Monday, April 04, 2005

Former CIA Chief Disputes Warning Over Iraq Data

Yahoo! News
Former CIA Chief Disputes Warning Over Iraq Data

By Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former CIA Director George Tenet on Friday disputed that he was warned about problems with an Iraqi source just hours before Secretary of State Colin Powell argued the U.S. case against Iraq at the United Nations, using the source's information.

A presidential commission issued a scathing report on Thursday about U.S. intelligence on weapons of mass destruction that said the Bush administration relied on unsubstantiated intelligence from an Iraqi chemical engineer code-named "Curveball" that Iraq had mobile biological weapons labs.

Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin issued lengthy statements on Friday saying they were not alerted before the war to concerns about the veracity of the Iraqi source, who was being handled by German authorities.

Powell pointed to the mobile labs as key evidence in his case against Iraq to the United Nations in February 2003, about a month before the U.S.-led invasion.

Despite declarations by the Bush administration about President Saddam Hussein's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs, no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq in what has been called a major intelligence failure.

At the center of the dispute is a phone call on the eve of the Powell speech.

A now-retired division chief from the CIA's clandestine unit told the presidential commission that Tenet called him at about midnight on the day before Powell's speech and during the conversation he told the CIA chief that there were problems with some of the foreign intelligence.


The division chief, who was not named, said Tenet was dismissive, that his reply in effect was "yeah, yeah" and that he was "exhausted," according to the commission report. The division chief said he was surprised when he heard Powell's speech to find the Curveball information was included.

Tenet on Friday said he called the CIA division chief in late afternoon or early evening but the phone call had nothing to do with Iraqi mobile biological weapons labs. "I have absolutely no recollection of the division chief saying anything to me with regard to problems with the foreign reporting," Tenet said.

He said the presidential commission's report was the first time he heard that the CIA division chief was told by a German liaison in September or October 2002 that the Iraqi source was considered "crazy," had a nervous breakdown and may be a fabricator.

"It is both stunning and deeply disturbing that this information, if true, was never brought forward to me by anyone in the course of the following events," Tenet said, listing nine instances including major reports, speeches, and congressional testimony on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

McLaughlin said he and Tenet were not alerted until late 2003 or early 2004 when an e-mail expressing skepticism about Curveball came to light in the course of internal reviews.

"This email was written in February 2003, and anyone wishing earnestly to impress us with doubts about Curveball could have simply laid this on our desks at any time. This did not happen," McLaughlin said.

originally published Apr 1, 7:26 PM ET