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Bush officials defend Iraq intelligence

House leaders alleged 'deficiencies' before war

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•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
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Espionage and Intelligence
George J. Tenet
Condoleezza Rice

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Bush administration officials used Sunday's talk shows to shrug off criticism that going to war with Iraq was based on outdated, "fragmentary" and "circumstantial" evidence, as was asserted in a letter to the CIA director from the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee.

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said the administration relied on "an enrichment" of 5-year-old intelligence in its claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said the administration changed its view of Iraq after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

"I believed then that [Iraqi President Saddam Hussein] had weapons of mass destruction," Powell said on CNN's "Late Edition." "We didn't think it was significant.

"But a lot changed with 9/11," Powell said. "With 9/11, we saw what could happen with the nexus between nations that had weapons of mass destruction and terrorists who might be anxious to get those weapons of mass destruction."

The letter to CIA Director George Tenet was sent last week by Rep. Porter Goss of Florida, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Rep. Jane Harman of California, the committee's ranking Democrat.

The committee spent the past several months going through 19 volumes of classified material Bush officials used to make their case for war with Iraq, The Washington Post reported Sunday.

Porter and Harman told Tenet they found "significant deficiencies" in the U.S. intelligence community's ability to collect fresh intelligence on Iraq after U.N. weapons inspectors left in 1998, the Post reported.

They said intelligence agencies instead relied on "past assessments" and "some new 'piecemeal' intelligence" that "were not challenged as a routine matter," the Post reported.

The CIA responded by saying it stood "fully behind its findings and judgments" concerning its intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

"The notion that our community does not challenge standing judgments is absurd," CIA spokesman Bill Harlow said in a statement.

Powell told reporters the "CIA has also suggested that Mr. Goss and Ms. Harman dig a little deeper into the material they've been provided, and so I hope they will do that."

Powell insisted Iraq had weapons of mass destruction leading up to the war.

"The previous administration acknowledged it. President Clinton found it necessary to bomb his facilities," Powell said.

"And then there was this four-year period, there was a gap. Are we supposed to believe that: Oh, gee, he gave up all that capability, he no longer has the intent?"

Rice said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that "it's just not logical" to believe that Saddam got rid of the weapons of mass destruction before the war.

"One would have had to believe that somehow after Saddam Hussein made it impossible for the inspectors to do their work in 1998, that things got better, that he suddenly destroyed the weapons of mass destruction and then carried on this elaborate deception to keep the world from knowing he destroyed the weapons of mass destruction," Rice said.

Powell said he would not comment on the progress report being prepared by CIA official and former U.N. weapons inspector David Kay, whom the administration dispatched to Iraq in June to lead a search for banned weapons. Kay's team has not so far reported finding any weapons of mass destruction.

But Powell indicated that Saddam's previous use of poison gas on other Iraqis mattered more than the apparent absence of such weapons now.

Colin Powell defended the Bush administration's position Sunday on CNN's
Colin Powell defended the Bush administration's position Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition."

"I saw the mass graves," he said. "I saw the victims. I saw the lost loved ones."

Rice said on "Fox News Sunday" that Kay's report would not likely "draw any conclusions."

"I think it's far too early to draw conclusions about what he's finding," Rice said. "It has to be kept in the context of a progress report.

"I suspect, when we see it, we're going to learn that there's a long way to go," she said. "This was a program that was built for concealment over a long period of time."

Rice said on NBC that Kay "is now in a very careful process of determining the status of those weapons and precisely what became of them."

Kay is interviewing "hundreds" of people, collecting physical evidence, and going through "miles and miles of documentation," Rice said.

Rice told Fox that an "enrichment" of old intelligence about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction informed President Bush's decision to go to war but said "conjecture" was not the right word to describe the process.

"The president believes that he had very good intelligence going into the war," she said. "He stands behind what the director of intelligence told him."

Saddam, she said, was known to have had weapons of mass destruction before the Persian Gulf War of 1991.

Since the end of that war, three U.S. administrations and the United Nations had relied on "an accumulation of evidence" and an "enrichment of the intelligence of 1998 leading up to the war," she said.

"Nothing pointed to a reversal," she said. "It was very clear this had continued and it was a gathering danger."

As Rice said on the NBC program, "This was a threat that the president of the United States could no longer allow to remain there. We tried containment. We learned that he had increased his capacity to spend resources on weapons of mass destruction from $500 million in illegal oil revenues to $3 billion."

Citing "procurement networks and reconstitution of groups of scientists," Rice said "conjecture is not the right word" for the intelligence that led the administration to pull the trigger on Iraq.

"There were many, many doubts about what was going on in Iraq after 1998," she said on Fox.

Powell, on ABC's "This Week," said: "I don't think we have anything to be regretful about. The mass graves are now being opened for people to see. The destruction that Saddam Hussein wrought upon his own people's own infrastructure is now obvious.

"And so I have no second thoughts about what we did."

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