The Washington Post front-page headline read, “Analysts Discount Attack by Iraq.” The New York Times said, “CIA Warns That a US Attack May Ignite Terror.” But these newspapers could have reasonably announced, “CIA Information Indicates Bush Misleads Public on Threat from Iraq.”
In the past week, President Bush has been on a tear; in speech after speech (many of them on the campaign trail), he has been excoriating Saddam Hussein as a direct threat to Americans. At a political fundraiser in New Hampshire on October 5, he called Hussein “a man who hates so much he’s willing to kill his own people, much less Americans.” And Bush noted, “We must do everything we can to disarm this man before he hurts a single American.” During a primetime speech in Cincinnati two days later, Bush characterized Saddam as a “threat…that could bring sudden terror and suffering to America.” He pronounced the Iraqi dictator a “significant” danger to America and said, “Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists. Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints.” He remarked, “we’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using” unmanned aerial vehicles “for missions targeting the United States.” And he proclaimed, “America must not ignore the threat gathering against us.” At an October 8 campaign rally in Tennessee, Bush remarked, “I’ve got a problem, obviously, with Mr. Saddam Hussein, and so do you, and that is he poses a threat. He poses a threat to America.”
The message is, Saddam is coming, Saddam is coming, and the United States better take the sucker out before he strikes America–meaning, you. But Bush has a problem: the CIA doesn’t back him up on this. In fact, it says the opposite.
At a hearing held by the House and Senate intelligence committees on October 8, Senator Bob Graham, the chairman of the Senate panel, read from a letter sent to him by CIA chief George Tenet. In that note, Tenet reported the CIA had concluded that “Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW [chemical and biological weapons] against the United States.” The CIA, according to Tenet, also had determined, “Should Saddam conclude that a US-led attack could no longer be deterred, he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions.” And the Agency found, “Saddam might decide that the extreme step of assisting Islamist terrorists in conducting a WMD [weapons of mass destruction] attack against the United States would be his last chance to exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him.”