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Rumsfeld: Iraq errors affect assessment of Iran

Secretary says care needed with intelligence from 'closed society'
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked how confident Americans could be in intelligence about Iran.


Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Donald H. Rumsfeld

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday that the "wrong" intelligence used to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq should "give one pause" when evaluating the credibility of intelligence information coming out of Iran.

He recommended prudence in assessing the Islamic republic -- accused by the West of having ambitions to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says it is developing a nuclear program solely for peaceful purposes.

"You're dealing with a closed society there, so clearly one has to be very careful," Rumsfeld said. (Watch how Iran's leader criticizes Bush in a new letter -- 1:41)

Rumsfeld's comments came as world powers try to reach an agreement on a United Nations resolution on Iran.

A European official speaking on condition of anonymity said Tuesday the five permanent members of the Security Council had agreed to the idea of a "package that sets out for Iran a choice of benefits as well as sanctions." (Full story)

Iran has refused to comply with a presidential statement from the U.N. Security Council that called on it to suspend its production of enriched uranium, which can be used as fuel in civilian nuclear plants or -- in much higher concentrations -- to produce a nuclear bomb.

The Security Council is now considering a resolution that would demand Tehran give up its production of nuclear fuel or face penalties that could include economic sanctions.

At a news conference Tuesday, Rumsfeld was asked, "Why should the American people, given the prewar failures in Iraq, be confident in what they are getting from the intelligence community on Iran?" (Watch Rumsfeld answer questions about intelligence turf battles -- 2:26)

"The intelligence community had views on Iraq," Rumsfeld replied. "That information was available to the president, to me. It was the information that was available to Secretary Colin Powell and Condi Rice, when they and George Tenet worked on his presentation for the United Nations over a period of many days."

Powell was secretary of state, Rice was national security adviser and Tenet was CIA director at the time, in early 2003.

"It was the intelligence information that was available to the Congress of the United States. It was available to other countries that had exactly the same view that we all did. It turns out it was wrong, that intelligence. Fair enough.

"It's a tough business. It's a difficult thing to be right all the time. And the information was not correct. Does that give one pause? You bet."

In recent weeks, several retired former generals have criticized Rumsfeld and how the administration has conducted the war in Iraq.

One of them, retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, wrote in Time magazine last month that intelligence was "distorted to justify a rationale for war."

In a national poll taken in March, 51 percent of the respondents believed the administration deliberately misled the public about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, while 46 percent disagreed. (Full story)

A retired CIA official, Tyler Drumheller, last month alleged that the Bush administration had ignored intelligence indicating that Iraq "wasn't an imminent threat." (Full story)

U.S. intelligence upheaval

Bush administration officials say they are pursuing a diplomatic solution with Iran.

Last month, they fended off questions about a report in The New Yorker magazine that preparations for military strikes on Iran -- possibly including nuclear weapons -- have gone "beyond contingency planning." (Full story)

U.S. intelligence officials have estimated, based on the assumption that Iran has only P-1 centrifuges, that the country is five to 10 years away from making a nuclear weapon. But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently asserted that Iran is "now under the process of research and testing" of faster P-2 centrifuges.

But the chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee said last month that "we really don't know" how close Iran is to developing a nuclear weapon.

"We've got a long way to go in rebuilding our intelligence community," Rep. Pete Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican, told Fox News.

Rep. Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, concurred that "our intelligence is thin."

The U.S. intelligence community has been in upheaval since Friday's sudden announcement that Porter Goss was stepping down as director of the CIA.

Bush's selection of Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden to succeed Goss as head of the civilian intelligence agency has prompted some concerns that his military standing is inappropriate for the agency's top official.

Hayden, 61, is the principal deputy to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, who on Monday described Iran as one of "our highest priority areas" -- along with North Korea and weapons of mass destruction.

Also Monday, the White House acknowledged it had received a letter from Ahmadinejad, believed to be the first correspondence between the presidents of Iran and the United States since 1980.

"This letter does nothing at all to address the concerns of the international community, or that the international community has regarding the regime's nuclear program," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters Tuesday.

Iranian officials said Ahmadinejad's letter proposed "new ways" to end the nuclear dispute.

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