By Ray McGovern *
/*If they question why we died,
Tell them because our fathers lied.
*Mercifully, the flurry of media coverage of former CIA director George
Tenet hawking his memoir, At the Center of the Storm, has abated.
Buffeted by those on the right and left who see through his lame attempt
at self-justification, Tenet probably now wishes he had opted to just
fade away, as old soldiers used to do.
He listened instead to his old PR buddy and "co-author" Bill Harlow who
failed miserably in trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. By
this point, they may be having second thoughts.But, hey, $4 million is a
sizable sum, even if split two ways. But, aside from the money, what
else could they have been thinking?
Tenet's book is a self-indictment for the crimes with which Socrates was
charged: making the worse cause appear the better, and corrupting the
But George is not the kind to take the hemlock. Rather, with no apparent
shame, he accepted what one wag has labeled the "Presidential Medal of
Silence" in return for agreeing to postpone his Nixon-style "modified
limited hangout" until after the mid-term elections last November.
The $4 million advance that Tenet and Harlow took for the book marked a
shabby, inauspicious beginning to the effort to stitch together what
remained of Tenet's tattered reputation.
Here in Washington we are pretty much inured to effrontery, but Tenet's
book and tiresome interviews have earned him the degree for chutzpah
summa cum laude. We are supposed to feel sorry for this pathetic soul,
who could not muster the integrity simply to tell the truth and stave
off unspeakable carnage in Iraq.
Rather, when his masters lied to justify war, Tenet simply lacked the
courage to tell his fellow citizens that America was about to launch
what the post WWII Nuremberg Tribunal called the "supreme international
crime"—a war of aggression.
Tenet's pitiable apologia demonstrates once again not only that absolute
power corrupts absolutely, but that the corruption befouls all those
For those of prurient bent, the book offers a keyhole-peep into a White
House of ill repute, with Vice President Dick Cheney playing at his
chess board, moving sniveling pawns like Tenet from one square to another.
Someone should have told the former CIA director that unprovoked war is
not some sort of game. Out of respect for the tens of thousands killed
and maimed in Iraq, it is time to start calling spades spades. It was a
high crime, a premeditated felony to have taken part in this conspiracy.
Not surprisingly, few of Tenet's talk-show hosts were armed with enough
facts to pierce the smoke and the arrogant now-you-listen-to-me approach
from Bill Harlow's PR toolbox.
Whether out of ignorance or just habit, celebrity interviewers kept
cutting Tenet more and more slack. Understandable, I suppose, for they,
like Tenet, were enthusiastic cheerleaders for the attack on Iraq.
And so, affable, hot-blooded George was allowed to filibuster, bob,
weave, and blow still more smoke. Tenet should not be behind a
microphone, but behind bars.
With nauseating earnestness, Tenet keeps saying:
"I believed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."
This is a lie. And no matter how many times he says it (after the dictum
of his master, George W. Bush, who has stressed publicly that repetition
is necessary to "catapult the propaganda"), Tenet can no longer conceal
Indeed, the only other possibility—that he is (as he complains) being
made the useful "idiot" on whom Vice President Dick Cheney and others
mean to blame the war—can be ruled out .
Tenet was indeed useful to Cheney and Bush, but he is no idiot. Those
who do not rely exclusively on the corporate media for their information
know Tenet for what he is—a charlatan. A willing co-conspirator, he did
for Bush and Cheney what propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels did for
The key difference is that Goebbels and his Nazi collaborators, rather
than writing books and taking sinecures to enrich themselves, were held
accountable at Nuremberg.
Tenet knew there were no WMD. Secret British documents reveal not only
that Tenet told his British counterpart the intelligence was being
"fixed" around the policy. They also show that Washington and London
developed a scheme to "wrongfoot" Saddam Hussein by insisting on the
kind of U.N. inspections they were sure he would reject, thus providing
a convenient casus belli.
Saddam outfoxed them by allowing the most intrusive inspection regime in
recent history. At the turn of 2002-03, U.N. inspectors were crawling
all over Saddam's palaces, interviewing his scientists, and pursuing
every tip they could get from Tenet—and finding nothing.
What did satellite imagery show? Nothing, save for the embarrassingly
inconclusive photos that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell displayed
on Feb. 5, 2003 at the U.N.
Were there any photos of those biological weapons trailers reported by
the shadowy Curveball? None. And so "artist renderings" were conjured up
to show what these sinister trailers might look like.
At least the renderings produced by the CIA graphics shop were more
professional than the crude forgeries upon which the fable about Iraq
seeking uranium in Africa was based.
And the Cheney-Rice-Judith Miller story about aluminum tubes for uranium
enrichment got bent hopelessly out of shape as soon as genuine
scientists (as opposed to the Tenet's stable of malleable engineers) got
hold of them.
Exactly four years ago, amid the euphoria of Mission Accomplished and
the incipient concern over the trouble encountered in finding WMD,
then-deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz told writer Sam Tanenhaus
of Vanity Fair that the Iraq's supposed cache of WMD had never been the
most important casus belli. It was simply one of several reasons:
"For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass
destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree
on...Almost unnoticed but huge is another reason: removing Saddam will
allow the U.S. to take its troops out of Saudi Arabia..."
Evidence of Absence
Who needs real evidence as opposed to allegations of WMD, when the name
of the game is removing Saddam?
But how to explain the blather about WMD in the lead-up to the war, when
not one piece of imagery or other intelligence could confirm the
presence of such weapons? Easy. Apply the Rumsfeld dictum: "The absence
of evidence is not evidence of absence."
And then explain further that the lack of evidence proves nothing but
how clever the Iraqis have become at hiding their weapons. Don't laugh;
that's what Rumsfeld and the neocons said.
That foolishness had run its course by March 2003 when, despite the best
"leads" Tenet could provide and the intrusive inspection regime, the
U.N. inspectors could find nothing. It was getting downright
embarrassing for those bent on a belli without an ostensible casus, but
by then enough troops were in place to conquer Iraq (or so thought
Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz).
At that point Bush told the U.N. to withdraw its inspectors promptly and
let them watch the fireworks of shock and awe from a safer distance on
TV. (What is really shocking is that President Bush continues to claim
that Saddam threw out the inspectors. But, again, he has "catapulted" it
so often that most Americans do not realize it is a lie.)
How did the White House conspirators think they could get away with all
this? Don't you remember Cheney saying we would be greeted as liberators?
We would defeat a fourth-rate army, remove a "ruthless dictator,"
eliminate an adversary of Israel, and end up sitting atop all that oil
with permanent military bases and no further need to station troops in
At that point, smiled the neocons, what spoilsport is going to try to
make political points by insisting: Yes, but you did this on the basis
of forgery, fakery; and where, by the way, are the weapons of mass
Granted that over recent weeks George Tenet has shown himself a bit
dense. There is nevertheless, simply is no defense on grounds of gross
ineptitude or momentary insanity. He clearly played a sustained role in
Okay; if you insist: let's assume for a moment that Rumsfeld did succeed
in convincing Tenet that the reason there was no evidence of WMD was
because the Iraqis were so good at hiding them. What then?
Sorry. None of this let's Tenet off the hook. There was, in fact, no
absence of well-sourced evidence that Saddam's WMD had all been
destroyed shortly after the Gulf War in 1991—yes, all of them.
Selective Use of Evidence
In 1995, when Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, defected with
a treasure trove of documents, he spilled the beans on Iraq's weapons of
mass destruction. There were none. He knew. He was in charge of the
chemical, biological, nuclear, and missile programs and ordered all such
weapons destroyed before the U.N. inspectors could discover them after
the war in 1991.
He told us much more, and the information that could be checked out was
because Newsweek acquired a transcript of Kamel's debriefing and broke
the story on Feb. 24, 2003, several weeks before the war, noting
gingerly that Kamel's information "raises questions about whether the
WMD stockpiles attributed to Iraq still exist."
It was the kind of well-sourced documentary evidence after which
intelligence analysts and lawyers lust. But the mainstream press dropped
it like a hot potato after Bill Harlow (yes, Tenet's co-author), in his
role as CIA spokesperson, angrily protested (a bit too much) that the
Newsweek story was "incorrect, bogus, wrong, untrue."
It was, rather, entirely correct and documentary in nature. Curiously,
the name of Hussein Kamel shows up on a listing of Iraqis in the front
of Tenet's book, but nowhere in the text. Tenet and Harlow apparently
decided to avoid calling attention to the fact that they suppressed
information from a super source, preferring instead to help the White
House grease the skids for war.
In late summer 2002, CIA operatives had a signal success. They recruited
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri and had him working in place – for the
Proud of their successful recruitment of a senior Iraqi official,
officers of CIA's clandestine service, immediately sought and were given
an early meeting with President Bush and his senior advisers.
The information Sabri had already passed to us had checked out well.
Naively, the agency officers were expecting sighs of relief as they
quoted him saying there were no WMD in Iraq.
The information went over like a lead balloon, dispelling all excitement
at the high-level penetration of the Iraqi government. The CIA officials
were told there was no interest in further information from this
high-level source: "It's not about intelligence any more. This is about
Director Tenet and his deputy, John McLaughlin, played a direct role
regarding the notorious "Curveball," a former Iraqi taxi driver and
convicted embezzler whom German intelligence deemed a mentally unstable
alcoholic, who was "out of control."
Unlike the unwelcome reporting from the Iraqi foreign minister,
Curveball provided very welcome, if bogus, information on alleged mobile
laboratories producing biological weapons in Iraq—grist for the "artist
renderings" for Powell's U.N. speech.
It was all a crock. And Tenet and McLaughlin both knew it, because Tyler
Drumheller, then-chief of European operations, gave them chapter and
verse before Powell's speech.
The normally taciturn, but recently outspoken former director of State
Department intelligence, Carl Ford, has noted that both Tenet and
McLaughlin took a personal hand in writing a follow-up report aimed at
salvaging what Curveball had said. Ford spared no words: The report
"wasn't just wrong, they lied...they should have been shot."
Nor can Tenet expunge from the record his witting cooperation in the
cynical campaign to exploit the trauma we all felt after 9/11, by
intimating a connection with that heinous event and Saddam Hussein.
If, as Tenet now concedes, no significant connection could be
established between Saddam and al-Qaeda, why did he sit quietly behind
Powell at the U.N. as Powell spun a yarn about a "sinister nexus"
between the two.
That sorry exhibition destroyed what was left of the morale of honest
CIA analysts who, until then, had courageously resisted intense pressure
to endorse that evidence-less but explosive canard.
Worth a Thousand Words
George Tenet's book includes a photo that is a metaphor for both the
primary purpose of his memoir and its unintended result. Most will
remember the famous photo of Colin Powell briefing the U.N. Security
Council, with Tenet and then-U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John
Negroponte sitting staunchly behind him.
Well, on a centerfold page large enough to accommodate the familiar
shot, the photo has been cropped to exclude Tenet altogether and include
only Negroponte's shoulder and nose (which, mercifully, he was not
holding at the time.)
This is an incredibly adolescent attempt to distance Tenet from that
scandalous performance, even though he was the one most responsible for
it. The cropping also suggests that Tenet and Harlow are only too aware
that by including spurious "intelligence" in Powell's speech and then
sitting stoically behind him as if to "validate" it, Tenet visibly
squandered CIA's most precious asset – credibility.
"It was a great presentation, but unfortunately the substance didn't
hold up," writes Tenet/Harlow, without any trace that they appreciate
the consequential enormity of the deception.
In a Feb. 5, 2003, Memorandum for the President regarding Powell's
speech that day, we Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity gave
him an "A" for presentation, and a "C-" for content. (If we knew then
what we know now we would of course have flunked him outright.)
We warned the President that intelligence analysts were "increasingly
distressed at the politicization of intelligence...and finding it hard
to be heard above the drumbeat for war." That a war of choice was on the
horizon was crystal clear—as were the consequences.
We urged the President to "widen the discussion beyond...the circle of
those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling
reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely
to be catastrophic." We take no comfort in having called it right.
Others did too. It was a no-brainer.
Failure in Professionalism
Tenet's tell-some-but-not-all book is unwittingly self-incriminating in
another key respect.
What may be less than fully clear to most readers is that, in his zeal
to indict others and exculpate himself, Tenet reveals confidential
discussions in the White House, not shrinking from quoting the
President. This is thoroughly unprofessional, and does immeasurable harm
to intelligence officers' ability to do their job.
Any President has a right to expect that his comments/questions will be
kept in strictest confidence. It is the height of irresponsibility for
them to appear in a book, particularly while the President in question
is still in office.
Presidents need to have confidence they can share their thoughts
candidly and discreetly with senior intelligence officers, without their
remarks becoming public. Breaches of this confidence destroy the
conditions necessary for intelligence to garner trust and for the
President to make the best use of the expertise available in the
That Tenet sees fit to violate that confidentiality for petty personal
gain reflects poorly on his respect for the high office he held and the
premium that must be put on trust and confidentiality. Those of us
privileged to brief the President's father and other senior national
security officials never violated that trust the way Tenet has now done.
Regularized personal access by CIA officers to the most senior national
security officials did not begin until former director and then-Vice
President George H. W. Bush persuaded President Ronald Reagan to
authorize the sharing of the President's Daily Brief in one-on-one
morning briefings for the Vice President, the secretaries of state and
defense, and the President's national security adviser.
(With White House approval, we later added the Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs as a daily customer.) These early morning briefings were
conducted by us senior analysts who prepared the PDB (and badgered the
drafter/analysts with all manner of questions) the day and night before.
We were trusted professionals steeped in substance and just a secure
telephone call away from the analysts we knew could provide additional
trustworthy detail if needed.
Truth to Power
Our ethos, our job was to speak unvarnished truth to power, irrespective
of the policy agendas of the officials we briefed. We were trusted to do
that, and the last thing we needed was a CIA director looking over our
shoulder—particularly one, like Tenet, not well schooled in the need to
keep intelligence and policymaking separate.
During the Reagan presidency, Director William Casey rarely joined us
for the PDB briefings and did no pre-publication review. The director
had quite enough on his plate. It was a dual job involving herding the
cats of a scarcely manageable multi-agency intelligence community, while
trying to manage one agency (CIA) itself conceived with a serious birth
A serious flaw in the National Security Act of 1947 gave the CIA
director not only responsibility for preparing unvarnished intelligence,
but the additional duty to "perform other such functions and duties
related to intelligence affecting the national security as the National
Security Council may from time to time direct"—like running "secret"
wars, as in Nicaragua; overthrowing governments, as in Iran, Guatemala,
Chile; and applying President Bush-favored "alternative" methods of
interrogation in violation of international law and U.S. Army law, as in
Afghanistan and Iraq.
Each of the two scarcely compatible CIA jobs were full-time challenges,
and during my 27-year career I had a front-row seat watching nine
directors, most of whom did their best to act with integrity and
honesty, despite that structural fault. This in addition to the
community-wide responsibilities which posed a management challenge of
Tenet all but admits he was not up to that management challenge. I'm
"no Jack Welch," is the way he puts it in his book.
Equally unfortunate, he picked inexperienced managers distinguished only
by their malleability, their subservience to the perceived needs of the
next level up. Perhaps the best case in point is John McLaughlin, the
quintessential go-along-to-get-along functionary.
McLaughlin very rarely made use of his prerogative as statutory deputy
in charge of the intelligence community and did not become much involved
in operations. What he did do was worse still, shaping substantive
analysis to bend with the prevailing winds from the White House and
Instead of tending to his knitting at CIA headquarters, Tenet decided to
hitch a ride downtown with the PDB briefer in the morning, and in that
way secure regular face time with the President. By several accounts,
there were many "slam dunks" voiced in those very private discussions.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the
ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. His responsibilities
during his 27-year service as a CIA analyst included chairing National
Intelligence Estimates and preparing the President's Daily Brief. He is
co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
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