Iraq Weapons Rattle the Hill

  • Share
  • Read Later
U.S. officials responsible for secretly assessing — and now at all costs finding — Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are gearing up for another week of finger-pointing.   CIA Director George Tenet may appear later this week before a closed-door session of the Senate Intelligence Committee, a U.S. official told TIME, to answer questions about whether his agency overestimated Iraq's chemical and biological warfare programs. 

That follows an inconclusive first week of inquiry into the Administration's reading of the pre-war intelligence after which Senators concluded they needed to hear more. In a closed-door hearings last Thursday, the State Department officials hinted they felt pressure to toe the White House's hard line but insisted they had not tailored intelligence. Some observers, however, said such perceptions by officials at State — who were widely known as behind-the-scenes skeptics of the Iraq WMD intelligence — may simply have resulted from the at-times heated internal policy debate in the months leading up to war.

George W. Bush last week called much of the debate “revisionist,” but the President's critics aren't the only people who have been revising their stories.  Other top Administration officials, like Chief of Staff Andy Card, say despite mistakes, connecting the dots pointed to a clear Iraq threat and possession of weapons of mass destruction. "Intelligence is not an exact science," says Card. "Some dots you collect may turn out not to be real; others turn out to be real dots." One bum dot that has come back to haunt the Administration: A line in the President's State of the Union address referring to reports about Iraq's efforts in Niger to obtain uranium oxide to build nuclear weapons that later turned out to be false. "I would put that in the category of a dot that went bad," says Card, "and I think it was not inappropriate for us to tell people about the dot because when it was presented to us we didn't have all of the information." The Administration blames British intelligence for passing on bad information about the Iraqi effort, even though some at the CIA had questioned it at the time.

Card says the Administration is guilty of nothing but relying on information that turned out to be faulty. "It would be great if I, or the President, or the Vice President could be all-knowing," he says, " but we're not. I don't know when the battleship Missouri needs to be painted, but somebody in government decides that the ship has to be repainted. I am not as spun up over this as other people suggest we should be. It's hard for me to keep track of everything that's going on at the White House, let alone what's happening at the CIA."

Meanwhile, according to a Pentagon official, those doing the digging in Iraq say they have recently found small pieces of the WMD puzzle. Not yet enough to convince the public, perhaps, but enough to get the WMD hunters excited.