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Hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee - Future Worldwide Threats to U.S. National Security

Location: Washington, DC

Federal News Service






SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D-MA): Thank you. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Tenet, in your speech last month at Georgetown, you said the intelligence community never said the threat from Iraq was imminent. You defended the agency, talked about the difficulty of obtaining accurate intelligence, but you clearly put some distance between the intelligence you provided and the way President Bush used it to justify the war.

The key issue is whether the threat was serious enough and the intelligence good enough to go to war. The national security adviser said we should (sic) wait for, quote, "the mushroom cloud." The White House press office said the threat was imminent. Vice President Cheney said he was convinced that Saddam would be acquiring nuclear weapons fairly soon.

President Bush himself may not have used the words "imminent," but he carefully chose strong and loaded words about the threat, words the intelligence community never used-never used-to prepare the nation to go to war against Iraq.

President Bush said Saddam was "on the verge" of acquiring nuclear capability. He described it as a "threat of unique urgency," a "unique and urgent threat." These are all October 2002 Rose Garden, November 20 NATO-give you the citations. He described it as a "threat of unique urgency," a "unique and urgent threat," a "grave threat," and spoke of a mushroom cloud. Now, did you ever use those words to describe Iraq to the president?

MR. TENET: Sir, I think that the way we described the threat to the president, and it's clear in our key judgments in our National Intelligence Estimate, we believed that Saddam Hussein, in addition to the key judgments we made on chemical and biological and expanding his BW capability, we believed that he was continuing his efforts to deceive us and build programs that might constantly surprise us and threaten our interests.

SEN. KENNEDY: All right. Did you ever tell him that he was overstating the case? You see him every other morning after he makes these statements. Did you ever tell him, "Mr. President, you're overstating the case?" Did you ever tell Condoleezza Rice? Did you ever tell the Vice President that they were overstating the case? And if you didn't, why not?

MR. TENET: Well, Senator, I do the intelligence. They then take the intelligence and assess the risk and make a policy judgment about what they think about it. I engage with them every day. If there are areas where I thought someone said something they shouldn't say, I talked to them about it. There are instances, obviously, with regard to the State of the Union speech where I felt the responsibility to say something that the president said should not have been in that speech.

But I will tell you that I've now worked on Iraq in consecutive administrations and I have watched policymakers take language from intelligence and translate it into language where they do the risk calculus. They think about what the policy implications are and then talk about it in ways that we may not necessarily talk about.

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, when do you feel that they are talking about or misrepresenting it? What's your responsibility? I mean, when do you say no? You give them the intelligence. You indicated here this morning that they put the sense of urgency on it, that was the quote. And when you see this intelligence you provide being misrepresented, misstated by the highest authorities, when do you say no?

MR. TENET: Well, sir --

SEN. KENNEDY: You can't have it both ways, can you, Mr. Tenet? You can't on the one hand just say look, we never said that war was imminent, and then have these superheated dialogue and rhetoric which are semantically the same as imminent and not-and tell us here before the committee that you have no obligation to correct it or didn't even try.

MR. TENET: Senator, I can tell you that I'm not going to sit here today and tell you what my interaction was and what I did or what I didn't do except that you have the confidence to know that when I believed that somebody was misconstruing intelligence I said something about it. I don't stand up in public and do it. I do my job the way I did it in two administrations. And policymakers-you know, this is a tough road. Policymakers take data. They interpret threat. They assess risk. They put urgency behind it, and sometimes it doesn't uniquely comport with every word of an intelligence estimate.

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, Director, I'm not talking about parsing words.

MR. TENET: No, sir, I understand that.

SEN. KENNEDY: We're talking about words that are basically warmongering. There's a big distinction, I think. These are semantically the same as an imminent threat. People understood that. When you talk about a mushroom cloud, how much more imminent threat could there be? And if you're saying that there was no immediate threat and you hear either the president, the vice president, the secretary of Defense using that super-heated rhetoric, we have to ask: What is your responsibility? When do you say that this is more than just my interpretation, this is clearly going beyond the pale? Or don't you feel that way?

MR. TENET: No, sir, I have a responsibility. I lived up to my responsibilities; I talked to our policymakers. At the same time, you know the context of what we were talking about here-the fact that in one of our key judgments, whether right or wrong, we felt and stated there was a lot that we did not know and we constantly felt that we might be surprised by our lack of access. There was a history they brought to us, there was use, there was the relationship with the U.N. And at the end of the day, they made policy judgments, and they talk about things differently.

SEN. KENNEDY: All right. On that then-but do you believe the administration, then, misrepresented the facts to justify the war?

MR. TENET: No, sir, I don't.

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, why not?

MR. TENET: In terms of policy-in policy judgments-you know, sir, there are places where I intervened, and I clearly talked to you about the State of the Union address; or a couple of weeks ago after my Georgetown speech, I talked to the vice president about the fact that the mobile BW vans, there was no consensus in our intelligence community. And I think I've done my job the same way in two administrations.

SEN. KENNEDY: Time is up, Mr. Chairman.

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