I didn’t see George Tenet’s interview on 60 Minutes last night, but Larwyn alerted me to the following statement by Tenet that the intelligence community believed Saddam could have nukes by 2007. Ian Schwartz got the transcript and is going to be posting video soon. (UPDATE: Video link here.)
SCOTT PELLEY, CBS’ “60 MINUTES”: January ’03, the President, again: “imagine those 19 hijackers this time armed by Saddam’s Hussein,” is that what you’re telling the President?
GEORGE TENNET: No.
The Vice President up the anty, claiming Saddam had nuclear weapons when the CIA was saying he didn’t.
PELLEY: What’s happening here?
TENNET: I don’t know what’s happening here. The intelligence community’s judgement is he will not have nuclear weapons until the year 2007, 2009.
PELLEY: That’s not what the Vice President is saying.
TENNET: Well I can’t explain it.Am I missing something or did Tenet basically say that if Saddam had been left in power, it is likely he would have a nuclear weapon today? Or in a year or two, anyway. I get that the point Pelley was trying to make (yes, some journalists try to make points in their interviews) was that the Vice President was citing numbers other than what he was getting from the CIA. Maybe he was relying on numbers Great Britain or some other entity had shared with the administration. Maybe Pelley and Tenet think we should have waited until 2007 to address that threat, then if our estimates were off by a year or three and Saddam had the bomb in 2004, then oopsie, tough break.
Here is the problem I have with those who say the administration lied because they cherry picked information, or faulting them for acting on information indicating the earliest estimates of the threat. If you are being told that the guy next door is building a bomb and he is going to blow you and your family up, and you have lots of differing opinions about how long it is going to take to build the bomb, do you take all the different assessments and choose to believe the ones that say it will take a year, rather than the ones that say it will take a month? Or do you take all the estimates and average them? Or do you, right after 9/11 caught you by surprise, decide that you will no longer give a terrorist the benefit of the doubt and decide to act on the information that says he could have the bomb built in the least amount of time, out of an over abundance of caution? If you and your family were in the house next door, what would you hope would be done? I realize that is an oversimplification, but when looking at the decision to invade Iraq it is necessary to look at what was known at the time, and that the President was deeply impacted by 9/11 and vowed we would never again ignore or treat lightly the terrorist threat. The fact that some in the intelligence community believed Saddam was a loveable little fuzzball, does not make it okay for the President to ignore those in the intelligence community who believed (as Tenet said in the 60 Minutes interview) that he would have nukes today.
Update: The Anchoress reminded me of a post she did last November about a New York Times piece on how close Saddam was to having nuclear capability.