George Tenet is a disgrace. The former CIA bigwig went on 60 Minutes to plug his new book, At The Center Of The Storm. Not only did he embarrass himself and the intelligence community in this gripping interview, he embarrassed his country with his ridiculous comments. How did he manage this incredible feat? Let us count the ways.
1. Imagine a situation where one of your trusted officers is outed in the media by nefarious elements within the federal government. Their cover is blown and their career is left in ruins. What would you do if you were the head of the CIA at that moment? Would you speak out on behalf of your victimized comrade or would you stay silent on the matter?
George Tenet chose the latter option. When 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley asked him about the infamous Robert Novak column that exposed the true identity of Valerie Plame-Wilson, Tenet replied, “She’s one of my officers. That’s wrong. Big time wrong, you don’t get to do that. And the chilling effect that you have inside my work force is, ‘Whoa, now officers names are being thrown out the door. Hold it. Not right’…Just because there’s a Washington bloodletting game going on here and just because her husband’s out there saying what he’s saying. The country’s intelligence officers are not fair game. Period. That’s all you need to know.”
That marked the very first time Tenet ever expressed any outrage over the matter. What’s that old line about being a day late and a dollar short? The former head of the CIA was four years late. In 2003, he was in a powerful position running an important government institution. One of his officers was victimized by a treacherous act. And he did nothing. His words are empty and infuriating.
2. Without question, Tenet’s legacy will be the infamous remark reported by Bob Woodward in his bestselling book, Plan Of Attack. With regards to Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction, Tenet told President Bush during a briefing, “It’s a slam dunk case!”
Instead of owning up to his mistake, Tenet complains that his words were misused and leaked by a confidential source who, he claims, betrayed him. From his perspective, he was trying to persuade an unconvinced President that selling the public on the idea of Iraq possessing WMDs was “a slam dunk” and not the defining moment that inspired the government to sign on to the Iraq invasion. What’s most galling about this is that no one cares whether his words were the ultimate deciding factor or not. What matters is that he was part of the team, one of the shady salesmen, that got us into Iraq and now we’re stuck there. He still hasn’t taken any responsibilty for placing America’s military in one of the most dangerous and unstable countries of the world without adequate training and equipment. He is a grotesque liar and shameless apologist.
3. Like a lot of incompetent Bush officials, Tenet was given an award for his “services”. In his case, it was the Medal Of Freedom, the top civilian citation in America. How can he claim to have a conscience about what he’s done to America and its standing in the world, and still accept that medal? Oh, that’s right. The award had nothing to do with his Iraq fuck-ups. He earned it by fucking up Afghanistan.
He can claim, as he did on 60 Minutes, that he was “conflicted” about whether to accept the honour or not. The larger point is that he’s unworthy of it. Just ask Phil Giraldi, Ray McGovern, Larry Johnson, Jim Marcinkowski, Vince Cannistraro and David MacMichael, six former CIA officers who wrote a letter to him
stating he should give it back.
When asked by Scott Pelley whether accepting the award was the reason he remains uncritical of President Bush, he swatted the accusation away with bullshit. Award or no award, his continuing silence on the matter acidicly eats away at what remains of his credibility and integrity.
4. His repeated mantra – “We don’t torture people!” – might be the biggest lie he’s ever told in his life, and he’s put forth many whoppers in public. No matter how many times he evokes 9/11, this dangerous, hypocritical policy has shown America’s enemies that we can’t claim the moral high ground any longer. The Geneva Conventions are dead in the hearts and minds of the federal government. We are no better than the people we’re fighting.
When Pelley asked him point blank, “…why were enhanced interrogation techniques necessary?”
Tenet’s reply? “‘Cause these are people that will never, ever, ever tell you a thing. These are people who know who’s responsible for the next terrorist attack. These are hardened people that would kill you and me 30 seconds after they got out of wherever they were being held and wouldn’t blink an eyelash.”
But Tenet misses the most important point. We’re talking about suicide bombers, people who use themselves as denotators, their own bodies as weapons of mass destruction. If someone is willing to sacrifice their own life in this manner, what makes you think that torturing them will be effective? If you’ve already signed off on the idea that you’re going to die a horrible, instantaneous death by blowing yourself up around soldiers and civilians, wouldn’t torture seem tame by comparison? Furthermore, as Maher Arar will tell you, you’ll say anything to your captors when put in a hellish situation like that. So, no matter how you slice it, it’s an ineffective, immoral, barbaric strategy for winning a war.
5. Former Secretary Of State Colin Powell would make the single biggest error of his life when he presented “evidence” of Iraq’s weaponry during the now infamous 2003 United Nations presentation. He asked Tenet to sit behind him during the speech.
During the interview with Pelley, Tenet was confronted with his own shoddy 2002 National Intelligence Estimate that made all kinds of ridiculous claims about Iraq that ultimately came out of Powell’s mouth, most notably the supposedly huge stockpile of chemical and biological weapons that then-dictator Saddam Hussein allegedly had in his possession. Tenet says the data the CIA gathered was enough to make a “[h]igh confidence judgment” but that it wouldn’t pass the mustard in a criminal court. As he plainly stated, “Remember, when you write an estimate, when you estimate, you’re writing what you don’t know. You might win a civil case.”
Meanwhile, as 60 Minutes helpfully reminded us, during his UN presentation, Powell stated, “Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent…These are not assertions, what we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.” The government sure sounded definitive about its case against Iraq which the master bullshitter George Tenet couldn’t even admit to. Pelley, to his eternal credit, criticized Tenet for making up the information. The former CIA head can deny it ’til the cows come home, to borrow a phrase he used during the interview, but Pelley nailed him.
6. And what about those 16 words in the 2003 State Of The Union address? You know, the line about Hussein obtaining “large quantities of uranium” from Niger in order to create nuclear weapons? Didn’t Tenet notice that error when he read the speech?
“I didn’t read the speech. I was involved in a bunch of other things.”
So, what did he do instead? He delegated the speech to underlings, instructing them to come back to him if there were any problems. There must not have been any problems because the speech bypassed Tenet and went right to the President. Way to make your country proud of you, George. No wonder you won the Medal Of Freedom.
7. It was believed that Osama Bin Laden was hiding somewhere in Tora Bora during the invasion of Afghanistan in the fall of 2001. Many have criticized the unsuccessful effort to capture him there despite having him cornered.
Like a lot of officials in this Administration, Tenet makes pathetic excuses. They didn’t have enough boots on the ground, he tells us. Well, why didn’t anyone think to beef up the army in that area? Have you guys heard of war planning? (Oh, that’s right. You haven’t.) Yes, they did catch Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 “mastermind” in Pakistan but why not Bin Laden? Is he really that smart that he can elude capture all the time? All signs, depressingly, point to yes.
8. The 9/11 Commission was critical of the CIA’s bureaucratic red tape with regards to two of the hijackers who were able to carry out their murderous plot despite being well-known to the intelligence community. As Pelley pointed out, there were in America a year and a half before carrying out the attacks.
Tenet’s response was to imitate the old Condoleezza Rice line about how unfair and unjust it is to have one’s integrity “impugn[ed]” by people who write reports that don’t get “underneath the feeling of my people.” Tenet’s chronic tendency to react to these justifiable charges of incompetence with thin-skinned defensiveness speaks volumes. You get the feeling he’ll never understand what it means to be truly responsible for screwing up incredibly important jobs in the government. He sees the writing on the wall – the ignominious end of The Bush Adminstration – and he’s jumping off this sinking ship before they take him down with them. The problem is history will remember him staying on the boat when it mattered.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, April 30, 2007