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KWAME HOLMAN: George Tenet, along with FBI Director Robert Mueller and Defense Intelligence Director Lowell Jacoby, went before the Senate Intelligence Committee this morning to deliver their assessments on the worldwide threat of terrorism.
GEORGE TENET: The steady growth of Osama bin Laden’s anti-U.S. sentiment through the wider Sunni extremist movement, and the broad dissemination of al-Qaida’s destructive expertise, ensure that a serious threat will remain for the foreseeable future, with or without al-Qaida in the picture.
Even so, as al-Qaida reels from our blows, other extremist groups within the movement it influenced have become the next wave of terrorist threat. Dozens of such groups exists. I’ve identified the Zakawi network, the Ansar-Alsam network in Iraq and the Libyan Islamic fighting group and the Islamic fighting group of Uzbekistan.
KWAME HOLMAN: This was Director Tenet’s first appearance before Congress since his chief weapons inspector, David Kay, resigned. And Democrats in particular were interested in following up Kay’s assessment that prewar intelligence on Iraq was wrong. Michigan’s Carl Levin asked about two trailers, the same trailers Secretary of State Colin Powell last year before the United Nations said were mobile weapons labs.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Do you agree with Dr. Kay’s, your chief weapon inspector’s statement that the consensus opinion is that the two trailers that were found were intended, were — there’s a consensus opinion that the two trailers that were found were not intended for the production of biological weapons. Do you agree with him?
GEORGE TENET: No, sir. There is no consensus on that question.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: What is your opinion?
GEORGE TENET: Well, sir, we have two bodies…
SEN. CARL LEVIN: What’s your own… what is your opinion?
GEORGE TENET: At this moment, I’m sitting right in the middle of a big debate. We don’t have enough data and we haven’t wrestled it to the ground yet.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Now, Vice President Cheney just a few weeks ago said the following: That those trailers were, in fact, part of the biological weapons program, and that he deems them conclusive evidence that Saddam, in fact, had programs for weapons of mass destruction. Do you agree with Vice President Cheney?
GEORGE TENET: I don’t think he was aware of where we were in terms of the community’s disagreement on this. I’ve talked to him subsequent to that. I’ve explained the disagreements. I’ve told him that there’s one side that thinks one thing and one side that thinks another thing. So, in fairness to him, I think he was going off of an older judgment that was embodied in a paper.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Was that older judgment the one that is still on your Web site?
GEORGE TENET: Yes, sir.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Why is it still on your Web site?
GEORGE TENET: Sir, we just keep adding … we had a piece of paper at a moment in time; we’ve added David Kay’s piece of paper; I put my Georgetown speech on it for transparency in giving people a sense of where we are at any moment in time.
KWAME HOLMAN: Maine Republican Olympia Snowe asked if Tenet, in hindsight, would have evaluated the Iraq intelligence differently.
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE: Obviously, from the president to the vice president to Secretary Powell and so on, words such as "grave threat," "a danger that is grave and growing," "a serious and mounting threat," "continuing threat"– if it wasn’t an imminent threat, in your mind, how would you have characterized or assessed the threat at that point in time?
GEORGE TENET: I would have characterized it as something that was grave and gathering, something that we were quite worried about, quite worried about the nature of surprise.
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE: But, I’m just wondering then, do you think that we made a … we then took this action in Iraq on a lesser standard than "imminent?"
GEORGE TENET: Let’s posit, for example, that, as David Kay did in his interim report, that if he had seed stocks, he could quickly surge to produce biological weapons with a ballistic missile. Now, what do you do about that? Do you do something about it now or do you wait for it to get more difficult? And that’s the conundrum we faced our policy-makers with.
KWAME HOLMAN: California Democrat Dianne Feinstein asked about three prewar intelligence judgments.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: The first is that Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons. That’s right at the top. The second is Baghdad has begun renewed production of chemical warfare agents, probably including mustard, sarin, cyclosarin and VX. And the third is, all key aspects — R&D, production and weaponization — of Iraq’s offensive BW program are active, and most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War. What is your view of these judgments today?
GEORGE TENET: I have to tell you, I don’t want to guess, but I think that we still … we are still looking with ISG on the ground. Let me give you an example. When David Kay first came back, he came back and told us about clandestine BW research facilities controlled by the Iraqi intelligence service that we didn’t know anything about. Now the question for us is, what does that mean? Are there production facilities that the I.I.S. controlled? And the truth is we’re still working through people and documents.
KWAME HOLMAN: Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss asked simply if there were weapons of mass destruction, what happened to them?
GEORGE TENET: When you’re talking about the kind of magnitude of things you’re looking at, you’re looking at things where you’re talking about, particularly BW capability, it fits in people’s garages. So, we’re not looking at big bulk things that you’re going to find quite easily. Did some of the stuff go over borders? I don’t know. Some people have posited it went here or it went there. I don’t know the answer to that question.
KWAME HOLMAN: Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin asked how the administration could adopt a policy of preemptive war given the uncertainties of the intelligence.
SEN. DICK DURBIN: How can we fight a war on terrorism or have a policy of preemption based on what we have just lived through in Iraq?
GEORGE TENET: Well, sir, you are fighting a war on terrorism very successfully because of intelligence. You got a country called Libya to disarm because of intelligence. You got A.Q. Khan, who I said last year in my public testimony was the biggest purveyor of nuclear weapons that we had to worry about — although I didn’t name him — and we’ve dismantled that network because of intelligence. We understand that the North Koreans were pursuing an alternative route to a nuclear weapon, using highly-enriched uranium, because of intelligence.
Now, we are not perfect, but we are pretty damn good at what we do, and we care as much as you do about Iraq and whether we were right or wrong. And we are going to work through it in a way where we tell the truth as to whether we were right or wrong.
SEN. DICK DURBIN: At some point we have to reconcile the things that you’ve said and the things that were said publicly by the administration. And where they are in conflict, someone has to be held accountable. And I don’t know if it will be done today — not likely. I don’t know if it will be done by this committee. I hope so.
KWAME HOLMAN: The committee adjourned to go into closed session this afternoon, where the three intelligence officials said they would provide additional classified information on al-Qaida and the worldwide terrorism threat.