, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill
had raised concerns about politics pervading the process in the
Comparing the Bush Administration and previous Republican Administrations,
he said, referring to Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and Karen Hughes: "The
biggest difference ... is that our group was mostly about evidence
and analysis - and Karl, Dick, Karen and the gang seemed to be
mostly about politics."
In the late winter and early spring of 2002, in the aftermath
of the Enron and other corporate scandals, as Ron Suskind, the
author of the O'Neill book wrote, "...Rove told numerous administration
officials that the poll data was definitive: the scandals were
hurting the President, a cloud in an otherwise blue sky for the
soaring, post-Afghanistan Bush."
The evidence so far leads to only one conclusion. What happened
was not merely a failure of intelligence, but the result of manipulation
and distortion of the intelligence and selective use of unreliable
intelligence to justify a decision to go to war. The Administration
had made up its mind, and would not let stubborn facts stand in
Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, a recently retired Air Force intelligence
officer who served in the Pentagon during the buildup to the war,
said: "It wasn't intelligence -- it was propaganda...they'd
take a little bit of intelligence, cherry pick it, make it sound
much more exciting, usually by taking it out of context, usually
by juxtaposition of two pieces of information that don't belong
As it now appears, the Iraqi expatriates who had close ties to
the Pentagon and were so eager for the war may well have been the
source of the hyped intelligence. As Walter Pincus reported today
in the Washington Post, "The Bush Administration's prewar
assertion that Saddam Hussein had a fleet of mobile labs that could
produce bioweapons rested largely on information from an Iraqi
defector working with another government who was never interviewed
by U.S. intelligence officers."
The Iraqi exiles have even begun to brag about it.
The Pentagon's favorite Iraqi dissident, Ahmed Chalabi, is actually
proud of what happened. "We are heroes in error," Chalabi
recently said. "As far as we're concerned, we've been entirely
successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in
Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush Administration
is looking for a scapegoat. We're ready to fall on our swords,
if he wants."
Our men and women in uniform are still paying with their lives
for this misguided war in Iraq. CIA Director Tenet could perform
no greater service to the armed forces, to the American people,
and to our country, than to set the record straight, and state
unequivocally what is so clearly the truth: the Bush Administration
misrepresented the facts to justify the war.
America went to war in Iraq because President Bush insisted that
nuclear weapons in the hands of Saddam Hussein and his ties to
Al Qaeda were too dangerous to ignore. Congress never would have
voted to authorize the war if we had known the facts.
The Bush Administration is obviously digging in its heels against
any further serious investigation of the reasons we went to war.
The Administration's highest priority is to prevent any more additional
stubborn facts about this fateful issue from coming to light before
the election in November.
This debate will go on anyway in Congress and in communities across
the country. The most important decision any President makes is
the decision on war or peace. No President who misleads the country
on the need for war deserves to be reelected. A President who does
so must be held accountable. The last thing our nation needs is
a sign on the desk in the Oval Office in the White House that says, "The
buck doesn't stop here any more." Thank you very much.