Vol. 4 Num 48 Sun. July 13, 2003  
Front Page

CIA takes blame for Bush's wrong claim on WMDs
Bush still has confidence in CIA

CIA Director George Tenet is trying to put to rest a burgeoning credibility problem by taking full blame for allowing President Bush to make allegations about Iraq's nuclear weapons programme later found false.

In a carefully scripted mea culpa, the White House on Friday blamed the CIA for its January misstep and Tenet finished the job hours later with a dramatic statement accepting responsibility.

Bush's assertion in his State of the Union address in January that Iraq had sought nuclear materials from Africa "did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for presidential speeches, and CIA should have ensured that it was removed," Tenet said.

"It was a mistake," he added.

The one-two punch was designed to quell a growing political storm, fueled in part by members of Congress and Democratic presidential hopefuls, that challenged the credibility of the administration's arguments that Iraq was trying to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program before the US invasion in March.

Administration officials said that despite the miscue they did not expect Tenet to resign. He is the lone holdover from the Clinton administration and, while distrusted by some conservatives, has enjoyed Bush's confidence.

"I've heard no discussion along those lines," CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said Friday night when asked whether Tenet might consider resigning. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, traveling with Bush in Africa, said Tenet still enjoyed the president's confidence.

The current controversy evolves around Bush's assertion in his State of the Union address that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from the African country of Niger. A month later, the administration retracted the allegation after learning that the British intelligence it was based upon had been forged.

Tenet acknowledged Friday that the CIA had tried unsuccessfully for months to substantiate the British allegation and that State Department intelligence analysts believed the claim was "highly dubious," yet neither stopped Bush from making the claim in a single sentence of his annual address to the nation.

"These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president," Tenet conceded in a statement.

"Let me be clear about several things right up front," he said. "First, CIA approved the president's State of the Union address before it was delivered. Second, I am responsible for the approval process in my agency. And third, the president had every reason to believe that the text presented to him was sound."

The director took his cue from Bush and Rice, who hours earlier blamed the error on the CIA.

"I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services," Bush told reporters in Uganda. If the CIA director had concerns about the information, "these doubts were not communicated to the president," Rice added.

Key members of Congress called for someone to be held accountable.

"The director of central intelligence is the principal adviser to the president on intelligence matters. He should have told the president. He failed. He failed to do so," said Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan.