The Fish Dies by its Mouth and So Does George Tenet
Larry C Johnson
George Tenet never learned the first law of crisis management--when you are in a hole, quit digging. Despite a disastrous appearance on 60 Minutes last Sunday, Tenet continues his publicity tour hyping his book and seems oblivious to the reality of Lexis Nexis, Google, and videotape. The anger and outrage that many of my former CIA colleagues and I feel toward George Tenet is not personal, at least in the sense that we "dont' like him". On a personal basis Tenet can be gregarious and generous. He is a good dad and husband and did some good things at CIA.
Our beef with Tenet is simple--he not only repeatedly failed to tell the Congress and the American people the truth he knew about Iraq on several critical issues, but he consciously participated in selling a lie to the American people. Don't take my word for it, take Tenet's. Consider the issue of the alleged relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.
Here is what George Tenet said on 60 Minutes last Sunday:
"In terms of complicity with 9/11, absolutely none," Tenet says. "It never made any sense. We could never verify that there was any Iraqi authority, direction and control, complicity with al Qaeda for 9/11 or any operational act against America. Period."
"The president, in October of 2002, quote: 'We need to think about Saddam Hussein using al Qaeda to do his dirty work.' Is that what you're telling the president?" Pelley asks.
"Well, we didn't believe al Qaeda was gonna do Saddam Hussein's dirty work," Tenet says.
"January '03, the president again, [said] quote: 'Imagine those 19 hijackers this time armed by Saddam Hussein.' Is that what you're telling the president?" Pelley asks.
"No," Tenet says.
Now. He says he knew this on the day Al Qaeda attacked America in September 2001. Really? Then why in the name of God did George Tenet say this before Congress on February 11, 2003:
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.
Tenet has two different versions of history. Both on the record. The two accounts are diametrically opposed to one another. Normal folks call someone who tells two such radically different stories a liar.
Now look at what he said today to Wolf Blitzer (by the way, Wolf blistered Tenet's ass something fierece):
BLITZER: The other argument was the connection between Saddam Hussein, his regime and al Qaeda that caused, especially in the post- 9/11 era, a huge amount of concern. And there was a sense you've got to get rid of Saddam because of his connection with al Qaeda.
TENET: The intelligence community and our -- and the CIA specifically outlined three areas of concern. We had concerns about contacts. We had concerns about training. We had concerns about the safe haven that had been provided to the Ansar Al-Islam in northeastern Iraq, where, of course, the Iraqi government didn't control.
We were also very explicit about the fact that we didn't believe this was anything more than two organizations seeking to take advantage of each other. We saw no capacity, authority, direction and control on the part of Iraq for al Qaeda attacks.
So you had concerns. The concern we have is, is later on in this process...
BLITZER: That's a much more nuanced...
TENET: Well, but...
BLITZER: ... explanation.
TENET: But it is...
BLITZER: But in your letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee...
TENET: Yes, right.
BLITZER: ... and you once worked for the Senate Intelligence Committee -- it seemed pretty blunt. It seemed pretty obvious.
TENET: We talked about the contacts, training and safe haven. In my testimony -- in my testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee and the Armed Services Committee, I also gave the judgment that I just gave you.
Unfortunately, in that one letter, it fell out...
BLITZER: Let me read to you...
TENET: ... not intentionally.
BLITZER: Let me read to you what you told, because I remember reading this and I -- I concluded at the time, like a lot of the senators who voted for the authorization -- there is a connection there and it's in this post-9/11 era, Saddam Hussein is working with Osama bin Laden.
Let me read to you what you wrote. TENET: All right.
BLITZER: These are your words: "We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda going back a decade. credible information indicates that Iraq and al Qaeda have discussed safe haven and reciprocal non-aggression. Since Operation Enduring Freedom" -- the war in Iraq -- "we have solid evidence of the presence" -- excuse me, in Afghanistan -- "we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of Al Qaeda members, including some who have been in Baghdad. We have credible reporting that Al Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who would help -- who could help them acquire WMD capabilities."
And listen to this. This is -- these are your words: "The reporting also stated that Iraq has played -- has provided training to al Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gasses and making conventional bombs"...
TENET: Yes, and we...
BLITZER: Now, to the average person...
BLITZER: ... reading that...
TENET: And it was a source of concern to me.
BLITZER: ... it looks like Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden...
BLITZER: ... are in bed.
TENET: Well, you have to -- you have to get to the subordinate clause and you have to also make clear the ultimate judgment. We didn't in that letter, but we did in all of our testimonies, in all of the papers that we presented. The Senate Intelligence Committee evaluated our work here, said that we were reasonable in the judgments we made.
The issue, for me, Wolf, is all of those things were causes of concern and yet some tried to posit operational control and command legitimacy that we never saw, and that became an issue.
BLITZER: Do you regret writing this letter?
TENET: We -- we would regret not having that clause that was -- that I talked about that was in all of our testimonies and every paper that we wrote. We were -- we were sloppy in that letter.
But everybody understood -- on the question of authority, direction, control and capacity -- we were never there.
No George. Everybody did not understand. Many believed your bullshit. Young brave men like Pat Tillman and young women like Jessica Lynch. They joined the U.S. military to fight the terrorists who attacked us on 9-11 and you helped persuade them that Saddam had some connection to those attacks. And several thousand men like Pat Tillman are dead and tens of thousands of men and women like Jessica Lynch bear terrible physical and emotional scars.
There is No Quarter for you George as long as you are collecting a $4 million dollar paycheck and refuse to fully accept responsibility for the harm you have done. You didn't do a "heck of a job". Let me quote you, "we were sloppy". Not only sloppy, but incompetent.