Wed, Jun 23, 2004 - Page 7 News List

CIA deputy admits lack of Iraq spies

HUMINTThe agency's chief agent runner said prior to the war they had only a handful of sources, but the ones recently discredited were not theirs

REUTERS , New York

The CIA had "less than a handful" of sources in prewar Iraq and could not get access to suspected weapons programs, the departing head of the agency's spy service said on Monday.

"As some critics have claimed, during the pre-war period, we did not have many Iraq sources. We certainly did not have enough," James Pavitt, CIA deputy director for operations, said in a speech to the Foreign Policy Association.

"Until we put people on the ground in northern Iraq, we had less than a handful," said Pavitt, who has announced plans to retire in August.

He said the CIA was unable to gain access to the "heart of Saddam's weapons programs." But in the months before the war the agency got closer to the political and military inner circles and collected intelligence the US military found vital when it entered Iraq, he said.

The CIA's presence in Iraq is now the largest anywhere since the Vietnam War, Pavitt said.

The Bush administration and US intelligence agencies have been criticized for prewar allegations that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Although CIA Director George Tenet, who will resign next month, had assured US President George W. Bush there was a convincing case, no stockpiles of unconventional weapons have been found.

The US had faced difficulties recruiting Iraqi spies before the war because potential sources were fearful of retribution from former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and wary of the US commitment to overthrow him, Pavitt said.

"You cannot recruit spies in a vacuum," he said. "The decade before was a time when on the one hand we were saying quietly we needed to overthrow Saddam, on the other hand we weren't saying that with any great vigor publicly."

He said the CIA had nothing to do with misleading information given to the Pentagon by Iraqi defectors and refugees linked to exile groups intent on overthrowing Saddam. "Those controversial spies, if you will, were not my spies."

The threat from al Qaeda remains nearly three years after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, he said.

"Al Qaeda has unambiguous plans to hit the homeland again, and New York City, I am certain, remains a prime target," he said.

US efforts against al Qaeda have inflicted "irrevocable damage" on parts of the network, but it has "poisoned an international movement" fueling attacks around the world, Pavitt said. "We've got to realize that the war we are in is one which in my mind has no end in sight."

Pavitt described as unwarranted and ill-informed some of the criticisms leveled at the CIA, and denied charges the agency has a risk-averse culture.

He cited successes such as finding Saddam's sons, who were then killed by US forces. He credited a CIA officer in Iraq "who dealt with a nervous, jumpy intelligence volunteer who promised, and delivered, the location of Uday and Qusay Hussein."

The CIA's clandestine service has grown 30 percent in the last five years and another 30 percent increase is planned in the next five years, he said.

Now would be the wrong time for radical reorganization of the intelligence community, amid a politically-charged atmosphere and great terrorist threat, Pavitt said.

Some critics have said Pavitt's and Tenet's pending departures create "the `Perfect Storm'" a major intelligence restructuring, Pavitt said. "Let me remind you that in the book and the movie The Perfect Storm, the ship sank and the crew drowned."

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