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Ex-CIA director says administration stretched facts on Iraq
WASHINGTON — Former CIA director Stansfield Turner accused the Bush administration Tuesday of "overstretching the facts" about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in making its case for invading that country.

Turner's broadside adds the retired admiral's name to a list of former intelligence professionals concerned that the CIA and its intelligence reports were manipulated to justify the war. Since Baghdad fell April 9, U.S. forces have been unable to find chemical and biological weapons the White House said were in Iraq.

Turner, who headed the CIA under President Carter, paused for a long moment when asked by reporters whether current CIA Director George Tenet should resign. "That's a tough one," Turner said. The problem did not appear to lie with the CIA, he said, but Tenet should consider resigning if he lost the confidence of President Bush or the American people. A CIA spokesman declined to comment.

Turner suggested Tenet should tread cautiously because CIA directors "can be made the fall guy" by administrations when policy judgments based on intelligence go wrong.

Turner said, "There is no question in my mind (policymakers) distorted the situation, either because they had bad intelligence or because they misinterpreted it."

Public criticism of an administration's handling of intelligence is rare from former CIA directors, who typically give the benefit of the doubt to those with full access to classified information.

President Bush has given no indication he is having second thoughts about his decision to invade Iraq.

"We made it clear to the dictator of Iraq that he must disarm," Bush said in a speech Tuesday at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale. "He chose not to do so, so we disarmed him. And I know there's a lot of revisionist history now going on, but one thing is certain. He is no longer a threat to the free world."

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was known to have chemical and biological weapons in the early and mid-1990s. Late last year, Iraq claimed to have none left, though it offered no proof of having disposed of them. At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer called it "fanciful" and "a fit of imagination" to believe that Saddam would have destroyed his arsenal but neglected to tell the world. Seeking to counter partisan criticism about the intelligence used to justify war, Fleischer said Democrats, including President Clinton, flatly asserted that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in the late 1990s.

"The president has every confidence in the intelligence and that weapons will be found," Fleischer said. "The president has full faith in Director Tenet."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been battling similar criticism about alleged misuse of intelligence. Robin Cook, who resigned from Blair's Cabinet on the eve of the U.S.-British invasion of Iraq, said Tuesday that searchers in Iraq had found no sign either of equipment or a workforce for making weapons of mass destruction.

"It is inconceivable that both could have been kept concealed for the two months we have been in occupation of Iraq," Cook told a parliamentary inquiry into Iraq intelligence matters.

Turner's comments come a month after a group of retired U.S. intelligence officers wrote President Bush to "express deep concern" over alleged misuse of intelligence to justify the war.

Contributing: Richard Benedetto and wire reports

 
 
 
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