What Tenet Knew, When He Knew It, and Whom He Told

In its lead editorial on Sunday, "Still Waiting for Answers," the New York Times expressed the hope that Rep. Henry Waxman will enforce the subpoena of Condoleezza Rice -- and that she be held in contempt of Congress if she refuses to testify -- in order to force her to discuss:

prewar claims about Saddam Hussein's long-gone weapons programs. . . .  including a false report about the purchase of aluminum tubes for bomb building, talk of mushroom clouds and fairy tales about links between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

Saddam's "long-gone weapons programs," a "false report about the purchase of aluminum tubes," "talk of mushroom clouds," and "fairy tales about links between Iraq and Al Qaeda."  Where did all those "claims" come from?  Neocons?  Rogue intelligence operations in the Defense Department?  Condi Rice?

No subpoena is necessary to answer that question.  One need only go to the CIA website and pull down George Tenet's February 11, 2003 testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence -- given five weeks before the war commenced.  In that testimony, Tenet summarized "key points" relating to Iraq -- information he characterized as "based on a solid foundation of intelligence," much of it "corroborated by multiple sources."

Tenet informed Congress that Iraq had in place an "active effort to deceive UN inspectors and deny them access" -- "directed by the highest levels of the Iraqi regime" -- with "clear directions" to hide banned materials they possessed, including a biological weapons program with mobile research and production facilities that would be "difficult, if not impossible, for the inspectors to find."  He then turned to Iraq's nuclear weapons program:

Iraq has established a pattern of clandestine procurements designed to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program.  These procurements include-but also go well beyond-the aluminum tubes that you have heard so much about. . . .

Iraq has tested unmanned aerial vehicles to ranges that far exceed both what it declared to the United Nations and what it is permitted under UN resolutions.  We are concerned that Iraq's UAVs can dispense chemical and biological weapons and that they can deliver such weapons to Iraq's neighbors or, if transported, to other countries, including the United States.

Iraq is harboring senior members of a terrorist network led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a close associate of Usama Bin Ladin.  We know Zarqawi's network was behind the poison plots in Europe that I discussed earlier as well as the assassination of a US State Department employee in Jordan.

Iraq has in the past provided training in document forgery and bomb-making to al-Qa'idaIt also provided training in poisons and gasses to two al-Qa'ida associates; one of these associates characterized the relationship he forged with Iraqi officials as successful. 

Mr. Chairman, this information is based on a solid foundation of intelligence.  It comes to us from credible and reliable sources.  Much of it is corroborated by multiple sources.  And it is consistent with the pattern of denial and deception exhibited by Saddam Hussein over the past 12 years.  [Emphases added].

A year later, after Saddam had been removed but no major stockpiles of WMD had been found, George Tenet appeared at Georgetown University on February 5, 2004 to speak on Iraq's WMD Programs.  He confirmed that

"[w]e believed that Iraq had lethal Biological Weapon agents, including anthrax, which it could quickly produce and weaponize for delivery by bombs, missiles, aerial sprayers, and covert operatives." 

Regarding nuclear weapons, Tenet said this:

Let me tell you some of what was going on in the fall of 2002.  Several sensitive reports crossed my desk from two sources characterized by our foreign partners as "established and reliable." 

The first, from a source who had direct access to Saddam and his inner circle said . . . Iraq was aggressively and covertly developing such a [nuclear] weapon.  Saddam had recently called together his Nuclear Weapons Committee irate that Iraq did not yet have a weapon because money was no object and they possessed the scientific know how.  The Committee members assured Saddam that once the fissile material was in hand, a bomb could be ready in just 18-24 months. The return of UN inspectors would cause minimal disruption because, according to the source, Iraq was expert at denial and deception

The same source said Iraq was stockpiling chemical weapons and that equipment to produce insecticides, under the oil-for-food program, had been diverted to covert chemical weapons production. . . .

A stream of reporting from a different sensitive source with access to senior Iraqi officials . . . stated that a senior Iraqi official in Saddam's inner circle believed, as a result of the UN inspections, Iraq knew the inspectors' weak points and how to take advantage of them.  The source said there was an elaborate plan to deceive inspectors and ensure prohibited items would never be found.

Now, did this information make a difference in my thinking?  You bet it did.  As this and other information came across my desk, it solidified and reinforced the judgments we had reached and my own view of the danger posed by Saddam Hussein and I conveyed this view to our nation's leaders.  [Emphasis added].

With a reputation to resurrect and a book to sell, Tenet now asserts (in a full-page ad in the April 29 New York Times) that his "slam dunk" assurance to George W. Bush in a meeting in the Oval Office on December 21, 2002 "had nothing to do with the president's decision to send American troops into Iraq" because that decision had allegedly "already been made." 

It is not likely that a decision to go to war is finally made until the direct order to commence it is actually given.  It is even less likely that an unequivocal assurance from the Director of the CIA, three months before that point, played no role in the ultimate decision.  But if Tenet is correct about the timing of the government's decision, perhaps it was because of what had already come across Tenet's desk in the fall of 2002, which had "solidified and reinforced the judgments" he had already reached, and which he conveyed to our nation's leaders.

Rick Richman edits Jewish Current Issues.  His  articles have appeared in American Thinker, The Jewish Press, FrontPage Magazine, and The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.
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