Former CIA Director George Tenet accepted blame yesterday for inaccurate statements he let Secretary of State Colin L. Powell make in a 2003 address to the United Nations about Iraq's weapons capability.
Tenet spent three days vetting Powell's Feb. 5, 2003, speech to the U.N. Security Council, and believed it was "good and solid," the former CIA chief said. With Tenet seated behind him at the U.N., Powell alleged that dictator Saddam Hussein was hiding illegal chemical and biological weapons, a claim that was eventually found to be false.
"We let the secretary down, and we undermined the credibility of the United States," Tenet said yesterday on NBC's Meet the Press. "Nobody regrets this more than I do."
In the U.N. speech, Powell also said evidence showed that Iraq had sanitized chemical-arms bunkers to thwart detection by U.N. arms inspectors.
After no major stockpiles were found in Iraq, David Kay, the former chief U.N. weapons inspector, concluded that U.S. intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs was "all wrong." Kay told Congress in 2004 that there wasn't any evidence that Hussein had chemical or biological weapons stockpiles before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.
"The notion that we would walk the secretary of state out on the world stage and knowingly let him" misstate the facts is untrue, Tenet, 54, said. "It was a dark moment for all of us."
Powell since has called the speech a "blot" on his record.
Kay has theorized that Hussein destroyed his arsenal in the mid-1990s, and bluffed the world to preserve an aura of military power by refusing to tell U.N. inspectors he no longer had the stockpiles.
Tenet was named CIA director in 1997 and resigned in 2004, just before the release of a congressional report criticizing the agency's conclusions about Iraq's weapons. In a recently published book, At the Center of the Storm, Tenet contends that the Bush administration made him a scapegoat for U.S. mistakes in the Iraq war.
Tenet wrote that government officials leaked a distorted version of his comment that making the case for Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction was a "slam dunk."
In yesterday's interview, Tenet said that, in several conversations about Iraq, al-Qaeda, and the overall question of the terrorist threat, he and others at the agency worked "very hard to make sure that people comported and stayed within the bounds of what the intelligence showed."
People also "make their own risk calculations," Tenet said. "Is every statement that everybody ever uttered perfect? No."