How many lies is George Tenet allowed to tell on TV before he immolates the last shred of credibility? Judging by his latest sad performance on Meet the Press I would say his time is up. Tenet insisted to Tim Russert that he was crystal clear in debunking the assumption that Al Qaeda and Iraq were in cahoots:
Well, Tim, Tim, I will tell you that I had many conversations, particularly on Iraq and al-Qaeda, particularly on the terrorism question, where we drew the line as sharply as we knew how. We were very, very clear about our judgments. We worked very, very hard to make sure that people comported and stayed within the bounds of what the intelligence showed.
But George Tenet can't keep his stories straight. For example, as has been widely reported, he starts his book off with an inaccurate account of a conversation with neocon and Iraq war advocate Richard Perle. It is the day after 9-11, Perle is stuck in France, yet Tenet writes that he saw Perle exiting the White House and talking about attacking Iraq. Leave it to George Tenet to make Richard Perle sound sane.
George Tenet wants gullible book buyers to believe that he always disputed the notion that Saddam and the 9-11 attackers were working in concert. But the words and actions of George Tenet tell a radically different story. A damning one at that.
In March of 2002 George Tenet said:
"There is no doubt that there have been contacts and linkages of al-Qaeda organization. As to where we are in September 11, the jury is out. . . . . Their ties may be limited by divergent ideologies, but the two sides' mutual antipathy toward the United States and the Saudi royal family suggest that tactical cooperation between them is possible."
Why did George Tenet leave open the window of doubt on this critical issue when he now insists that there was no there there? But wait, there is more.
CIA Deputy Director, John McLaughlin, sent a letter responding to a query from Senator Evan Bayh on October 7, 2002 that said:
"Regarding Senator Bayh's questions of Iraqi links to al-Qaeda, senators could draw from the following points for unclassified discussions. One, We have solid reporting of senior level contact between Iraq and al-Qaeda going back a decade." Two, "Credible information indicates that Iraq and al-Qaeda have discussed safe haven and reciprocal" aggression." Three, "Since Operation Enduring Freedom, we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al-Qaeda members, including some that have been in Baghdad." And lastly, "We have credible reporting that al-Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire WMD capabilities. The reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to al-Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs."
Did anyone hear George Tenet at the time remind anybody that there was no "operational tie" between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda? He chose to say nothing. Did he challenge those -- like Dick Cheney -- who suggested there was a substantive ongoing relationship? Nope. George Tenet said nothing to dispel that false conclusion.
That same day (October 7, 2002) President Bush gave a speech in Cincinnati, Ohio (this is the famous speech in which Tenet excised the reference to Niger, Iraq, and uranium) and said the following:
And that is the source of our urgent concern about Saddam Hussein's links to international terrorist groups. Over the years, Iraq has provided safe haven to terrorists such as Abu Nidal, whose terror organization carried out more than 90 terrorist attacks in 20 countries that killed or injured nearly 900 people, including 12 Americans. . . . We know that Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network share a common enemy -- the United States of America. We know that Iraq and al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade. Some al Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior al Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks. We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases. And we know that after September the 11th, Saddam Hussein's regime gleefully celebrated the terrorist attacks on America.
George Tenet's CIA approved this language and Tenet was familiar with the speech because he had called the White House to protest another portion of the speech. This provides circumstantial evidence for Richard Dearlove's (George Tenet's British counterpart) now famous memo (the Downing Street Memo) that the facts and the intelligence were being fixed around the policy of going to war with Iraq. In my day we called it cooking the books and George Tenet was one of the chefs.
Tenet's participation in the hoodwinking of the American public continued when, on February 4, 2003, he sat stoically behind Colin Powell at the UN Security Council and, by virtue of his presence, provided the CIA 's imprimatur for the following claim:
Al Qaeda continues to have a deep interest in acquiring weapons of mass destruction. As with the story of Zarqawi and his network, I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to al Qaeda. Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story.
I will relate it to you now as he, himself, described it. This senior al Qaeda terrorist was responsible for one of al Qaeda's training camps in Afghanistan . His information comes firsthand from his personal involvement at senior levels of al Qaeda. He says bin Laden and his top deputy in Afghanistan, deceased al Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef, did not believe that al Qaeda labs in Afghanistan were capable enough to manufacture these chemical or biological agents. They needed to go somewhere else. They had to look outside of Afghanistan for help. Where did they go? Where did they look? They went to Iraq.
The support that (al Libi) describes included Iraq offering chemical or biological weapons training for two al Qaeda associates beginning in December 2000. He says that a militant known as Abu Abdula Al-Iraqi (ph) had been sent to Iraq several times between 1997and 2000 for help in acquiring poisons and gases. Abdula Al-Iraqi (ph) characterized the relationship he forged with Iraqi officials as successful.
This intelligence came from Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda commander who was tortured by the Egyptians. Even though George Tenet was briefed in January 2003 that his analysts doubted al-Libi's account (see Hubris pp. 187-88) he signed off on Powell's briefing.
But he did more. On February 11, 2003 Tenet he went before Congress and said:
Iraq is harboring senior members of a terrorist network led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a close associate of al Qaeda. ... Iraq has in the past provided training in document forgery and bomb-making to al Qaeda. It has also provided training in poisons and gases to two al Qaeda associates. One of these associates characterized the relationship he forged with Iraqi officials as successful. ... I know that part of this - and part of this Zarqawi network in Baghdad are two dozen Egyptian Islamic jihad which is indistinguishable from al Qaeda - operatives who are aiding the Zarqawi network, and two senior planners who have been in Baghdad since last May.
Now, whether there is a base or whether there is not a base, they are operating freely, supporting the Zarqawi network that is supporting the poisons network in Europe and around the world. So these people have been operating there. And, as you know - I don't want to recount everything that Secretary Powell said, but as you know a foreign service went to the Iraqis twice to talk to them about Zarqawi and were rebuffed. So there is a presence in Baghdad that is beyond Zarqawi.
The public record is quite clear about the role George Tenet played in helping condition the American people to fear Iraq and support a preemptive war against Iraq. He helped build the myth that Al Qaeda enjoyed safehaven in Iraq and was biding its time to strike us again. George Tenet was not an honest broker trying to get the best intelligence to the president and the Congress. He willingly and knowingly agreed to make public statements and authorized statements that were at odds with the actual intelligence.
What do you think would have happened if George Tenet had gone to members of Congress and warned them that there was no relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam's Iraq? Would overwhelming majorities have voted to give the president authority to start a war with Iraq? I do not think so. Would Americans still raw from the wounds inflicted by Al Qaeda on 9-11 support the president's campaign to attack a country which had nothing to do with those attacks and, despite claims to the contrary, was not protecting or enabling Al Qaeda operatives who wanted to launch new attacks against the United States? The answer. No, and hell no!
Lie is the only word that comes to mind and seems appropriate to describe what George Tenet has done. This is the chief reason I say he has the blood of American soldiers on his hands. And I, along with several former members of the CIA , the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Army, believe that George Tenet owes the soldiers and the families of soldiers who have died or been wounded in Iraq part of the proceeds from his $4 million dollar advance for his book. It would be the decent thing to do, but George Tenet's decency quotient appears to be running on empty.