In was reported this morning that then CIA director George Tenet did not include Iraq in their threat-brief to the incoming Bush administration so Vice President elect Richard Cheney requested a briefling from outgoing Defense Secretary William Cohen. In addition, a high-ranking former official opined that, “Tenet consistently denigrated the targeting data on bin Laden, causing the president [Clinton] and his team to lose confidence in the hard-won intelligence.” That same official added, “whatever his book says, he was not much of a CIA chief. Still, he may have been the ideal CIA leader for Clinton and Bush — denigrating good intelligence to sate the former’s cowardly pacifism…” That report and those opinions are not from conservatives seeking to discredit George Tenet in advance of his book At the Center of the Storm being released tomorrow. This morning, the Washington Post reported:
White House and Pentagon officials, and particularly Vice President Cheney, were determined to attack Iraq from the first days of the Bush administration, long before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and repeatedly stretched available intelligence to build support for the war, according to a new book by former CIA director George J. Tenet.
Although Tenet does not question the threat Saddam Hussein posed or the sincerity of administration beliefs, he recounts numerous efforts by aides to Cheney and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to insert “crap” into public justifications for the war. Tenet also describes an ongoing fear within the intelligence community of the administration’s willingness to “mischaracterize complex intelligence information.”
“There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraq threat,” Tenet writes in “At the Center of the Storm,” to be released Monday by HarperCollins. The debate “was not about imminence but about acting before Saddam did.”
In their threat briefings for the incoming Bush administration in late 2000, Tenet writes, CIA officials did not even mention Iraq. But Cheney, he says, asked for an Iraq briefing and requested that the outgoing Clinton administration’s defense secretary, William S. Cohen, provide information on Iraq for Bush.
Also this morning, Former CIA bin Laden unit chief Michael Scheuer added:
“…what troubles me most is Tenet’s handling of the opportunities that CIA officers gave the Clinton administration to capture or kill bin Laden between May 1998 and May 1999. Each time we had intelligence about bin Laden’s whereabouts, Tenet was briefed by senior CIA officers at Langley and by operatives in the field. He would nod and assure his anxious subordinates that he would stress to Clinton and his national security team that the chances of capturing bin Laden were solid and that the intelligence was not going to get better. Later, he would insist that he had kept up his end of the bargain, but that the NSC had decided not to strike.
“Since 2001, however, several key Clinton counterterrorism insiders (including NSC staffers Richard A. Clarke, Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon) have reported that Tenet consistently denigrated the targeting data on bin Laden, causing the president and his team to lose confidence in the hard-won intelligence. “We could never get over the critical hurdle of being able to corroborate Bin Ladin’s whereabouts,” Tenet now writes. That of course is untrue, but it spared him from ever having to explain the awkward fallout if an attempt to get bin Laden failed…
“Tenet now paints himself as a scapegoat for an administration in which there never was “a serious consideration of the implications of a U.S. invasion,” insisting that he warned Bush, Cheney and their Cabinet about the risks of occupying Iraq. Well, fine; the CIA repeatedly warned Tenet of the inevitable disaster an Iraq war would cause — spreading bin Ladenism, spurring a bloody Sunni-Shiite war and lethally destabilizing the region.
“They’re all culpable, of course. But Tenet’s attempts to shift the blame won’t wash. At day’s end, his exercise in finger-pointing is designed to disguise the central, tragic fact of his book. Tenet in effect is saying that he knew all too well why the United States should not invade Iraq, that he told his political masters and that he was ignored. But above all, he’s saying that he lacked the moral courage to resign and speak out publicly to try to stop our country from striding into what he knew would be an abyss.
“…Sadly but fittingly, “At the Center of the Storm” is likely to remind us that sometimes what lies at the center of a storm is a deafening silence.”
George Tenet admits he withheld intelligence about Iraq from the administration at least once. Several Clinton administration officials say Tenet’s failure to properly characterize CIA intelligence caused them to not strike bin Laden well in advance of 9/11. Michael Scheuer obviously believes George Tenet failed to report to the Clinton administration solid intelligence and lacked the moral courage to disagree with senior members of the Bush administration.
Michael Scheuer spared nearly no one (except himself) during his bashing of George Tenet yet I am left wondering most about Tenet’s book and this obvious swipe at Cheney, “Policymakers have a right to their own opinions, but not their own set of facts.” CIA Director George Tenet failed to provide President elect George W. Bush an initial, unfiltered set of facts and it appears likely that even then his opinion of one man precluded that from happening. So why should we believe what George Tenet says about Richard Cheney now?