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Ex-Spy Chief Memoir Reignites Iraq Intelligence Debate

01 May 2007

The publication of the former U.S. intelligence chief George Tenet's memoirs has sparked anew the controversy over the prewar intelligence on Iraq. Tenet says the intelligence provided to the Bush administration was the best the spy agencies could provide - and that the administration was bent on going to war no matter what the intelligence was. But as VOA Correspondent Gary Thomas reports, many in intelligence and policy circles believe that Tenet and the agencies at his command could have done a better job.

In his memoir, "In the Eye of the Storm," former CIA director George Tenet admits much of the prewar intelligence turned out to be wrong. But, he says, it was the best the U.S. intelligence agencies had at the time. He also says there was never any substantive debate within the Bush administration about going to war.

But like some other former intelligence officers, Tyler Drumheller, who was chief of European operations at the CIA, says Tenet was not forceful enough in standing up to officials' preconceived notions. "George Tenet is basically a decent guy at heart. And he had a chance to do something. His great moment came in December of 2002, and he blew it. That is the sad part of it. That is his role. But people should not be confused. The focus of all this 'who is responsible for the war' and everything should not be George Tenet. He is only responsible in that he was not strong enough to stop the guys who really were responsible. And he was the one person who could have," he said.

In a VOA interview, John McLaughlin, a career intelligence officer who rose to second-in-command of the CIA under Tenet, says analysts all believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. But, he adds, such analysis just backed up the policymakers' notions about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. "I would say on WMD, the important distinction is to say that analysts believed Saddam had WMD. George believed it. I believed it. Most intelligence services in the world believed it. So no one really had to push analysts to declare there was WMD in Iraq. Now, was the administration eager to stress the most salient intelligence that could be brought to bear on that question? Yes. I have seen that on different issues in every administration that I have worked for," he said.

Larry Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, tells VOA Tenet is gregarious and likeable and was popular among CIA employees. He says that he believes Tenet did a disservice by providing flawed information to policymakers. But, he adds, he agrees with the former CIA chief that administration officials manipulated the information they were given.

"I do not think that this administration, and the secretary of state in particular, were well served by the intelligence community of the United States. The representative of that intelligence community is the director of central intelligence. At the same time, however, I have to say that George is right in the sense that the administration cherry-picked [selectively chose] the intelligence, politicized the intelligence, overemphasized the intelligence, took the intelligence completely out of context often, and even used false intelligence that I am increasingly coming to believe they knew was false," he said.

But Carl Ford, who was chief of State Department intelligence, says the administration policymakers and the intelligence community both share the blame for the intelligence lapse on Iraq. "There is an effort on the part of the intelligence community to blame everything that has gone wrong. And I think that while I take a great exception with the policymakers on several counts, it is not because I believe that they have misused intelligence; it is that they did not demand excellence from the intelligence community. They simply gave up on us. They did not like what we had to say and so they have gone off on their own and tried to come up with alternative answers or used their own best judgment," he said.

With Democrats now in control of Congress, at least one congressional committee is considering a probe of the prewar intelligence on Iraq, with Tenet as a key witness.

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